The Old-Time Herald Volume 6, Number 4


Scott Ainslie - Robert Johnson's Guitar Techniques
E.C. & Orna Ball - Through the Years 1937--1975
Beausoleil - The Best of Beausoleil
Mac Benford and the Woodshed All-Stars - Willow
Laura Boosinger - Sing It Yourself!
Herschel Brown - Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order-1928-1929
Bob Carlin - Mr. Spaceman
Owen "Snake" Chapman - Up in Chapman's Hollow
Andy Cohen - Oh Glory, How Happy I Am: The Sacred Songs of Rev. Gary Davis
Ed Haley - Forked Deer
The Hammons Family - The Traditions of a West Virginia Family and Their Friends
Dick Harrington and Victoria Young - Lover's Return
Roscoe Holcomb - The High Lonesome Sound
Paul Kleinwald - From the Hills: Old Time Banjo For The New Millennium
Sam McGee - Grand Dad of the Country Guitar Pickers
Ken Perlman - Island Boy: Fiddle Tunes from Prince Edward Island & Cape Breton on Clawhammer Banjo & Fingerstyle Guitar
Nolan Porterfield - Last Cavalier: The Life and Times of John A. Lomax
Sourdough Slim & the Saddle Pals - Goin' to the West
Various Artists - Mississippi String Bands Vol. 1
Various Artists - Smithsonian Folkways American Roots Collection
Various Artists - Songs of the Old Regular Baptists: Lined-Out Hymnody from Southeastern Kentucky
Stephen Wade - Dancing in the Parlor
Jeff Warner and Jeff Davis - Two Little Boys: More Old-Time Songs for Kids

Additional Releases Which May Be of Interest

  • Dreaming: Delia Bell & Bill Grant Rounder CD 0427
  • At Home: Black-Tie Banjo
    CD BTB 1101
  • The 5th Generation: Gary Brewer & Phillip Sexton
    June Appal JA 0076D
    306 Madison St
  • Country Gentlemen-Early Rebel Recordings
    Rebel CD 4002
  • The Tie That Binds: Joe Derrane
    Shanachie CD 78009
  • Voice on the Wind: Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer
    Rounder CD 0408
  • American Stranger: Julie Henigan
    Waterbug WBG 0035 CD
    Box 6605 Evanston IL 60204; 773-761-8141
  • Fiddle Patch: Bobby Hicks
    Rounder CD 0416 60637; 773-702-3714
  • Vulturama!: Hot Vultures (Ian Anderson & Maggie Holland)
    Webe 9031; Rogue Productions
    PO Box 337, London N4 1TW; fax +44 0 181 348 5626.
  • With Friends Like These: James Keane
    Shanachie 78015
  • Toolshed: Kevin Maul
    mandala hand mh9702
    PO Box 1461 Albany NY 12201
  • Bigger Than Yourself: John McCutcheon
    Rounder CD 8044
  • The Best of Joe & Antoinette McKenna
    Shanachie 78012 CD
  • Old Time Scottish Fiddle Music from Cape Breton Island: Joe MacLean
    Rounder CD 7024
  • The Ranch Dance Fiddle: Frankie McWhorter
    Fiel Publications Recording Series CD FPRS 0005
  • Rodney Miller's All-Round Collection of Jigs, Reels & Country Airs
    Voyager CD VRCD 342
  • The Gift: Jerry O'Sullivan
    Shanachie 78017
  • The Telling Takes Me Home: Utah Phillips
    Philo CD PH 1210 (Rounder)
  • Under the Influence: Doug Rorrer
    Flyin' Cloud FC 030 CD
  • The Sauceman Brothers on WCYB Bristol
    Copper Creek CD 0124
  • Selections 1976-1988: Sweet Honey in the Rock Flying Fish CD FF 667/668
  • Devil of a Dream: Robin & Linda Williams
    Sugar Hill SHCD 1059
  • Sugar for Sugar: Robin & Linda Williams
    Sugar Hill SHCD 1052
  • Richard Dyer-Bennet
    Smithsonian/Folkways SF CD 40078
  • Sage of the Sage: Original Poetry & Song of Merrily Wright
    Mary's River Ranch, Deeth, NV 89823; 702-472-8556/753-3004 Whitesburg KY 41858; 606-633-0108
  • 16 Down Home Country Classics; Arhoolie CD 110
  • 15 Early Tejano Classics; Arhoolie CD 109

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Video Review
Scott Ainslie - Robert Johnson's Guitar Techniques
Starlicks Master Sessions

In this 60-minute instructional video, Scott Ainslie presents techniques Robert Johnson used to play "Kindhearted Woman Blues," "Sweet Home Chicago," "Drunken Hearted Man," "Ramblin' on my Mind," "Walkin' Blues," "Come On In My Kitchen," and "Crossroads Blues." For a video not purporting to look at Johnson's entire repertoire, the choice of songs is very good because it gets at the important key areas of his guitar style: A and E in standard tuning, dropped D for his Lonnie Johnson-influenced sound, and open D and G for his slide playing.

The choice made by Scott Ainslie to teach techniques rather than note-for-note transcriptions of Robert Johnson's songs was a sound one from both musical and educational points of view. For one thing, without ever having seen Robert Johnson play it is certainly possible to say what notes he played (left hand)-how he played these notes (right hand), though, remains much more a matter of conjecture and the educated guess. In a way, this is one of the beauties of learning music from recorded sources: the extent to which it makes the would-be learner rely so completely on only hearing and touch to determine how music was made. Of course the whole point of video as a teaching tool is to provide the picture of how the music is being made, thus acknowledging the extent to which most of us are visual learners. Incidentally, I like the fact that no tablature or standard notation of the songs is provided with the video. Some people might complain, I suppose, but it seems to me that one should have to pay some degree of attention to learn to play music.

Scott Ainslie has a comfortable manner in front of the camera and does a good job of demonstrating the techniques and playing the songs (he sings well, too). I was glad to see him place Robert Johnson in a larger musical context, and not treat him as some utterly original fountainhead from which the music he played inexplicably sprang. Of course Johnson was influenced by the musicians he admired-everyone is. Ainslie also gets big points for acknowledging the metric irregularities of Johnson's music, and encouraging players not to straighten the songs out. Perhaps for the reasons cited above, the instruction tends to focus much more on the left hand than the right. I suspect picking up the right hand techniques may prove elusive for persons without a fair degree of previous experience fingerpicking. I found myself feeling a couple of times that I would have liked for Ainslie to differentiate more clearly between what Robert Johnson did and what Ainslie added of his own to the songs.

So, if you buy this video and practice with it will you sound just like Robert Johnson? Not if that's all you do. You are going to have to listen to him a whole lot to get that "bundle of nerves" sound in your attack and that eerie way of clipping off the back ends of your notes (to say nothing of the singing!). This video, though, can provide some valuable help in finding out where to go on the guitar to find the things that Robert Johnson played, and get you started on incorporating some of what he did into what you do. You can't reasonably expect more than that.

John M. Miller
Cattail Music 119 W Seeman St., Durham NC 27701; 919-688-0135;

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E.C. & Orna Ball - Through the Years 1937--1975
Copper Creek CCCD-0141
Introduction by John Lomax
Jenny Jenkins
Pretty Polly
Bobby Halsey
Nine Pound Hammer
Mothers Prayers (Were Not In Vain)
When I Get Home I'm Gonna Be Satisfied
Grandfather's Clock
Little Liza Jane
Trials, Troubles, Tribulations
The Fox
Standing on the Promises
I Want to Live
In the Shelter of His Arms
Passing Away
Bringing in the Sheaves
Rosewood Casket
Ten Thousand Angels
How Great Thou Art
Sweet Bye-and-Bye
What a Friend We Have in Jesus
Home Sweet Home
March Around the Throne
God Be with You Till We Meet Again.

Estil C. Ball was a gentle giant of a man. At least that's what I've been told by almost everybody who knew him. He was large, easy-going, with a kind word and a helping hand for everybody who crossed his path. And for 30-odd years, he was one of the central figures of the gospel music scene in the area of Virginia around Grayson and Carroll Counties. He picked up the guitar at the age of 12, inspired mainly by Maybelle Carter ("She led on the basses while I lead mostly on the treble strings. . . she's been a great inspiration to me down through the years"). For a while he played with a flat pick, backing up fiddlers and string bands. When he heard Merle Travis, he said "Well, buddy, if he can do that I can, too." He went on to develop his own unique three-finger style ("I decided to work out stuff that was different from anybody else's. . . not better, just different"). A very young Wayne Henderson watched Mr. Ball play that style and went on to develop his own unique style of three-finger guitar (Wayne once told me that E.C. admonished him to "put down that flat pick, son. They're for sissies").

E.C. was an avid collector, especially of gospel music. He carried what he called a "profile," pages torn out of hymnals and song books. He mentioned on this recording that he had around 1,500 songs in the current volume. He had a true talent for winnowing out some of the best southern gospel music, in my opinion, on record. Songs like "Give Me Just A Little More Time" and his "Trials, Troubles, Tribulations," have been widely sung and are becoming classics. Others, like "If You Believe," "Jubilee," and "I Want To Know More" are just waiting to be discovered.

His musical career spanned almost 40 years, beginning with the Library of Congress recordings by John Lomax. Sad to say, he and Orna were just achieving national recognition when he died in 1975. They had just been to the Chicago Folk Festival, were guests of the Washington Folklore Society several times, appeared at the National Folklife Festival, and made frequent trips to the Lancaster, PA area as guests of the De-Busk-Weavers and the late Bobby Montgomery. During the last 20 years of his life, he concentrated on gospel music, organizing the monthly singing conventions in Carroll, Grayson, and Ashe counties.

E.C. and Orna were active performers and recording artists, as well. First for the Library of Congress (which are still available, by the way), then Atlantic, Prestige, Starday, two albums for Rounder (one of Rounder's earliest efforts, R0028), one with County with the Friendly Gospel Quartet, and inclusions on various anthologies. Like the Carter Family, E.C. and Orna would give performances in churches and schoolhouses. "I always wanted to make my living with musicƒ but times was too hard." In addition, they did radio broadcasts nonstop for almost 20 years.

Copper Creek has put together a beautiful tribute to Mr. Ball. The anthology begins with John Lomax describing the Ball home in Rugby, VA and continues chronologically with cuts from County, Starday, and Library of Congress recordings, interviews with folklorist Kip Lornell, and some amazing instrumentals recorded by Joe Wilson (to my mind, some of the finest three-finger work ever recorded). No recording of the Balls has captured the flavor, variety, and complexity of E.C.'s work like this Copper Creek recording. Standards like "Warfare" and " Tribulations" are included, as well as gems like "Mother's Prayers (Were Not in Vain)" and "When I Get Home, I'm Gonna Be Satisfied."

Last year, when I heard a rumor that an E.C. and Orna Ball tribute was in the works, I called Gary Reid at Copper Creek to find out more. I asked why a mostly bluegrass label was putting out something as traditional as E.C. "Well," I was told, "it is a little out of our line, but it's a labor of love." And that love shines through every cut of this recording. Highly recommended.

Bob Woodcock

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Beausoleil - The Best of Beausoleil
Arhoolie CD 458

Michael Doucet: fiddle, vocals; David Doucet: guitar, vocals; Errol Verret: accordion; Billy Ware: percussion; Tommy Alesi: drums; Tommy Comeaux: mandolin, guitar; Sonny Landreth: dobro, slide guitar; Beth Weil: bass; Tina Pilione: bass; Robert Vigneaud: bass; Canray Fontenot: fiddle.

Parlez Nous a Boire (Speak to Us of Drinking)
Tous les Deux Pour la Meme (For the Same Girl)
J'ai Ete au Zydeco (I Went to the Zydeco)
Voyage au Mariage (My True Love)
Courtableau (Bayou Courtableau)
La Valse des Jonglemonts (The Pensive Waltz)
Mecredi Soire Passe (Last Wednesday's Soire)
Grand Mallet
Gee's Blues
Shoo, Black
Leger's Chase (The Mardi Gras Song)
Je Veux Me Marier (I Want to Marry)
Valse De Grand Meche (Waltz of the Big Marsh)
Joe Pitre's So Bad
Creole French Blues
Chanson D'Acadie (Song for Acadia)
Le Bozo Two-Step
Si J'Aurais de Ailes (If I Had Wings)
Chez Varise Connor
La Chanson de Cinquante Sous (The 50¢ Song)
Hot Chili Mama.

Beausoleil, led by fiddler Michael Doucet, was the first (and remains the foremost) revival Cajun band. The Best of Beausoleil contains a wonderful selection of Beausoleil's 1980s recordings for the Arhoolie label; it doesn't contain any of their more recent (and more rock-oriented) work for either Rounder or Rhino, so it's not really a comprehensive "Best Of," But rather, a "Best Of the Early Years" compilation.

From its beginnings with brothers Michael and David Doucet in the 1970s, Beausoleil has explored every aspect of Southwest Louisiana French music, both instrumental and vocal. The band has gone through a number of personnel changes over the years, but for about the past 15 years the band's core has remained remarkably stable: Michael Doucet on fiddle and most of the lead vocals, brother David on guitar and vocals, and Billy Ware and Tommy Alesi on percussion and drums. Mandolinist/bassist Tommy Comeaux was also in the band for many years. He was killed just a few days before I wrote this, when a car hit him as he was riding his bicycle. At various times Beausoleil has included other excellent musicians, including accordionists Errol Verret, Pat Breaux, and Jimmy Breaux (who has been Beausoleil's accordion player for about the past 10 years), and banjo/bass player Al Tharpe. Of these, only Verret is listed as appearing on The Best of Beausoleil, but since I can clearly hear Pat Breaux's sax on several cuts, I assume that there may be other uncredited musicians as well.

One of the unique aspects in the history of Cajun music has been the way it has always embraced other contemporary musical styles. In the 1920s, Cleoma Breaux Falcon recorded her Cajun French versions of popular songs of the day, such as "Lulu Revenu au Village" (Lulu's Back in Town). In the '30s, the Hackberry Ramblers and other string bands did Cajun versions of Carter Family songs. By the 1950s Nathan Abshire was trying his hand at swamp pop. True to their musical ancestry, Beausoleil has consistently been an innovative force in Cajun music. Their sound, while it includes the traditional fiddle/accordion combination that has always been associated with Cajun music, has also incorporated elements of folk music, rock and roll, and other pop music styles. On the Best Of album, you can hear David Doucet's lead acoustic guitar picking as well as Tommy Comeaux's mandolin strumming, and the bongo drums of Billy Ware. None of these sounds had previously been part of Cajun music.

I admire both Michael and David Doucet for the unfettered quality of their singing. This vocal intensity, found in abundance in the music of Amade Ardoin and Iry LeJeune (to name just two), is one of the elements that makes Cajun music so emotionally compelling. On The Best of Beausoleil both Doucet brothers pour forth in an amazing variety of styles, infusing each one with his own personality while retaining the feel of the source material. This is not an easy thing to do; it requires both exceptional musicianship and a certain relaxed attitude to truly become a vessel for music such as this, which has such deep and wide traditional roots.

This is not to say that Beausoleil's music sounds dated! But the songs and tunes receive thoughtful and different treatments. "Parlez Nous a Boire" comes from the Balfa Brothers well-known early recording (itself a somewhat "folkie" arrangement of a traditional song) but, rather than being a Balfa imitation, the harmonies are changed to become a bit more dissonant, and the rhythm becomes a sort of galloping folk-rock anthem. "J'ai Ete au Zydeco" mixes the Cajun standard "J'ai Etais au Bal" with a field recording of the Creole "Zydeco Est Pas Sale," throws in an acoustic guitar solo from David Doucet and some Carribean rhythms, and adds Michael Doucet's cascade of fiddle notes, which detour into a quasi-Middle Eastern mode for a minute. The resulting creation is an ornate new piece of music, with a distinct flavor of the old.

Some of the songs and tunes here are arranged in a more straightforward manner. "Tous Les Deux Pour la Meme," long one of my favorites in Beausoleil's repertoire, is beautifully sung by David Doucet, as is "Valse de Grand Meche." "My True Love," a two-step which is probably the only Cajun love song with a happy ending, features sweet singing by Michael, borne along by a sweeping, pulsating band rhythm. The stately "Pensive Waltz" (an instrumental version of "Valse de Gran Bois") lives up to its name, evoking a rainy winter's afternoon playing tunes while the sauce picante is cooking.

A few songs are done with just one or two musicians, providing a welcome contrast to the percussion-heavy sound of the full band. Michael Doucet sings "Mercredi Soir Passe," accompanying himself on guitar, with a subtle touch of bass and percussion. It seems that I can hear some tasty flatpicked guitar runs too, which I assume is David Doucet, though he's not credited in the notes. This darkly unadorned rendition evokes the eccentric rhythm and harmonies of the old Blind Uncle Gaspard recordings. The Creole song "Bee's Blues" features Michael all by himself, trying to sound like an old black man and doing pretty well, playing on a wet-tuned accordion with the bass side well-miked.

Some selections don't even use the accordion, and it's a refreshing change. Nowadays, there are many fine accordion players in Cajun music, but very few Cajun fiddlers of similar stature. I don't know why this is, though (as one who has attempted to play both instruments) I suspect that it is because it's much harder to become a good fiddler than a good accordion player. Just getting the darn thing in tune is hard enough!! It is a pleasure to hear Michael and David Doucet duet with nothing but fiddle and guitar on an old-time Cajun waltz like Dennis McGee's "Valse de Vacher" (Cowboy Waltz).

Some of the selections get a much more far-out treatment. Nathan Abshire's "Courtableau" includes quite a bit of hamming-it-up on Michael's part. Luckily, his incredible technique and sure command of rhythm allows him to get away with what, in a lesser musician, would simply be, well, flummery. On the raggy "Shoo Black," a variant on "La Cucaracha," guest artist Canray Fontenot shows how he can slyly out-flum Michael with one hand tied behind his back. From time to time, both fiddlers veer over the state line to indulge in some East Texas-style pyrotechnics. "Le Bozo Two-Step" is really "La Derniere Valse" set as a two-step; it's also very similar to "Cajun from Church Point" (which itself is a remake of "Okie from Muskogee." I wonder if Merle Haggard listened to very much Cajun music). I wish David Doucet's guitar break was more audible on this tune, which also includes what is probably one of the few mandolin solos in Cajun music.

The booklet contains all the lyrics and translations, as well as notes on the sources for the songs. Michael Doucet is scrupulous in paying homage to his many inspirations, which include both the well-known (AmadŽ Ardoin, the Balfa Brothers, Canray Fontenot, Dennis McGee) and the obscure (Varise Conner, Edius Naquin, Blind Uncle Gaspard). Sometimes the listings of personnel on individual songs are innaccurate. On "Joe Pitre's So Bad," someone is playing what sounds like a 3-row accordion, and I can distinctly hear a saxophone too, but neither instrument is credited on the notes. On the final selection, "Hot Chili Mama," the saxophone wails out an extended solo. I assume this must be Pat Breaux, who doubled on sax and accordion during his stint with Beausoleil. The booklet lists one song, "Creole French Blues," which is not on the album at all; instead, we get to hear Michael's rendition of Wade Fruge's waltz "Caillette," which is lovingly faithful to the original.

I appreciate Beausoleil's musicianship, as well as the way they have stretched the Cajun envelope and brought the music to new audiences. Best Of Beausoleil manages to capture the essence of old-time Cajun and Creole music, sometimes by creating an exact replica of the source, more often while experimenting with other textures while retaining the spirit of the original. To me, that's the most righteous thing that a musician who chooses to pursue traditional music can do.

Suzy Rothfield Thompson

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Mac Benford and the Woodshed All-Stars - Willow
Rounder CD 0371

Mac Benford: banjo, vocals; Marie Burns: mandolin, vocals; John Kirk: fiddle, vocals; John Rossbach: guitar, vocals; Pete Sutherland: fiddle, vocals; Doug Henrie: bass.

Wake Susan
Wagoner's Lad
Sugar Hill
I'll Be All Smiles Tonight
House of the Rising Son
Boston Boy
Little Willie
Kiss Me Quick and Go
Indian Nation
I Heard the Bluebirds Sing
Gaither Carlton Medley
Freight Train Boogie
River of Sorrow
Katy Hill.

I've been living with this CD for quite a while, since it first came out in 1996. This is the Woodshed All-Stars' second recording effort. The first was the First 1/2 Century on Marimac. That recording began as Mac's 50th birthday present to himself, but apparently the participants had so much fun recording it, that they decided to stick together, become a touring band, and to record some more. This is a solid old-time recording with sizzling string-band work and some really tasteful ballads. The recording quality is excellent. The liner notes are complete and concise, with sources. The timings of the cuts are on the back of the jewel case and on the last page of the CD booklet, which is good for quick reference for DJs, in my opinion. I also appreciate the identification of who is singing lead or backup on the vocals. If you like the excitement of a two-fiddle southern-style string band, you'll love this CD. I come back to it again and again, to listen to and enjoy.

Fans who know of Mac Benford's past association with the Highwoods Stringband will not be disappointed with the string-band cuts. The fiddling of Pete Sutherland and John Kirk, Mac's clawhammer banjo, John's guitar and Doug Henrie's bass make up the classic two fiddle string-band sound. The fiddling is fluid and sure, just a joy to listen to. The bass and guitar are rock-solid. The notes say that Marie Burns plays mandolin but I can't say I can hear it. I like old-time style mandolin, when it doubles the fiddle parts in a rhythmic way. Many of the successful tendencies on the First 1/2 Century are still there. Given the virtuosity of each of the instrumentalists, it is understandable that they would want to take breaks ‡ la bluegrass style, but the difference is that the whole band doesn't stop or suddenly revert to the offbeat "chop" of a bluegrass-style backup. Everyone goes to a harmony part or plays along softly. I really liked this concept on their first recording and I'm glad they're still playing tunes that way. It seems to me that there were more guitar solos by John Rossbach on First 1/2 Century. His clean, flat-picking is always welcome. However, their string-band sound is just fine the way it is, too.

Their fiery style would surely have a barn dance crowd yelling for more. If their goal is to generate a sense of euphoria in themselves, playing the music, or in others listening or dancing to it, they have succeeded. The balance and the sound is wonderful.

In the tradition of the Highwoods band days, equal time is given to ballads. The members tone down the full string-band sound, the banjo comes out and they turn Marie loose to sing many of the songs. When I first heard the First 1/2 Century album, I thought Marie should do more singing. Somebody must have been reading my mind, because she sings lead on six of the fifteen cuts on this CD. Mac only sings lead on one song, "Kiss Me Quick and Go." Mac's singing has an honest rural sound.

Marie's singing has an urban, contemporary polish. The rest of the band add background vocals and harmonies, as needed. Their arrangements don't have any of what I would call "modern" surprises. The material is mostly traditional. Marie's singing adds another nuance to the band's sound, that of a woman's point of view. Otherwise, string-band songs tend to be about more male pursuits like hunting, outlaws, making corn likker or singing about girls they knew who died or left. Now, we also have songs about guys who have died or left for good! I think my favorite on this CD is "Wagoner's Lad." It has a nice arrangement and some of the words really give you a jab-instead of "my fortune is sad," it's "my fortune is bad" and "a slave to her husband until she is dead." Mac's back-up singing here gives the song just the right touch of "plaintive." Really, all of the vocals are top-notch.

The only reservations I have are the addition of Marie's two compositions, the title cut, "Willow," and "River of Sorrow." I get a little nervous when folks start adding their own of what I would call singer/songwriter efforts to old-time music.

On this CD, only Mac and the fiddlers play together at the beginning of "Sugar Hill." Mac does some fine clawhammer playing, accompanied by John Rossbach's guitar, with the "Gaither Carlton Medley," which includes "Pateroller in a Pear Tree," "Double File," "Tucker's Barn" and "Muddy Roads." I think one of the neatest things about exploring Doc Watson's music is discovering his brother Arnold and his father-in-law, Gaither, and their important repertoire of old-time songs, tunes, and playing styles. That's doing your homework. Old-time music's own energy and spirit will shine through, if the musicians remain true to what old-time music is all about. In my opinion, if you want more people to hear the music, well, then, get out there and play it for them. Don't change the music. In all, this is a wonderful old-time CD, worthy of adding to your collection. I'll be looking forward to their next effort.
Pat Walke

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Laura Boosinger - Sing It Yourself!
Native Ground Music NG-CD-008

Laura Boosinger: vocals, clawhammer banjo, guitar, autoharp, lap dulcimer; Timmy Abell: rhythm guitar, vocals; Mark Howard: rhythm guitar, lead guitar, mandolin; Roy Huskey, Jr.: acoustic bass; Blaine Sprouse: fiddle; John Hartford: 3-finger banjo on "New River Train" and "The Little Pig"; Jamie Hartford: harmony vocal on "New River Train"; Kenny Malone: percussion on "The Little Pig."

Sourwood Mountain
Bought Me a Cat
When We Gonna Get Married
Angelina Baker
Hush Little Baby
Froggy Went a- Courtin'
Jennie Jenkins
New River Train
Skip to My Lou
The Wind And Rain
The Little Pig.

One of the fun things about writing reviews is the opportunity to hear new voices that I wouldn't have heard otherwise. Laura Boosinger's Sing It Yourself! CD is just such a gem. I especially like her singing, which is clear and wonderfully expressive. I like Laura's instrumentation and arrangements, too, with guitar, banjo, autoharp, and lap dulcimer. The fiddling, by Blaine Sprouse, is perfect. This recording seems to be for children or at least for family sing-a-longs, and has, in fact, been approved by the Parent's Choice Foundation. Perhaps you might think that the material is just for kids, but "The Wind and the Rain" is not Barney by a long shot. The quality of the recording is excellent. The booklet contains all of the words to them with some of Laura's sources. I would have wished for an accounting of which of her supporting musicians were on which cuts. The timings are on the back of the jewel case. This is Boosinger's second recording and is definitely a keeper. I'd like to hear more.

Laura's clawhammer banjo, lap dulcimer, and autoharp playing are first-rate, and I think her singing style resembles Lulu Belle Wiseman (of Lulu Belle & Scotty fame). In fact, Laura does two duet songs with her husband, Timmy Abell, which are reminiscent of the Lulu Belle & Scotty routines about courtship, such as "When We Gonna Get Married" and "Jenny Jenkins."

I always like to hear mountain dulcimer and autoharp, and Laura does a nice job of playing them in a traditional way. There are a lot of little pleasant surprises all through the CD. I liked Kenny Malone's whimsical percussion on "The Little Pig." John Hartford was on board with his banjo on "New River Train" and "The Little Pig." Laura's version of "Angelina Baker," which is mostly Stephen Foster's, runs into the old-time dance tune with which we are familiar. Her clawhammer banjo playing is remarkable, clean and fluent. All of the cuts are with vocals. This is really a fine recording to sing along with yourself or share with others.

Pat Walke
To order: Native Ground Music, 109 Bell Rd., Asheville NC 28805; 800-752-5607

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Herschel Brown - Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order-1928-1929
Document 8001 (CD reissued from 78s) (73:12)

Herschel Brown: washboard, spoons, speech; L.K. Sentell: guitar, speech; unknown others on fiddle, vocal, speech, harmonica, piano, banjo, clarinet, percussion.

Nobody Loves Me (takes 1 & 2)
Down Yonder
Shanghai Rag
New Talking Blues
Talking Nigger Blues
Corn Shucking Party in Georgia
Home Brew Party
Soldier's Joy
I Wish that Gal Was Mine
Old-Time Tune Medley
Spanish Rag
Kohalo Rag
New Talking Blues No. 2
Nigger Talking Blues No. 2
Alabama Breakdown
Okey Washboard Breakdown
County Fair-Parts 1 & 2
Barbeque Down in Georgia-Part 2.

Let us take this opportunity to introduce the Document label to the Old-Time Herald. About a decade ago or so, Johnny Parth, who runs this Vienna, Austria-based label, decided to issue all the pre-war blues and gospel 78 rpm recordings he could possibly do. He began with vinyl LPs, but when the medium changed to CDs, he started anew. These recordings were issued by artist in chronological order, using, apparently, the Dixon & Godrich discography as a roadmap. Though I haven't come close to experiencing all of these recordings, I was told in the recent past that Mr. Parth had achieved his goal of issuing the complete works of blues and gospel 78s, and in addition, he issued a number of field recordings in these genres. But shortly before that occurred, there came the unexpected announcement that Document would start a new 8000 series, dedicated to the issue of pre-war hillbilly 78s. With the first batch now available, it would seem that Mr. Parth and company are embarking on this journey using the same technique of selecting artists and issuing their works in chronological order. One difficulty is that there is not yet a complete, published discography of old-time performers as there was for the blues and gospel material, though it would seem that some "preliminary" discographies are in use, most likely one prepared by Tony Russell, whose finished work is to be issued by the Country Music Foundation. Another issue pondered was, "Who will be the artist featured on the first Document 8000 series CD?" Would it be Eck Robertson or John Carson, who were among the earliest country artists to record?

Imagine my surprise when I found that Herschel Brown would be the inaugural CD in this series. Herschel Brown? Why Herschel Brown? We probably won't know that answer until someone goes to Austria and does an interview. Brown's work is not the strongest with which to start off a new series. Tony Russell wrote good insert notes, especially considering he had very little factual or biographical data to go on. We know that Brown played the washboard and other percussive instruments and fronted a number of ensembles in North Georgia. Almost none of the musicians who played with Brown are known, the only exception being a guitarist, L. K. Sentell. Brown's first recording group, His Washboard Band, featured a fine breakdown fiddler on a number of North Georgia standards. Brown's washboard set against the brisk dance tempo evokes a vision of a flatfoot dance contest. Brown also hooked up with Sentell for a few talking blues in the format that had been popularized a few years earlier by Chris Bouchillon. These are not the finest talking blues one might hope to hear, as he was no John Dilleshaw, that's for sure. However, Sentell lays down some fine guitar licks, showing some influence no doubt from the African-American blues artists who must have been around them. Sentell also shines on a couple of guitar showpieces, "Spanish Rag" in the obligatory "Spanish tuning," and one entitled "Kohalo Rag" that sounds like one of those near ubiquitous Hawaiian marches that gained popularity in the '20s. It's darn good picking by any standard. Brown and company also tried their hands at the skit genre, no doubt inspired by the success of the Skillet Lickers, but the writing was not up to snuff and the routines just fritter away to oblivion.

There are a couple of interesting oddities though, or perhaps they were not as odd then as they might seem some 70 years later. One grouping featured a lead harmonica on fiddle breakdowns, backed with piano, tenor banjo, and Brown's washboard. This is some the most inspired music on this disc. "Soldier's Joy," which is not the melody usually associated with that title, features a hot tenor banjo, sounding much like that in the Dilleshaw groups. The harmonica bursts forward on "I Wish That Gal Was Mine," a variant of "Boil Them Cabbage Down." An especially nice piece is "Rockingham," a version of "Sugar Hill." This is how old-time harmonica should sound. A later experiment features two fiddlers, one a sawing breakdowner, with a lead clarinet, piano, Sentell on guitar, and Brown on washboard, except for his trap drums on "Alabama Breakdown." There are some take-off passages, predating the proto-Western Swing style by about four or five years, though Dilleshaw's group was doing a little of this as well about the same time.

Although there is generous playtime, over 73 minutes, the sound quality is on the thin side. It appears that Document is relying on tapes of these 78s rather than remastering from the shellac platters themselves, and I notice no digital magic in noise reduction or signal interpolation. Everything here is rather listenable, but the signal-to-noise ratio is a lot lower than what could have been accomplished. The American companies that are reissuing 78s from this era, such as Yazoo and County, are doing a much, much better job in cleaning up, or tuning the sound.

One nice feature, though, is the discography included with the notes, a feature found on all the Document reissues. We have intelligent, informative, and entertaining notes from the pen of Tony Russell. We have cheap black and white graphics, on the other hand, with no illustration of the artist in this case. This is an inauspicious debut for this genre of music on this label, with mediocre sound and an uninspiring artist. I'd be hesitant to recommend this unless one is totally captivated by the secondary groups executing the North Georgia sound, or one is a compulsive collector. I feel there are better ways to part with one's money.

Kerry Blech

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Bob Carlin - Mr. Spaceman
Car Tunes 102

Bob Carlin: vocals and banjo.

Who's That Knocking at the Door
The Merry Girl
Martha Campbell
Devilish Mary
The Federal Soldier
Spanish Fandango
They've All Got a Wife But Me
Roll Over Beethoven
Norwegian Wood
Waiting for Nancy
I Can See Your Aura
Little Deuce Coupe
Died for Love
Mr. Spaceman.

"I guess it gets down to musical feeling. If the feeling stays right, you can do all sorts of things. Bob does!" I agree with Pete Wernick, in his notes to Bob Carlin's new solo recording. You might look at the titles and say to yourself, "Oh no! A Beach Boys song on the old-time banjo? Impossible! Ridiculous!" But when Bob Carlin does it, it's not ridiculous, it's music.

I compare what Carlin does here to what old-time musicians did in the '30s and '40s, learning from the radio whatever songs and tunes caught in their ears. And in this process they adapted the songs to their own rhythms and feelings, to their own traditional instruments and techniques. And they messed up any possibility of making clear distinctions on a musical timeline. Without special outside knowledge, you can't tell which came first, the radio Opry version or the front-porch guy's version. If you pretend not to know that the Beatles played "Norwegian Wood" before Bob Carlin got hold of it, you could think the transmission went the other way: maybe the Beatles were doing a gussied-up version of a Bob Carlin tune.

My favorites are still the more obviously old-time numbers: "Who's That Knocking at the Door?" is a lively, silly, melodically memorable minstrel song from Handy Andy's Budget of Songs. Carlin's "Devilish Mary," from Kentucky's Virgil Anderson," is one of the best versions I've ever heard. "The Federal Soldier," from Edden Hammons, wins for pure loveliness. I predict that it will have banjoists everywhere running to re-tune their banjos.

But the new/old distinction loses its meaning very quickly. After all, several of the songs here that feel old-time to me-such as the "Spanish Fandango" and "Who's That Knocking at the Door?"-did not originally start that way. It took decades of people like Bob Carlin to turn them into what sounds "old-time" to us now. And a few of the songs here-"Died for Love" and "Mr. Spaceman"-seem already on their way to sounding old. "Died for Love," by Richard Thompson, is a moody ballad perfectly suited to the drony banjo tuning Carlin plays it in. And it's a stretch, I know, but the lyrics of "Mr. Spaceman," almost sound like they come from an odd combination of early country music with silly play-party rhymes.

What's great about what Carlin does is that he makes you unable to trust your ear and your judgments. He throws all that out the window and says "Here's some music." And this banjo playing is very musical: Carlin's rhythm is sure, his phrasing and notes are clean, he skillfully negotiates shifts in beat and in right-hand style. (For example, "They've All Got a Wife But Me" alternates between fingerpicking and clawhammer.) Anyone who cares about the banjo can learn a lot from Bob Carlin, whose knowledge, skill, and musical range make him one of the most important players today.

Can I find things to criticize? Sure, but they're irrelevant to Carlin's major project, and are purely my own idiosyncrasies. For my taste, the banjo sounds a little thin. I would have used thicker strings or twisted the knobs differently; but it's clear that the banjo tone is a choice-Carlin simply likes a lighter sound than I do. I'm not sure that "Cheetah" works as a solo banjo piece. I like a lot of space in a tune, but in one section, when the banjo plays what sounds like chord back-up, you're tempted to wonder where the rest of the band is. And even though I want to love every single banjo adaptation of a song from another genre, I don't quite yet. I don't yet have that open a mind. But perhaps I will someday, and if I do, it will be because people like Bob Carlin have helped me.

The cover painting by Greg Canote, represents pretty well what Bob is doing: there, in an "old-time" (1950s style) rocket, go Bob and his banjo into outer space.

But Bob Carlin is down to earth also. Pete Wernick says "Maybe his singing is an acquired taste. If so, I've acquired it. I like it because it's him, it's brash, it's different, and it's real." I'd say the same applies to all the music on this album. It's brash, it's different, and it's real.

Molly Tenenbaum
To order: Southern Traditional Music, 2401 W. Center St. Ext., Lexington, NC, 27295.

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Owen "Snake" Chapman - Up in Chapman's Hollow
Rounder CD 0378, Recorded September 1995

Owen "Snake" Chapman: fiddle; Bert Hatfield: guitar; Paul Smith: banjo.

Give My Dogs Away
Rack Andy
Can You Dance a Tobacco Hill?
Gina Lisa
Jerry and Tom
Going Down to Charleston
I Don't Like Whiskey
Brushy Fork of John's Creek
Jack of Diamonds
Go In and Out of the Window
Did You Ever See the Devil
Uncle Joe?
Molly's Tune
Going Down to Maysville
Coburn Fork of the Big Creek
The Darker the Nights
Johnny Booger
Little Sally Ann
The Devil Eat the Groundhog
Big Black Cat
Slim Miller's Tune
Tara's Waltz
Pat Him on the Back
Garfield's Blackberry Blossom
Doc Chapman's Hornpipe
Doc Chapman's Breakdown.

It would be easy to miss this recording now that old-time music CDs are being issued at a fairly steady clip, but don't. Owen "Snake" Chapman's Up in Chapman's Hollow is a generous collection of interesting fiddle tunes, solidly played by a keeper of a long tradition. Chapman's Hollow, incidentally, is the Chapman's family home place of 150 years in Eastern Kentucky.

Several of the tunes here come from the playing of Snake's father, who was born in 1850. Snake was 76 at the time of these recordings a few years ago. So in some cases, we're getting a glimpse of what fiddling may have been like at the time of the civil war only one generation removed. At this point in space and time I doubt there is any other place we can do this.

Snake also spent a fair amount of time under the tutelage of the legendary fiddler Ed Haley, another amazingly rare direct link to the past. Like many of his contemporaries he was a fan of Fiddlin' Arthur Smith and Clayton McMichen.

Of course if all this sounds a little too esoteric, please don't be put off. Snake is evidently friends of Kenny Baker and may in fact be some sort of missing link between Ed Haley and Kenny Baker. He even claims to have learned one of the tunes presented here from the television.

Mr. Chapman, like many of his generation, started playing local social events and square dances, went on to radio and then slowed down while making a living and raising a family. Years of work as a coal miner left him with black lung and enough time to get back to music. All this and more is nicely detailed by Snake himself in the extensive notes.

As for the fiddling, his intonation is on the mark and bowing sounds solid and sure. It's all recorded well and easily accessible for neophyte old-time fans as well as someone used to the hiss and pop of third of fourth generation cassette copies of well- worn 78s.

The tunes not only come from a variety of sources, but there are a good number of Snake's own compositions. A fair percentage of them are minor or modal. There are some familiar melodies though. The children's game "Go In and Out of the Window" gets a nice second part and works well as a fiddle tune. Several of the tunes have a familiar ring and lend themselves to the "isn't that a variant of 'such and such'" game.

There's not a worn-out warhorse or clunker in the bunch. In fact, I could hear some young buck sitting on a cooler at Mt. Airy at midnight playing just about any one of these tunes.

The accompaniment is also right on the mark. Paul Smith has been playing with Snake for 30 years and it shows. His roll-style banjo is always complimentary and supportive with none of the overly aggressive attack that is so often associated with bluegrass. Bert Hatfield's guitar is always solid and appropriate.

Overall, this sounds like some old friends enjoying a pleasant afternoon on the porch sharing a few familiar tunes. It also does an excellent job of documenting one of the few remaining quintessential old-time fiddlers. Highly recommended to anyone and everyone.

Tom Mylet

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Andy Cohen - Oh Glory, How Happy I Am: The Sacred Songs of Rev. Gary Davis
Riverlark RL CD 102

Andy Cohen: guitar, vocals.

Oh Glory, How Happy I Am
Twelve Gates to the City
Samson and Delilah
I Am the Light of this World
I'll Be All Right Someday
Pure Religion
Goin' To Sit Down on the Banks of the River
I'm Glad I'm in that Number
God's Gonna Separate
Children of Zion
You Got to Move
Get Right Church
I Belong to the Band
Tryin' to Get to Heaven in Due Time
A Little More Faith
I Will Do My Last Singing in this Land
Oh Glory, How Happy I Am (with Larkin Cohen).

It becomes apparent, in listening to this CD and reading the extensive notes that accompany it, that the work involved in putting it together was a real labor of love for Andy Cohen-his way of acknowledging his admiration of, love for, and debt to Rev. Gary Davis, both as a man and a musician. It is, to my knowledge, the first CD other than Rev. Davis's own CDs devoted entirely to the music of Rev. Gary Davis.

Andy does a strong job on the guitar work on the CD. Rev. Davis's concept for his guitar parts was uniquely contrapuntal within the country blues/gospel tradition-there were always at least two things going on at once and sometimes more in his accompaniments. Like many performers who played on streets and for dances in the pre-amplification period, Rev. Davis's right-hand touch emphasized the power and projection of sound over sheer beauty of tone. Andy's touch has the same quality as Rev. Davis's, and as a result, is more convincing to me than renditions of Davis's music done by more meticulous players. It should be mentioned, too, that most of the guitar parts on this CD would make very difficult instrumentals, yet are accompaniments to singing. Playing them while singing at the same time is a pretty sporting proposition.

Andy's singing shows a devotion to the music. He sings strongly and in his own voice, not parroting Rev. Davis's phrasing. Some of the singing is not altogether accurate and depending on your tolerance for such things may bother you. Sometimes I felt like he sang out of the top of his range. I recognize the sound because I do it myself. It's the kind of thing that feels better than it sounds, and which also tends to work better in performances than on a recording. In general, though, Andy does a solid job on the singing. The songs are great. My particular favorites are "Children of Zion," which has a unique and spooky sound, "I Will Do My Last Singing in This Land," with a very beautiful melody, and "I Am the Light of This World" which grooves pleasingly.

Andy has written very detailed notes to accompany the CD. The song notes are excellent, citing biblical references for the lyrics and providing information on how to play the guitar parts. The section on Rev. Davis provides biographical information as well as some unnecessary special pleading, praising Rev. Davis's music in comparison to other musicians of the same era and style. The section of "The Rev and Me" outlines the origins of Andy's involvement and fascination with Rev. Gary Davis, his music and the world around it. One other aspect of the project set me thinking. In the notes for "I'll Be All Right Someday," Andy writes, "For me, this song and the ones spun from it link together all the themes in my life: indomitabality of the individual will, the rightness of various movements, folk process‰ as a metaphor for collective creativity, and unshakable belief, not necessarily in God, but in something." My guess would be that Rev. Davis's unshakable belief was most definitely in God. And while Andy very obviously honors Rev Davis's faith, I'm left wondering what you have with a program of songs, all professing belief in God, sung by someone whose unshakable belief is "not necessarily in God." Perhaps you could say that Rev. Davis honored God in his music and that Andy Cohen honors Rev. Gary Davis in his renditions. Andy observes that the music of Rev. Gary Davis is so strong that it demands interpretation, and he is right. He has put together a strongly-felt homage to that music and that man, and if hearing it sends you back to Rev. Gary Davis's music, or encourages you to seek it out for the first time, so much the better.

John Miller

To Order: Riverlark Music, PO Box 40081, Memphis TN 38174; 800-366-5275;

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Ed Haley - Forked Deer
Rounder CD 1131/1132

Ed Haley-fiddle; Ella Haley-mandolin; Mona Haley-mandolin; Ralph Haley-guitar.

Forked Deer
Ida Red
Indian Ate the Woodchuck
Brushy Run
Indian Nation
Humphrey's Jig
Green Mountain Polka
Sourwood Mountain
Man of Constant Sorrow
Love Somebody
Dora Dean
Bluegrass Meadows
Cacklin' Hen
Flop Eared Mule
Salt River
Brownlow's Dream.

Indian Squaw
Lost Indian
Jenny Lind
Chicken Reel
Cherry River Rag
Cripple Creek
Done Gone
Yellow Barber
Stacker Lee
Brushy Fork of John's Creek
Red Apple Rag
Wake Up Susan
Three Forks of Sandy
No Corn on Tygart
Stonewall Jackson.

Once in the late '70s or early '80s, visiting a friend's house, I saw a tape on the tape shelf labeled "Secret. Do Not Listen." I was a good girl and didn't listen, but I knew this was a tape of Ed Haley, and I was dying to hear it. Luckily, thanks to John Hartford, who traced family members and secured permissions, times have changed. Now all we have to do to hear lots of Ed Haley is buy a CD.

Haley was born in 1883 in Logan County, West Virginia. Later he settled in Ashland, Kentucky, with his wife Ella and their children. He and Ella made their living traveling and playing music. Haley had great skill, equally at ease with rags, hoedowns, airs, songs, and strange uncategorizable tunes, and he influenced many musicians of disparate styles, including Dick Burnett, Fiddlin' Powers, Clark Kessinger, and Wilson Douglas. But he apparently felt private about his music, or was afraid he would be taken advantage of, so he refused to be recorded. Hartford's notes compare Haley to legends in other fields, players like Buddy Bolden in jazz and Robert Johnson in blues, about whom little is known but whose influence was so deep that they became mythological figures, more mysterious than real.

Haley was real, of course. Hartford calls him the "grandfather of modern contest fiddling" because he inspired Clark Kessinger, who later inspired Benny Thomasson. It's true that in Haley's fiddling we can hear the clarity and the notey-ness that later became featured in contest fiddling; however, unlike contest fiddling, Haley's fiddling has rhythmic coherence and refined, chiseled phrasing (even though it sometimes goes by so fast the edges blur). But Haley is so technically stunning that it's easy to see how others could have picked up that aspect and pushed it in what we hear now as a modern direction. J.W. Day, Haley's neighbor and contemporary, who toured as the hillbilly caricature "Jilson Setters," represents, I think, music that started at the same place but took a different path. The two men knew each other and played some of the same tunes, "Humphrey's Jig," for example. It's as if Day is the mountains while Haley is the clouds. Day is craggy rather than sparkly; Day's rhythm is belly deep, while Haley's has a scudding, light quality. On some of Haley's tunes, such as "Brushy Fork of John's Creek," and "Indian Ate the Woodchuck," the quick notes and bowing together lift off-it takes your breath away to hear music so ethereal .

Though Haley never recorded commercially or for folklorists, he played often at home, and in 1946 and 1947 his son Ralph recorded many of his tunes. This two-CD set consists of tunes from those home disc recordings. Fourteen of them appeared in 1975 on Rounder's Parkersburg Landing LP, but here they are meticulously cleaned up by a team of experts including Bob Carlin and Dave Glasser. I can almost see them looking through microscopes to tweeze off the fuzz. Nevertheless, a lot of hiss unavoidably remains, more on some tunes than on others, and occasionally the speed and pitch vary. The CDs are organized with the most listenable tunes first, so that if the surface noise bothers you, you can turn off the CD before it gets too bad. I find only one cut, "Brownlow's Dream," not worth putting up with.

The notes are extensive, detailing what is known of Haley's life, describing his influence, and giving too much background on every tune. I have to pick through the notes carefully to find the most helpful information. I'm interested in how Haley's versions of tunes relate to the versions of his contemporaries, and it's useful to know about the other names a tune may be known by. It's not as handy to know about the possible Scots-Irish sources of tunes-for example, that one part of "Forked Deer" appears in a tune called "Rachel Rae," composed by Joseph Lowe in 1815. In my non-academic opinion, these connections belong in appendices and addenda, and should not clutter up more local information about Haley's place and time, about the people he knew, heard, and played for. Though Hartford is to be praised for pursuing Haley's music and helping it find its way into the world, many of his comments here seem needlessly self-serving. Is it important that Haley's rendition of "Forked Deer" is Hartford's favorite of all the "Forked Deers," or that he has never heard "Ida Red" in "this" tuning before? (He doesn't tell us what the tuning is, but it sounds like cross-G to me.) Most irritating is that the tunes are now copyrighted to "Ed Haley/John Hartford Music, BMI." I believe this is so that Haley descendants can receive royalties, which I am all in favor of, but I wish a more respectful and historically accurate name had been invented for the publishing company, something like "Haley Family Music."

But the main thing is that this marvelous music is now here, now available. Even without the thrill of secrecy or the panache of being extricable from the surrounding fuzz only by the most experienced of ears, it is great music. And yet I have mixed feelings about it. It's amazing and important and thrilling, and I know I would be diminished by huge amounts had I never heard it-but it is not the music of my heart. The music is so heady it's hard to find in it belly or guts or heart. Still, I do love it, especially the way the tunes sometimes scoot out of themselves and seem disembodied, as if otherwordly creatures are playing.

Bruce Molsky, Kenny Jackson, Bruce Greene, and Brad Leftwich (who, with Linda Higginbotham on banjo-uke, recreates Ed and Ella's highly charged rhythm) are among the "young fogies" now who present very heartful interpretations of Haley's music. These renditions make me wonder how much of the airiness I hear in Haley's music is due to the distant quality of old recordings. Was his fiddling really more emotional than we can hear? What was inside all those folds and ripples? If we could have heard the incredible "Man of Constant Sorrow" in person, would we have felt our souls pulled out of us instead of almost pulled out of us? Even though the recordings are available, we will never know.

Molly Tenenbaum

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The Hammons Family - The Traditions of a West Virginia Family and Their Friends
The Library of Congress Archive of Folk Culture/Rounder CD 1504/1505

Titles too numerous to list.

Burl Hammons: fiddle, banjo; Sherman Hammons: banjo; Maggie Hammons: vocals; Lee Hammons: banjo; Mose Coffman: fiddle.

This boxed set brings together all of the landmark material from the Hammons' Library of Congress recordings and their Rounder album, Shaking Down the Acorns into one two-CD set. There are additional notes in the accompanying booklet that is 120+ pages long. Not all of the photographs from the original Library of Congress box are here, but they are on a web site. What is here are all of those great old ballads, fiddle, and banjo tunes, laced with conversation, stories and riddles. These recordings more than any others provide a portrait of a family and some of their friends who lived in another time. Their world was so far removed from the day-to-day experience of the modern mainstream that listening to this recording creates an almost dream-like experience as we eavesdrop on these lives. These recordings are a generation old so that the distance is even more pronounced than it was then. These were people who lived in an everyday relationship to nature. The stories and songs reflect a great part of their personal wealth. The bottom line to them was written in a much different ledger.

It could be quite easy to romanticize their lives, but these were lives full of hard work. This is reflected in the stories that tie together their tunes and songs.

Disc one focuses on Burl Hammons and his tunes and stories. The extent of the influence of these original recordings is obvious when looking at the tune list for this disc. The first three tunes on this disc are "Old Sledge," "Camp Chase," and "Three Forks of Cheat." They are commonly played tunes among many old-time musicians today. These versions are fun to listen to to see how much the tunes have changed in the hands and minds of players since. The last four cuts of the first disc present Sherman Hammons' banjo and stories. This disc is primarily instrumental, featuring banjo and fiddle tunes with the stories. Disc two centers on Maggie Hammons and her wealth of songs and therefore is more oriented to vocals. The last couple of cuts on this disc give us a glimpse into some of the family friends, Lee Hammons and Mose Coffman on banjo and fiddle respectively.

These are field recordings and as such are full of the ambiance one could expect in a home. You can hear other members of the family or friends in the background or interjected comments and other incidental noises. All of the cuts are solo performances often with some commentary by the performer.

It is nice to have all of this material collected by Carl Fleischauer, Dwight Diller, and Alan Jabbour in one package. The notes are extensive and all of the original notes are included with the addition of a new preface by Alan Jabbour and some updated notes about some of the songs and tunes. Bob Carlin's fine hand is present here in the production end.

All of these musicians are dead now but this memorial to these common folks with not-so-common talents, lives on. This is basic material for the old-time library. Get it.

Bob Buckingham

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Dick Harrington and Victoria Young - Lover's Return
Fiddletop Productions FTP002D

Dick Harrington: vocals, guitar, fiddle; Victoria Young: vocals, autoharp, lap dulcimer; Mark Beall: bass; Judy Chaudet: banjo; Gary Hawk: harmonica.

Lover's Return
The Rain Don't Fall on Me No More
On a Lonesome Night
Rye Straw
Mountain Laurel
Pretty Saro
T for Texas
When First Unto this Country A Stranger
Greasy String
Will You Miss Me?
Bravest Cowboy
St. Louis Blues
Little Birdie
Midnight on the Stormy Deep
Dry and Dusty
Wild Bill Jones
Angel Band
West Virginia, My Home
8th of January
I'm Going Out West.

Dick Harrington and Victoria Young are a musical married couple from Nelson County, Virginia whose affection for the old-time music they play is immediately apparent in their performances of the material offered up on their new CD. Lover's Return features a generous 20 songs and comes in at just under 70 minutes, covering a lot of musical ground in the process. With roots planted squarely in the Southeast, Dick and Victoria have chosen a good mix of old standards and a few that are of more recent vintage. Well-seasoned chestnuts like "Pretty Saro" and "Wild Bill Jones" provide a nice contrast to Hazel Dickens' "West Virginia, My Home" and "Mountain Laurel," which Victoria learned from the Bluegrass Cardinals. There are Carter Family numbers and a song by Carter Stanley, as well as fiddle tunes learned from Tommy Jarrell and John Ashby.

Dick and Victoria, for the most part, use guitar and autoharp, respectively, to accompany themselves on the vocal numbers. On the instrumental pieces, Dick switches to fiddle and Victoria to dulcimer. Friends Judy Chaudet, Mark Beall, and Gary Hawk help out occasionally on banjo, bass, and harmonica. The overall sound is simple, sincere, laid back, and a bit on the introspective side. This is old-time music as you might expect to hear it in a house concert or coffee house but not at a fiddlers convention. It's not dance music and most of the rough edges have been smoothed out, but it nonetheless works most of the time. However, this approach just doesn't sound convincing to me when it is applied to rowdy blues numbers like "St. Louis Blues" and Jimmie Rodgers' "T for Texas." But then, my tastes lean towards a rawer approach to music in general. Despite my biases, I found this to be a well-done and enjoyable recording.

Jim Nelson
To order: Fiddletop Productions, 1779 Mountain Rd., Afton VA 22920.

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Roscoe Holcomb - The High Lonesome Sound
Smithsonian Folkways CD 40104
Roscoe Holcomb: banjo, guitar, vocals; Mike Seeger and John Cohen: fiddle and banjo respectively on "I'm a Free Little Bird."

Old Smokey
Little Birdie
House in New Orleans
Trouble in Mind
The Wandering Boy
Hook and Line
Married Life Blues
Omie Wise
Willow Tree
Boats Up the River
In the Pines
Fox Chase
Little Gray Mule
I'm a Free Little Bird
Little Bessie
Motherless Children
Darlin Corey
Roll on Buddy
A Village Churchyard
Walk Around My Bedside.

One of the photographs in John Cohen's liner notes to this superb collection shows Roscoe Holcomb and Ralph Stanley sitting side by side on a bus seat singing together from the Old Baptist Songbook. As far as old-time singing goes, the sound of Roscoe and Ralph together would be about the only thing I could imagine surpassing the intensity of Holcomb's solo vocals on this CD. Surely, the blended voices of Roscoe and Ralph together must have peeled paint!

Like many others who got interested in old-time music in the mid-1960s, Roscoe Holcomb's intense singing and playing were part of my first exposure to the high lonesome sound. Truly, we all owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to urban musicians and collectors like John Cohen. Cohen's recognition of the power and beauty of Roscoe Holcomb's singing and playing led to the gift of these recordings of a musician who almost certainly would not have been documented otherwise. For Holcomb, unlike Dock Boggs and Doc Watson, was never commercially recorded or even appreciated much beyond his immediate community. We are very, very lucky to have these recordings.

Many attempts have been made to describe Roscoe's voice and its effect on the listener upon first hearing it. John Pankake's comment, quoted in Cohen's liner notes, that Roscoe Holcomb was ". . . the most moving, profound and disturbing of any country singer in America," and Joel Agee's description of Holcomb's high reedy voice convey something of the wondrous intensity of Holcomb's sound. Agee even tried to approximate Holcomb's characteristic phrasing with the following notation: "Uhcross the Rocky Maa-oon-taaaaaaaaains. . . Awaaaaaan-drinahdid-gooooo." The long-held note, a wild, careening wail that gets its excitement from the impression that it could get out of control at any instant, was Holcomb's trademark, the linchpin of what he himself admitted was a fine voice.

Because he has attained near-legendary status, it's easy to forget that some things about Roscoe Holcomb's manner of singing and playing were part of the wider culture into which he was born. Roscoe Holcomb was born, raised, and lived his entire life in Daisy, Kentucky. A tiny town in the mining country of Perry County, Daisy is one of those linear mining settlements that are strung out along a valley. The little valley is on the western side of the mountains -not all that far as the crow flies- from Ralph and Carter Stanley's and Dock Boggs' homes in Southwestern Virginia. In fact, Holcomb's singing style shares many features, especially it's upper nasal tonality, with the Stanleys, Dock Boggs, and Clarence Ashley as well as others of same generation and region. Like them, his high lonesome buzz-saw voice comes from the tension created from pitching the voice up at the very top of its range without shifting into the falsetto. For this at it's best, listen to Holcomb's "In the Pines," pitched in the upper stratosphere of the high lonesome sound. Ornamentation comes from quavers in which the voice dips down and back toward the end of a long-held note. It is these long-held notes that are most characteristic of Roscoe's singing style and which he takes to nearly unbelievable extremes. Almost everything he sings has these prolonged passages which, if notated musically, would last two measures or more. "Old Smoky" is a tour-de-force in this regard, its notes are so drawn out that it's easy to imagine Roscoe harmonizing with himself as the echo of an earlier note comes back at him from across the valley.

The material is combined from three Folkways recordings issued in 1961, 1962, and 1974, and now re-released by the Smithsonian. Though I'd heard much of it before it's been a real pleasure to hear so much of Roscoe's music juxtaposed this way and to hear it so clearly. Similarly, John Cohen's liner notes have to be worth the price of the CD alone. Thoughtfully written, the notes provide a sensitive portrait of Roscoe Holcomb and his music. Among my favorite tunes on the recording are the gorgeous, soaring "Trouble in Mind," with bluesy banjo accompaniment; the eerie, unaccompanied "Wandering Boy," and "Little Bessie," another haunting piece from the Old Baptist Songbook that has also been recorded by the Stanley Brothers. Ranging from a galloping frailing style on "Little Birdie," to a more detailed drop thumb sound on "Hook and Line," to a finger style similar to Dock Boggs on "Married Life Blues," Holcomb's banjo playing provides an insistent, driving underpinning to his piercing vocals. His deft guitar playing, seemingly done with similar slidy technique as his finger-style banjo playing, drives a bluesy "House of the Risin' Sun," and "Boat's Up the River." In fact, even if Holcomb had never been a singer, his extraordinary instrumental ability would surely have drawn attention on its own. The final cut on the CD is Holcomb's performance, backed by his hypnotic guitar playing, of a riveting piece from the Holiness Church called "Walk Around My Bedside." In sum, this is a splendid collection. The sound, detailed and intimate, has been beautifully redone from earlier recordings, and the original liner notes have been expanded and illustrated with many fine black and white photographs. This is essential to the collection of anyone interested in hearing one of the best old-style southern traditional singers and musicians ever recorded.
Gail Gillespie

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Paul Kleinwald - From the Hills: Old Time Banjo For The New Millennium
Gabriel PA001CD

I'll Tickle Nancy
Minor Medley(Paddy on the Turnpike, Angeline the Baker, Mississippi Sawyer)
Philadelphia Lawyer
Kingdom Coming
Beware Oh Take Care
Song of the French Broad River
Bill Morgan and His Gal
Oregon Trail
Old Uncle Ed
Old Molly Hare
Little Margaret
Major Trilogy(Saint Anne's Reel, Over the Waterfall, Soldier's Joy)
Why Do You Bob Your Hair Girls.

Paul Kleinwald has played old-time and bluegrass banjo for over 30 years and is currently based in Massachusetts. During this time he has recorded with a number of artists, including Arlo Guthrie. On his new recording, From The Hills, he presents a program of 13 songs on which he demonstrates that he possesses a great command over his instrument and can play quite well in a variety of banjo styles, from clawhammer to three-finger Scruggs style. According to the press release that came with this CD (other than a list of tunes, there are no liner notes), Kleinwald hopes, with no small amount of ambition, "that this project will expose a new generation to tunes which have largely been unavailable on recordings for the past 20 years." But just a quick look over the program here gave me a different impression. I found that I was familiar with and indeed had recent recordings of most of the material presented on this disc, with the exception of Obray Ramsey's "Song of the French Broad River" and the Child ballad, "Little Margaret," both of which are fairly obscure pieces (and pleasantly sung and played here). That leaves me a bit confused by Kleinwald's statement. Despite his good intentions and displays of virtuosity, I think that this CD may fall a bit short of the expectations held by many readers of the OTH. However, it may strike a chord with the more general folk music audience, which may have been the intended audience in the first place.

Jim Nelson
To order: Paul Kleinwald, PO Box 594, Great Barrington MA 01230 413-528-4252.

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Sam McGee - Grand Dad of the Country Guitar Pickers
Arhoolie CD 9009

Sam McGee: guitar, guitar-banjo, banjo, vocals; Clifton McGee: second guitar; Goldie Stewart: bass.

Sam McGee Stomp
Fuller Blues
Burglar Bold
Dew Drop
Jesse James
Ching Chong
Blackberry Blossom
How Great Thou Art
When the Wagon Was New
Franklin Blues
Penitentiary Blues
Pig Ankle Rag
Railroad Blues
Buckdancer's Choice
Black Mountain Rag
Wayfaring Stranger.

In a world where a "folksinger" seems to be defined by many as a vocalist accompanied by an acoustic guitar, it's easy to forget that the guitar was a relatively late addition to old-time music. "Spanish guitar" (as opposed to what, Hawaiian guitar??) was introduced into southern old-time music during the last part of the 19th century, and by the time the fledgling recording industry became interested in hillbilly music, the guitar was firmly entrenched in country music, alongside the fiddle and banjo.

Most early hillbilly guitarists who recorded played with a flatpick, backing up vocals and string-band numbers. Surely the greatest and most influential of these was Riley Puckett, whose deft if demented bass runs help propel the Skillet Lickers‰ music into the stratosphere.

But there was another important style of country guitar, exemplified by several great country finger-pickers who came to the fore during the '20s. 1926 saw the first recordings of Sam McGee and Frank Hutchison, both white finger-pickers who had been heavily influenced not only by hillbilly music but also by the playing of African-American guitarists. Mississippi John Hurt, whose music is so closely related to that of both McGee and Hutchison, wasn't recorded until 1928. Later in the 20th century this pantheon of country finger-pickers was joined by Doc Watson.

Sam McGee had a long and distinguished career in country music, performing with his brother Kirk (often in combination with Uncle Dave Macon), and playing on the Grand Ole Opry every Saturday night from about 1926 until his death in 1975.

The new Arhoolie release of Sam McGee is aptly titled Grand Dad of the Country Guitar Pickers, and contains a nice cross-section of McGee's repertoire, recorded in 1969 and 1970, when McGee was 75 years old. While perhaps these selections don't have quite the fire of the McGee Brothers' early recordings, the music on this album is still incredibly hot and would stand up just fine in comparison to many guitar albums made by pickers who are 50 years younger. At age 75, Sam McGee picks very very cleanly, with a lovely tone (even on the banjo-guitar, which is no mean feat!).

Included are all of Sam McGee's signature tunes: "Buckdancer's Choice," "Railroad Blues," and "Franklin's Blues" are all well known to devotees of 1920s hillbilly music, and Sam McGee could pick the hell out of these tunes after 50 years of practice! There are other instrumentals as well, including a blistering "Blackberry Blossom," and a "Dew Drop Waltz" that sounds like a steam calliope. In addition to this cross-section of blues tunes, waltzes and breakdowns, the album also contains old-time country vocals including the sentimental "When the Wagon Was New," Uncle Dave Macon's humorous "Burglar Bold," and McGee's own whimsical "Railroad Blues." On most of the selections, Sam McGee is backed by the unobtrusive rhythm guitar of Clifton McGee (son? nephew?), and on a few there is also an acoustic bass, played very simply.

In the excellent liner notes, Mike Seeger talks a little bit about Sam McGee's life and succeeds in conveying the somewhat shy, down-home personality of this great guitarist. Also included is an interview with McGee conducted in 1969, in which Sam McGee talks about the origins of his music and tells entertaining stories about the very early days of the country music business, traveling with Uncle Dave in a "T-model car" to entertain in schoolhouses and fiddlers contests all over the South. Reading this interview and contemplating the state of the 1998 country music business makes me appreciate all the more the simplicity, the elegance, the drive and the fire of that old-fashioned music of folks like Sam McGee. How lucky we are to have that music to enjoy today.

Suzy Rothfield Thompson

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Ken Perlman - Island Boy: Fiddle Tunes from Prince Edward Island & Cape Breton on Clawhammer Banjo & Fingerstyle Guitar
Wizmak W579-27

Ken Perlman, banjo & guitar; Kevin Chaisson, piano; John Rossbach, guitar.

Lord MacDonald's Reel-The Princess Reel
Miss Maxwell-Miss Gordon-Robert Stubbert
Brae Reel-Miramichi Fire
Belfast Jig-Inverness Jig-Bear River Jig
Glenfiddich Strathspey-Homeward Bound
Northside Tune-Over the Briny Ocean
Captain Campbell-Cape Breton Wedding Reel
Andrew Renwick's Ferret
Upper Denton Hornpipe-Fiddlin' Phil
Niel Gow's Fiddle-Scoundiness
Duke of Gordon's Birthday-Dragger's Reel-Green Meadow Reel-Paddy on the Turnpike
Irishman's Heart to the Ladies-River Bend Jig
Rothiemurchas Rant-Bonnie Lass of Fisberrow-Koebler's Hornpipe
Joe Kearney's Reel-Darlin' Don't You Meddle Me-Fermoy Lasses
Space Available-Dismissal-Dublin Porter
Bishop MacDonald-Glengarry's Dirk-Bird's Nest
Island Boy-St. Anne's Reel.

Ken Perlman occupies a position in old-time music analogous to that of Stefan Grossman in the blues. That is, each man is a consummate instrumental performer who is even better- known as a teacher and author of book, sound, and video instruction based on traditional playing styles. Island Boy presents Perlman as performer, playing fiddle tunes he collected on Prince Edward Island, and this disc serves as an illustration of his fine article in the OTH (vol. 6 no. 2). Here he has arranged the jigs, reels, and strathspeys for clawhammer banjo unobtrusively backed by guitar and piano, and, in some examples, for solo fingerstyle guitar.

The tune repertoire of PEI has developed independently of fretted instruments, and Perlman has done a sound job of translating its bowed nuances to the banjo. At best, 6/8 rhythm is quite difficult in clawhammer and triplets and grace notes require great skill to execute. Perlman has developed a tremolo with his picking index finger for the triplets which not only works but also links his playing with contemporary Celtic banjo. The slower strathspeys and airs are rendered here in lush solo guitar arrangements which have much of the same dreamy appeal of the O'Carolan airs currently popular among soloists of the DADGAD persuasion.

Perlman is fully aware of the hazards inherent in attempting to capture the slurs and sustain of highly rhythmic fiddle bowing with the snap of the banjo, and in doing so he risks the disapproval of the Islanders themselves, whose stock observation to a banjoist or guitarist is, "You know, you could play the fiddle!" Whether anyone will want to dance to Perlman's banjo rendition of this most danceable repertoire remains to be seen.

The album's 40-plus tunes also may provide a challenging listening experience for anyone not deep into clawhammer banjo technique. Island Boy may best be considered an archive or database of Perlman's complementary skills as musician and ethnologist in documenting the rich traditions of Prince Edward Island, and as such will take a place on the shelf of his considerable and valuable publications.

Jon & Marcia Pankake
To Order: Wizmak Productions, Box 477, Wingdale NY 12594.

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Book Review
Nolan Porterfield - Last Cavalier: The Life and Times of John A. Lomax

University of Illinois Press, 1996. 580 pp., Sources, Index.

Those of us old enough to remember the generation of men born in the decades after the Civil War will immediately understand the John Lomax that Nolan Porterfield narrates into existence in his seamless and detailed biography. This was the generation, more than any other before or since, that experienced almost as a personal metamorphosis the passing away of one world and the coming of another. They were boys in one world, men in another; shaped by the horse-and-buggy, the plough, the newspaper and the Bible, sometimes heavily encumbered as young men with such arcane cultural superfluities as table manners, classroom deportment, respect for one's elders, courtship rituals, patriotism, diction and elocution, shame and starched collars. They found themselves, almost literally overnight, let loose in a civilization infatuated with office work, mustard gas, the aeroplane (spelled that way), skyscrapers and the radio; commuted from a world in which all bets were on to one in which they were all off, they didn't know whether to love it or loathe it, and either way were damned if they did and damned if they didn't.

They were easy to recognize. First, the girth. John Lomax has one, it seems, almost from birth; in time, like other men of his generation, he hangs a watch-chain on it, like bunting. Then the fedora hat, which he always wears, even inside-not because he used to be a cowboy, as some people used to imagine of John Lomax, but because the hat, like the girth, the railroad watch, and the cigar, were all part of the disguise, the protective covering, the way that men who knew themselves to be clover-kickers at heart tried to play the reigning part, the part of the mogul, the money-maker, the go-getter, the Man of the Age. Remember them? They used to go on camping trips, often with expensive and elaborate fishing gear, tents, cots, and daybooks, with outdoor guides to guide them not infrequently. On Sunday afternoon social occasions, still in their bank-vault three-piece suits, though perhaps with shirtsleeves rolled up on a hot day, they would gather themselves with other men, away from the women, to smoke cigars, to talk about politics, furnaces, and insurance policies, and perhaps to pass around some old relic of the Civil War, a 19-pound Remington rolling-block rifle, in its day the most advanced mechanism in the field. They liked minstrel shows, and might actually perform in one at the Elks Club or the Masons‰ Charity Ball, glee clubs, and Varieties, genuinely loved their wives and were in the main faithful to them, though they might find marriage a bit claustrophobic. And in spite of all the indications that might to a rational mind have suggested the utter futility of such a project, they managed to import into the 20th-Century, along with some of the old parochialism and prejudice, a 19th-Century feeling for American democracy, not as some gleaming aeronautical juggernaut of money, machinery, and power, but as a popular force, full of human color and texture, principally in the keep of sturdy and forward-looking fellows like themselves.

The men of Lomax's generation, the great proportion of whom were born on farms and small towns, as were most of the rising class of industrialists like McCormick and Pullman and Ford, mostly did not grasp until later in life how drastically and irreversibly the railroads, the growth of the industrial cities, the urban migration and the rest would alter the face of America. They did not feel, at first, like strangers, but like pioneers; the rise of the big manufacturing companies, the consumption-driven expansion of the middle class, the exfoliation of new white-collar occupations, represented an enormous opportunity. Unlike the agrarians of the past, they did not see the future in republican terms, the yeoman farmer or artisan independently cultivating public virtue on his few acres of rights and freedoms; urban markets had mostly robbed the farmer of his autonomy, and machinery made him both an agent of mass production and a dependent consumer. The farm life seemed hard, harder than ever before; neither the farmer nor the tradesman had any real future. No, the future lay in business, and, if you had any hankering for respectability, there were the church-affiliated academies, the new normal schools, the state colleges, and, for the fortunate few, the land grant universities, where a young man with enterprise and initiative could hope to kick the mud off of his boots and come into the world with what used to be called zip and polish. Underneath it all, however, as the compulsive male bonding, the camping trips, the blackface shenanigans all reveal, was a longing for a simpler and freer, even an irresponsible life, what the childlike plantation slave, the Indian Brave, and the cowboy, whose images filled the head of every boy who could read a dime novel or go to a circus or a Wild West show all symbolized.

Porterfield's Last Cavalier: The Life and Times of John A. Lomax-more life than times, as it turns out-is a version of this collective story, told by a vastly intelligent and indefatigably loyal biographer whose unflagging devotion to his subject tends nearly to obscure the history from which his life derives its meaning. Set loose in the archives of a man who seems never to have been young, and to have embodied his entire experience in his correspondence-according to the author Lomax could sometimes deliver himself of five or six letters a day when he was on the road-Porterfield becomes so absorbed that it is possible to forget, sometimes, just why John Lomax attracted the notice of a biographer in the first place. Unlike his superb biography of Jimmie Rodgers, so evocative of the South of the 1920s that one could return to the Father of Country music and almost read Porterfield's luminous narrative in his voice, Porterfield's biography of John Lomax sticks doggedly to the archival record, seeming sometimes to be a book more about the archive than about the man, producing a closely woven and seamless account of Lomax's professional life, while leaving in the shadows the memories, the longings, and imaginative flights that gave us the great Lomax collections of folk songs.

Yet this is no mean feat. John Lomax had, in fact, two, or maybe three lives-that of a college administrator, alumni secretary, broker, and banker, at once the least-remembered and the most prominent of his many aspects; that of a Harvard man swept up in the scholarly passion of the day for a regional literature and a native folk tradition; and finally that of an indefatigable collector and recorder of folk songs, particularly black folksong. In each of these incarnations Lomax left behind important monuments-the Texas Alumni Association, called the "Texas Exes," a series of colorful folksong collections, beginning of course with his famous Cowboy Songs, as well as the main body of the recorded songs in the Library of Congress's Archive. He also left, in each of his lives, a legacy of controversy, typically caught in the middle or on the wrong side of the endless struggles between academicians and politicians; a careless if colorful brand of scholarship which sometimes put him at odds with forgotten composers of songs and with copyright law; and his notoriously fractured relationship with the black songster Huddie Ledbetter, the record of which Porterfield finally sets straight, properly scolding the folklorist for his racial myopia but at the same time dispelling the myths that have made him all villain and Leadbelly all victim in the case.

Any one of these careers would have been sufficient by itself to make a reputation, and any of his monuments sufficient to justify a life. Lomax seems to have had virtually three lifetimes as well, each succeeding the other like waves, each riding on the ever-growing network of friendships, affiliations, and connections arising from his lifelong association with the University of Texas. Midlifers take note: Lomax was 37, already well known as a kind of one-man bureaucracy at the University and as a restlessly proactive alumni secretary, when he found an opportunity to pursue his dream of a Master's degree at Harvard; he was 64, recently widowed, deeply depressed, in poor health and unable to work-circumstances that would, I think, have defeated most of us-when, with the encouragement and help of his sons John Jr. and Alan, he undertook his wandering life on the road, with the resilience and energy of a man half his age, as the indefatigable ballad hunter and honorary bum. With a professional woman, Ruby Terrill, his second wife, to keep the homefires burning, and a married older daughter, Shirley, to look after the younger one, Bess, Lomax's calamity had become his opportunity-and while far from simple and unencumbered, Lomax the ballad hunter had in a sense found the life of the footloose and fancy free that most men of his generation could only dream of. One cannot but sympathize with Porterfield for becoming so fascinated with the problem of disentangling these wretchedly tangled threads, which he does with admirable zeal and transparency, producing a book that is really three books, each dominated by its own interests and addressed to its own audience.

The first of these is in effect a kind of early history of the University of Texas and incidentally a review of Texas politics-an intriguing book, in fact, for any one who wonders what political background could have given us the likes of Governor "Farmer Jim" Ferguson and Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel, not to mention Lyndon Johnson or Tom Delay and Dick Armey, as well as the great University at Austin itself. But this story, laden with the tiresomely routine particulars of academic politics as well as of statehouse megalomania and demagoguery, would seem to be more interesting to Texans, or even University Texans, than to the rest of us-for while Lomax exhibits throughout his ambition, his insecurity, and his relentless appetite for hard work, it is nevertheless the story of a man of more institutional than historical importance, in whose life folksong plays a scarcely visible role.

In this sense, Last Cavalier actually begins around page 107, when John Lomax arrives in Cambridge. Here Porterfield gives us a lively account of Harvard University at one of its more glorious periods, and engaging portraits of the two professors of literature, Barrett Wendell and George Lyman Kittredge, whose enthusiasm for Lomax's proposed paper on cowboy songs initiated his career as a folksong collector, anthologist, and lecturer. With apparent effortlessness Porterfield juggles a hundred topics at a time, capturing Lomax in the prime of life, detailing the range of activities, and a series of triumphs, inspired by his Harvard experience. Collecting songs, both through intermittent summer field trips but more importantly by solicitation through newspapers and printed circulars, what might have been only a pastime, he pursed with the intensity of one set on fortune and fame, even while heavily burdened with the duties of registrar, admissions officer, direction of extension services, publicist, teacher, and secretary, among other responsibilities, both at Texas A & M, where he spent a temporary political exile, and at Austin. In these years, following upon his groundbreaking lecture called "The Songs of the Cowboys" at the 1909 meeting of the Modern Language Association, the publication of Cowboy Songs in 1910, and his meeting with Teddy Roosevelt at the Frontier Days Celebration in Cheyenne, where he secured the former president's endorsement of the book, Lomax emerged as America's folksong expert, soothing the heart of a society perplexed by modernity with the calming strains of "Git Along, Little Dogies," "The Old Chisholm Trail," "Sweet Betsy from Pike," and "Home on the Range"-which, it turned out many years later, had been written in 1873 by a Kansas doctor.

Lomax's reputation, we are likely to forget, was mainly that of a lecturer and raconteur, first, and an author second. More than anything else it was his lectures, his singing of cowboy songs, and most of all what he called his "long, eerie, lonesome night-herding yodel," that won John Lomax a place in the cultural pantheon, and even more his large, bristling, wrinkled personal presence. Lomax was a personality, a kind of mountebank. The most heartfelt tributes to him come from men like Lloyd Lewis and Carl Sandburg, his friends, who had sat up all night with him in a railroad car or a hotel room, arguing politics, singing songs, and telling stories; this was the setting, indeed, in which he died-collapsing at age 80 in a chair just after delivering himself of a bawdy song called "Big Leg Rose." The great enthusiasm shown for his lectures and songs arose as much, I suspect, from the picturesque presence of the man as from any intellectual contribution-his theories of song transmission, romantic and already somewhat antiquated, drew their force from his consistent association of the songs with the man free of attachments who worked outdoors, of whom the knight-errant cowboy was the ideal type.

Like his friend Sandburg, and like so many cowboy stars, politicians, and folk singers after them, Lomax summoned, and was himself an embodiment of, a past that the new commercial America knew it had lost. He was not a rustic, at least not outwardly, but dignified, formal, even pompous, in an almost self-consciously old-fashioned way; as he himself understood better than anyone-he called himself "the upper crust of the poor white trash"-a varnish coat of education and the shine of literary reputation could not conceal the coarse grain of rural Bosque County, Texas, where he was raised. Therein lay his charm. And so it is a curious omission in this otherwise exhaustively researched and detailed book that, one short summary passage excepted, Porterfield does not once pause to describe, or even to try to imagine, a lecture by John A. Lomax. Perhaps there is no direct testimony, or no one around to remember--but we are left to speculate on what must in retrospect seem the strange rotund sour-faced figure of the man at the lectern, both schoolmaster and medicine show doctor, vaguely evocative both of a Harvard scholar and aging trail boss, dilating in stentorian tones on the young Galahads of the western plains, or the virile black primitives of the prison camps, and ending with a sorrowful yodel that, as his friend Lloyd Lewis wrote, made him "feel the dust, the great grass ocean, the harrowed bellowing steers" of the Texas plains.

A similar reluctance pervades the falling action of the book, in which Porterfield scrupulously recounts Lomax's born-again life on the road, his vexed negotiations with various personages at the Library of Congress, his struggles with recalcitrant and cumbersome recording machines and the overexacting song-transcriber Ruth Seeger, and, almost incidentally, his uneasy partnership with his teenage son Alan, who in carrying on his father's work came to rival and finally to exceed him as America's premier collector of folk songs. In the concluding chapters, as elsewhere in the book, Porterfield supplies much clarifying detail, especially where legend, lore, and sheer gossip have tended to blur both facts and people, as in the case of Lomax's misbegotten relationship with Leadbelly and their visit to New York. But it is impossible to read these chapters, now that Alan Lomax, in his 70s, is finally getting the recognition he deserves, without looking for some insight into what had to have been the most important relationship of his life.

But here again, Porterfield leaves us, perhaps wisely, to speculate. It seems that Alan, more than his elder brother John Jr., was instrumental in coaxing his demoralized father into his renewed career as a song finder; but for this John Jr. gets most of the credit, while Alan remains a somewhat elusive, shadowy figure, harrowingly (to this father) inept in his driving, aggravatingly radical in his political views, and subject to frequent skirmishes with unspecified illnesses. That these were the formative years of the man we all know to have become the hedgehog genius of the folk revival, outspoken and eloquent champion of Cultural Equity, Cantometrics, and the Global Jukebox, who has suffered perhaps more than any of his ilk from a kind of Oedipal rejection of the father by the generation weaned on his work, and who has successfully borne the chalice of folksong through throngs of depth psychologists, social scientists, and political ideologues (while falling like any true knight successively under all of their evil spells), one would not guess. That the old man's attention and approval may somehow have been at stake is nowhere suggested.

My guess is that Porterfield, as much or more a novelist than a biographer, with a novelist's passionate interest in the concrete, in narrative continuity and integrity, in the complexities of human interaction and the puzzles of plot, has allowed himself to become infatuated with the sheer mass of written material John Lomax left behind, and with the challenge of making sense of it all. That he does make sense of it is a brilliant intellectual achievement; but, while he has traveled miles by inches, and thoroughly measured the man, he has given us neither that more probing interior analysis nor that broader historical view of Lomax that would have even more thoroughly justified the exhaustive labors expended on his behalf. Porterfield's book remains largely a book by a Texan, about a Texan, for Texans. It is not any less valuable or less interesting for all that-but it will work best for those of us who come to the book already knowing why we are reading it. And, having come to it, we cannot but be won over by Porterfield's steady-rolling prose, its too self-effacing flashes of wit and native idiom, and a sheer fascination with people that in a sense make it part and parcel of its regional subject matter. Feeling strongly the author's own ties to the nation-within-a-nation called Texas, we may likely feel our own lack of such affiliations-and that is part of his meaning.

A most moving moment in Porterfield's book comes near the end of the old man's life, when his increasingly reactionary views, his truculent outbursts, his nagging sense of failure had begun to alienate even his close family and friends. "I dread my own old age," wrote his old fraternity brother Edgar Witt, "if I am to sour like you seem to have. Of course the world and life has done so little for you-only provided two charming wives, a wonderful family, none of whom was taken or injured by the 2 World Wars that saddened at least 1/3 or 1/2 of the families of the U.S.". . . . wonderful personal success financially & otherwise-& many, many devoted friends." As the author sadly notes, "Witt's remonstrance came too late to have much effect."

One of the ironies of American democracy is that the limited social mobility we do enjoy, undergirded by the fantastic myth, so common in Lomax's day, that urchins in rags might by dint of cleverness and grit eventually become oligarchs and grandees, makes our inevitable collisions with the walls of class and caste just that much more destructive and painful. It is the story that Howells (Lomax's father's generation), Dreiser (his own), Fitzgerald (his children's), all told in their work. In the tremendous lifelong effort that John Lomax made to better himself-from his boyhood behind a mule, to his student, clerical, administrative, academic, literary, financial, and other tasks to which he applied himself with such intensity as to regularly undermine his health and well-being-suggest a number of things about him. First, that he must have thought he wasn't very good to begin with, and hence must better himself; second, that betterment was possible for him, mainly through education; and third, that the white-collar world, administrative, academic, financial, was his avenue to respectability. In these ways, perhaps, he was only a man of his time.

But sounding in his "eerie, lonesome, night-herding yodel" was a sign of something deeper, a childlike and ineradicable romantic faith that would not let him be satisfied, that would forever insist that life has more to offer than can ever be got out of it, though from time to time it will proffer us a glimpse, send us an echo, of its infinite possibility. That was what he was seeking in his slapdash scholarship, which was not scholarship at all but a kind of divination, towards a past not that historians that could describe or that anyone could really remember, but what, collectively, we imagined-or would imagine, after Lomax had done his work-it to be. It was what he was seeking in black music, which had stirred him from youth, in which he thought he heard both the idiom of the courtly South of legend and the cry of a human heart uncontaminated by the artifices of civilization. It was what he heard in the cattle call, the sound of perfect freedom. Like Heinrich Schliemann, the German archeologist who in 1871 located the site of the ancient city of Troy on the basis of clues laid down in the Homeric poems, Lomax was seeking in folksong the site of that dreamed of pure Republic which always lies where memory and time like the rose and the briar twist around each other out of the grave.

Did he find it? No; but if the songs he gathered in his books and recordings are any indication, we cannot doubt the existence of such a country.

Robert Cantwell

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Sourdough Slim & the Saddle Pals - Goin' to the West
Roundup RR 102

"Sourdough Slim" Crowder: accordion, guitar, harmonica, washboard, jawharp, vocals; Chris Stevenson ("Prairie Flower"): bass, clawhammer banjo, guitar, pennywhistle, vocals; "Cactus" Bob Cole: fiddle, mandolin, guitar, mandocello, bodhran, vocals.

The Fugitive's Lament
My Poncho Pony
Old Dan Tucker
Twilight on the Trail
Oklahoma Blues
Farewell John
The Musket Came Down from the Door
Ghost Riders in the Sky
Goin' to the West
I Am a Yodeling Cowboy
Western Skies
Under the Double D
I Was Born in Old Wyoming
Slippin' Away
To the Little Big Horn.

Since 1990, Sourdough Slim and the Saddle Pals have been firmly establishing themselves as major entertainers in the currently hot cowboy music scene. They have performed at many of the larger folk festivals, as well as cowboy poetry gatherings and music festivals across the West.

I found this recording a refreshing change from most of the cowboy music heard today because of its variety. The classic "silver screen" cowboy genre is represented by "Ghost Riders in the Sky," "Twilight on the Trail," and Patsy Montana's "My Poncho Pony." There's an entertaining dose of vaudeville cornpone in songs like "The Musket Came Down from the Door" from the Hoosier Hotshots, Frank Marvin's "Oklahoma Blues," and Carson Robison's "I Was Born in Old Wyoming." "To the Little Big Horn" (actually "Garry Owen"), "Old Dan Tucker," and the lovely "Goin' to the West" are the only traditional numbers included in the set, though the Delmores' "Fugitive's Lament" might be considered traditional now. Slim contributes two original numbers that are good cowboy songs of the Hollywood style. Bob Cole's instrumental composition "Farewell John" is a nice old-time sounding tune, but I must say his "Under the Double D" sounds like western movie theme music.

I wish there were liner notes that told a little more about the band and their sources for learning these songs. I expect the three musicians have a background in old-time music; still most of the music on this CD is closer to the citybilly-radio-movie western approach with appropriate energetic yodeling (not overused as many cowboy singers do) and a professional manner throughout. All three are strong vocalists. I found it entertaining, rarely quite old-time or traditional, but enjoyable and all good fun.

Bob Bovee
To order: Sourdough Slim, PO Box 2021, Paradise, CA 95967.

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Stephen Wade - Dancing in the Parlor
County CO-CD-2721

Stephen Wade: open back, resonator, fretless and gourd banjos; Saul Broudy: harmonica; Wes Butts: Washtub bass; John Cephas: vocal; Mike Craver: vocals, pump organ, piano, guitar; Dudley Connell: vocals, guitar; John Doyle: guitar; Seamus Egan: tenor banjo, wooden flute, pennywhistle; Tony Ellis: fiddle, string bass, guitar; Nancy Fly: accordion; Tom Gray: string bass; Alan Jabbour: fiddle; Tom Layton: rhumba box, washboard; Marvin Reitz: jug; Henry Stinson: harmonica.

Theme from Beethoven's Mandolin Sonatina in C Major
Bonaparte's Retreat
Darling Cory
Feather Bed
Coal Creek March
Rocky Hill
Sunflower Dance
Pretty Polly
Walking in the Parlor
The Ash Grove
Minstrel Medley: Johnny Booker, Liza Jane, Old Jimmy Sutton
Flowery Girls
Foxhunter's Reel
Lost John
Greenback Dollar
Malvern Hill
Hobart Smith's Wabash Blues
Over the Waterfall
Elzic's Farewell
Train on the Island
Oh My Little Darling
Reckless Rufus
Rattler Treed a Possum
Banging Breakdown.

Stephen Wade is known for his many years in the one-man stage event of his devising, Banjo Dancing, and perhaps to some of late, for his occasional pieces concerning traditional music on NPR's "All Things Considered." He has dedicated most of his adult life to the pursuit of the banjo in all it's incarnations. Judging by this CD, once Stephen gets his Fred Van Epps chops in order he will have, finally, to join me in the serious adult world of brick laying and give up all this folderol with music, which will never make anyone a decent living, since at that point he will have nothing else to accomplish in the venue of the merrywang.

The solo banjoist is always faced with the problem of playing an instrument that is in essence a great accompanying instrument. (The first idea is to start dancing, but the knees give out in the end and the problem thus recurs.) The occasional banjo solo is the exception that proves this rule. Stephen includes a few solos here-"Hobart Smith's Wabash Blues" in prime clawhammer vein, "Flowery Girls" a finger-picked parlor piece, Hobart Smith's remarkable drumming "Banging Breakdown"-and they are delights. But he has wisely involved a really outstanding group of players and singers in this recording project as well, and this gives the CD far more variety, and thus imparts a far more pleasurable listening experience, than had he chosen to simply exemplify his banjo mastery with a pure solo effort. All these side musicians bring a great deal to the total effort. I was particularly pleased to hear my old sidekick, Michael Craver, singing on two cuts and playing pump organ on several tunes. The pump organ is a terrific and underused (for obvious reasons I guess) backup instrument for traditional tunes, and Craver, always an outstanding keyboardist, is just the person to bring out its potential.

It is also a delight to hear Tony Ellis and Alan Jabbour on fiddles, although I would have liked for the fiddles throughout this CD to have been a bit higher in the mix, at least matching the banjo and the vocals in presence. Speaking of vocals, here too Stephen and co-producer Joe Wilson have chosen well. In a sense, the point of vocals here is sort of to make the point that this too, The Song, is well-served by the banjo. Be that as it may, the songs are well chosen and the singers, Craver, Dudley Connell, and John Cephas, excellent and themselves quite different from each other. It might have been a nice touch to put them all together on one song: lacking a song featuring more than one voice is rather shocking, actually, on a CD in which Beethoven is included! The banjo-harmonica pairing, which is probably older than the fiddle-banjo duet historically, is also given wonderful expression here, with Saul Broudy, on a great "Lost John."

In terms of the main subject-the banjo, the banjo, the banjo-if I had to pick one CD to try to explain to someone from far away (Mars, Pluto?) just what the banjo is-well, this might be it. The range of banjos Stephen employs would serve the task well, some emphasizing the wonderful low note quality the banjo is capable of, others the bright sting of the 5th string drone, or the rocking repetition of the three-finger roll. It is a nice touch, remarked on in the notes, that this whole project was recorded in a parlor situation, with no overdubbing. Dancing in the Parlor is a CD I expect to be listening to again and again.
Wm. N. Hicks

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Jeff Warner and Jeff Davis - Two Little Boys: More Old-Time Songs for Kids
WD 102

Down in the Diving Bell
Benjie Met the Bear
Shoes and Leggings
Pat Do This
Strike the Bell
Noah Built the Ark
The Farmer's Curst Wife
Foolish Boy
Factory Girls
The Tree in the Woods
A Frog He Went A-Courting
Ida Red
Bill Mason
When We Were Two Little Boys

Jeff Warner and Jeff Davis' Two Little Boys: More Old-Time Songs for Kids is a nice collection of songs and ballads well-sung and played on a variety of instruments.

In fact, there are more than a dozen mostly string instruments represented. There is of course banjo, fiddle, and guitar, the entire mandolin family, as well as the ever-popular nose flute and bowed psaltery. All are competently played and the choice of combinations is especially nice.

The notes give sources and comments about the songs, but no information about the performers. They've obviously "done their homework" in that about half of the songs are from older folksong collections (i.e. Cecil Sharp, Anne and Frank Warner [Jeff Warner's parents], et al.) The others are from family and records.

The singing is always solid, if a little staid for my tastes. All in all this is an interestingly arranged, well-played collection of folk music. In fact, if this was issued in, say 1970, these guys could have been the darlings of the coffee house/folk festival circuit. But is it a good children's recording? For that I had to defer to the experts in the family; my daughters.

We decided to give Two Little Boys a family listen in the car on a two hour trip. The drone of Interstate driving sometimes lulls the gang into a calm-enough state to make thoughtful judgments on such matters.

The first few cuts were received with polite "Okays," some discussions of the rounds brought on by one new to us, and favorable comments for the kids included on the chorus. But by the time we made it to the eighth (of 20 cuts) I ran into a strong plea for something else. Even a promise of a cut of the remuneration for the review couldn't dissuade them.

I've got to admit, a minor song sung solemnly to hurdy gurdy and concertina accompaniment is asking a lot. They incidentally replaced the two Jeffs with not the well-worn Weird Al "Food Album" or the latest from Jewel that were on hand. Instead they chose Bill Wellington's WOOF Radio, a collection of old-time tunes and recently written ballads about skateboarders and walruses strung together in a fast-paced radio show format.

I've come to a couple conclusions: 1, Nonsense refrains in staid old ballads do not necessarily a children's song make, at least as we approach the millennium, and 2, it's not so much the song as how it's "packaged."

My guess is that Jeff Warner and Jeff Davis probably put on a great show for the kids, with all those strange instruments and tales of the songs they sing. This CD would probably make a nice souvenir of their show, but took a little more concentration than we could muster.

Tom Mylet
To order: Jeff Warner & Jeff Davis, 1137 Massachusetts Ave. # 26 Cambridge, MA 02138.

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Various Artists - Mississippi String Bands Vol. 1
Document 8009

Floyd Ming & His Pep Steppers: Indian War Whoop
Old Red
White Mule
Tupelo Blues
Carter Bros. & Son: Liza Jane
Give the Fiddler a Dram
Old Joe Bone
Saddle Up the Grey
Leather Breeches
Nancy Rowland
Cotton Eyed Joe
Miss Brown
Jenny on the Railroad
Give Me a Chaw Tobacco
Red Whitehead & Dutch Coleman: Boonville Stomp
Dad's Getting Fuzzy
Freeny's Barn Dance Band: Don't You Remember the Time
The Leake County Two Step
Sullivan's Hollow
Croquet Habits
Mississippi Square Dance Parts 1 & 2
The Freeny Harmonizers: Podunk Toddle
Travellin' Blues.

Back in 1965 when I heard Ming's Pep Steppers' "Indian War Whoop" for the first time, I felt as if I'd been transported to another place, another time, perhaps another planet. So unworldly was the music that it could be from Mars. The marvel that I felt then for that particular recording has never diminished in all the years since and all the music I've heard and learned in between. It was still some years before I was exposed to much more of the unusual string-band recordings from Mississippi and realized that "Indian War Whoop" was perhaps the weirdest of the tunes but that Mississippi string-band tunes were often extraordinary. It's a delight to have Document producing a series of CDs that they say will present the "complete recorded works in chronological order" for the period 1928 to 1935.

Volume One includes all the 78 issues of Floyd Ming and His Pep Steppers, the Carter Brothers and Son, Red Whitehead and Dutch Coleman, and the two Freeny bands. Most of these cuts have been reissued on once-readily available recordings: two numbers on the Marimac string-band tapes Goin' Up Town and It'll Never Happen Again, and most others on County LPs Traditional Music of Mississippi Vol. 1 & 2, Echoes of the Ozarks (the LP versions included misplaced Mississippi tunes), Ridin' in an Old Model T, and Harmonica Favorites. As far as I can tell, all these are out of print except the Marimac tapes, but even if you have all of these previous reissues you'll want the tunes not available before.

Floyd Ming's (actually his name was Hoyt Ming) "Old Red" and "White Mule," while not able to approach the exciting bizarreness of "Indian War Whoop" or the jaunty ragginess of "Tupelo Blues," are still fine examples of Mississippi dance tunes. The Carter Brothers and Son are one of the most rousing string bands on record, driving fiddles with insistent guitar backup and fine singing even when the words were forgotten! The only number of theirs not previously available on reissue is the wonderful "Saddle Up the Grey." Sadly, the sound on this tune is "pluperfect awful" and only the high quality of the music and the anticipation of finally having it on CD makes it tolerable.

The two songs by harmonica player Red Whitehead and guitarist Dutch Coleman are the only selections not by fiddle bands. These are wonderful country harp showpieces. Then we are back to fiddle music with Freeny's Barn Dance Band, a five-piece outfit from central Mississippi, and their three-piece off-shoot, The Freeny Harmonizers, who round out the CD. Three of these numbers not issued before are "The Leake County Two Step," which makes a very danceable schottische, "Mississippi Square Dance Part 1," and "Travellin' Blues." The latter song I only knew from the version recorded some years back by the Double Decker String Band, but all three of these tunes deserve to be spread around more. Of course, the well-known Freeny tunes are here, and if you're not familiar with "Sullivan's Hollow," "Croquet Habits," and "Don't You Remember the Time," it's time you heard them.

Those readers acquainted with the fiddle music of Mississippi probably already know they want this release and the further volumes of this series. On the other hand, if you are among those who haven't yet discovered the unique charm of Mississippi fiddling, this volume is an excellent starting point. Remastering could certainly be better; there's lots of noise and, as noted above, "Saddle Up the Grey" is especially bad. The music is worth it, though. I also would have liked more complete notes, but within the confines of the space allowed, Tony Russell has written them well. I'll be watching for Vol. 2.

Bob Bovee

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Various Artists - Smithsonian Folkways American Roots Collection
Smithsonian Folkways SF CD 40062

Lightnin' Hopkins: Penitentiary Blues
Roosevelt Sykes: Sweet Old Chicago
Bill Monroe: Blue Moon of Kentucky
Pete Seeger: If I Had a Hammer
Lucinda Williams: Lafayette
Young, Duhon, & Balfa: Bosco Stomp
Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry: Better Day
Lonnie Johnson: Long Road to Travel
Doc Watson & Clarence Ashley: Coo Coo Bird
Doug Wallin: Pretty Saro
Elizabeth Cotten: Freight Train
New Lost City Ramblers: Old Joe Bone
Bill Monroe & Doc Watson: Have a Feast Here Tonight
Josh White: Freedom Road
Woody Guthrie: This Land Is Your Land
Two Good Men
Lead Belly: In the Pines
Big Joe Williams: Somebody's Been Fooling #1
Dave Van Ronk: Hesitation Blues
Peggy Seeger: Gonna Be an Engineer
Mercedez Lopez: Delgadina
Michele Lancaster & Sweet Honey in the Rock: I Was Standing by the Bedside of a Neighbor
Mary Lou Williams: Virgo Syl-O-Gism
SNCC Freedom Singers with Dorothy Cotton and Pete Seeger: We Shall Overcome.
Various Artists - Songs of the Old Regular Baptists: Lined-Out Hymnody from Southeastern Kentucky
Smithsonian Folkways SF CD 40106

Brethren We Have Met Again
On Jordan's Stormy Banks
O How Happy Are They
The Day is Past and Gone
Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah
Jesus Thou Art the Sinner's Friend
Jesus Left His Home in Glory
Salvation O the Name I Love
I'm Not Ashamed to Own My Lord
I Am a Poor Pilgrim of Sorrow
Farewell Vain World
I Am Going to a City
(spoken) The meaning of singing.

Our long love affair with Folkways Records began in 1958 when we bought our first Folkways album, a 10" Sonny Terry disc. Since then, the intense pleasure we have derived from Folkways LPs has been marred only by the frustration of being unable to possess the entire Folkways catalogue. No matter how many Folkways discs one hears, the sheer volume and rich variety of Moe Asch's magnificent catalogue of world sounds keeps one's musical horizons infinitely expanding and stretching away into the distance: hear Joseph Spence and one wants to hear more Caribbean music, hear one volume of Ramsey's Music of the South and one wants to hear all 10 volumes, hear one Zez Confrey and one wants to hear all the ragtime albums. And so it goes. One finally has to accept that more than one lifetime would be needed to experience this vast archive to which Moe Asch devoted his life.

The Smithsonian Institution appears to be the heir of Moe Asch in more ways than one, as its catalogue of old and new Folkways CD issues begins to take on the plenitude of Moe's LP treasure trove. Their American Roots Collection is a most tantalizing sampler of the riches currently available on Smithsonian Folkways CDs. Cunningly edited, this disc selects the most attractive and accessible performances of a wide range of Folkways "roots" musicians (is that word coming to replace "folk," "old-time," "vernacular," and other attempts to describe these varieties of musics?). For example, while we generally are cool to the later electric performances of Lightnin' Hopkins and Joe Williams, the wonderful turns heard here are from those performers' acoustic songster sides. Hopkins is as musing and subdued as a man on his front porch, while Williams bops out the brand of jump music Elvis would transform into rockabilly. It seems unlikely that any readers of this magazine will have missed the superb lineup of old-time performances from Watson, Ashley, Monroe, Cotten, Wallin, and the New Lost City Ramblers, but the older Folkways mainstays of Seeger, Lead Belly, and Guthrie may well be new to the CD generation. Yes, kids, their old recordings are indeed as good as these performances.

Josh White's "Freedom Road" illustrates the level of musical prowess Asch was able to muster for his anti-Fascist propaganda mill during World War II, though the lyrics are, alas, not among Langston Hughes's memorable work. Roosevelt Sykes thumps out his rocking piano version of Robert Johnson's "Sweet Home Chicago," a song now popularized in the Blues Brothers movies, and at the cerebral end of the keyboard Mary Lou Williams demonstrates the jazz origins of "cool" as a superlative. Your faithful reviewers had never heard Lucinda Williams, and her lovely, breathy Cajun-pop "Lafayette" has us preparing to shell out for yet another Folkways album, as does Lonnie Johnson's masterful arch-top guitar work on "Long Road to Travel." Be prepared to have your pocketbook reduced and your Folkways collection expanded when you encounter this tempting appetizer tray of the Smithsonian Folkways banquet.

At the opposite end of accessibility, Jeff Titon's field recordings of the Old Regular Baptist congregation of Defeated Creek Church in Linefork, Kentucky, continue the Folkways tradition of documenting the globe's sounds, however measured or far away they may seem to urban audiences. Old Regular Baptist congregational singing is the soaring, unison "lining out" hymnody some of us have heard from Jean Ritchie and Roscoe Holcomb or on the Lomax Southern Journey albums. Not to be confused with the later more rhythmic and orderly Sacred Harp style, Old Regular singing eschews sight-reading for both text and tune, and traces its origins to 16th-century English parish singing.

As drawn as we may be as listeners to the undeniable power of this vocal music, it is a participatory art and yields few of its glories to those who will treat it as a cultural text to be deciphered. The music here is sacrament, not entertainment. As Titon points out in his essay in the liner notes, "Worship, not history, or style, or structure is the most important aspect of the music," a point eloquently underlined by the touching testimonials of the singers which close the album. One feels rather like a voyeur in the face of such raw but unsharable emotions.

However, the church elder who hopes that his descendants a hundred years hence will be able to hear his singing as recorded by Titon speaks for a multitude of artists documented for the ages in the Folkways archives. Somewhere, Moe Asch is smiling broadly. His legacy is in good hands.

Jon & Marcia Pankake

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To Order:

  • Arhoolie Records/Document
    10341 San Pablo Ave.
    El Cerrito CA 94530.
    510-525-7471/fax 510-525-1204
  • Copper Creek Records
    PO Box 3161
    Roanoke VA 24015;
  • County Records/County Sales
    PO Box 191
    Floyd VA 24091.
    540-343-5476;fax 540-343-3240
  • Flyin' Cloud Records
    168 Glenridge Dr.
    Eden, NC 27288.
  • Marimac Recordings
    PO Box 447
    Crown Point, IN 46307.
  • Rounder Records/Roundup
    One Camp St.
    Cambridge MA 02140.
    (617)661-6308; 1-800-44-DISCS; fax 617-868-8769;
  • Shanachie Records/Entertainment/Yazoo
    13 Laight St.
    6th Fl
    NYC NY 10013
    212-334-0284; 212-334-5207.
  • Smithsonian/Folkways Records
    Center for Folklife Programs & Cultural Studies
    955 L'Enfant Plaza
    Ste. 2600
    Smithsonian Institution
    Washington, DC 20560.
    1-800-410-9815 (orders only); 301-443-2314;
  • Voyager Recordings
    424 35th Avenue
    Seattle, WA 98122

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The Old Time Herald PO Box 61679• Durham, NC • 27715-1679
Phone (919) 286-2041