The Old-Time Herald Volume 6, Number 5

Reviews
Beausoleil - Arc de Triomphe Two Step
The Blue Sky Boys - On Radio: Rare Radio Transcriptions Recorded in Atlanta, Georgia in 1946 and 1947, Volume 3 & 4
Dock Boggs - Country Blues
The Fletcher Bright Fiddle Band - Last Night's Fun
Mike Fenton - The Best of Mike Fenton
Jake Krack - One More Time
The Maudlin Brothers - Highway of Sorrow
Bob McQuillen, Laurie Andres, Cathie Whitesides - Hand It Down
The Stripling Brothers - Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order, Volume 1 1928-1934
The Stripling Brothers - Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order, Volume 2 1934-1936
Buddy Thomas - Kitty Puss: Old-Time Fiddle Music From Kentucky
Tony and Gary Williamson - My Rocky River Home
Charles Wolfe - The Devil's Box-Masters of Southern Fiddling
Various Artists - Black Banjo Songsters of North Carolina and Virginia
Various Artists - Music From the Lost Provinces-Old-Time Stringbands from Ashe County, North Carolina & Vicinity, 1927-1931
Various Artists - Negro Blues And Hollers
Various Artists - Southern Journey: Voices From the American South, Volume 1-Blues, Ballads, Hymns, Reels, Shouts, Chanteys, And Work Songs
Various Artists - Southern Journey: 61 Highway Mississippi Delta Country Blues, Spirituals, Work Songs & Dance Music The Alan Lomax Collection Volume 3
Various Artists - Southern Journey: Brethren, We Meet Again Southern White Spirituals - The Alan Lomax Collection Volume 4
Various Artists - Southern Journey: Bad Man Ballads, Songs of Outlaws and Desperadoes - The Alan Lomax Collection Volume 5
Various Artists - Southern Journey: Sheep, Sheep, Don'tcha Know the Road Southern Music, Sacred & Sinful - The Alan Lomax Collection Volume 6


Beausoleil - Arc de Triomphe Two Step
EMI Hemisphere CD 7243 8 59272 2 5

Michael Doucet: fiddle, guitar, vocal; Bessyl Duhon: accordion, fiddle; Bruce McDonald: guitar; Kenneth Richard: mandolin, harmonica, vocal; Sterling Richard: guitar, tambourine, vocal.

Arc de Triomphe Two Step/Love Bridge/Bosco Moscow Stomp/Jeune Fille a la Campagne/Bayou Tech/Johnny Can't Dance/Travailler C'est Trop Dur/CIA/Take It To Me/Ti Maurice/Valse de Grand Chemin/Just Because.

Recorded in Paris, France in May, 1976, this is Beausoleil's first studio recording that I know of. It's a youthful effort to be sure, but Michael Doucet's fiddling is already completely recognizable. He must have been about 24 when these recordings were made. On accordion is Bessyl Duhon (it's spelled Duon on the CD), son of the legendary fiddler Hector Duhon (who made lots of great music with Octa Clark and with the Hackberry Ramblers). Bessyl's playing is masterful as usual. He was also in a Cajun rock band with Michael Doucet called Coteau; a few years later he moved to Nashville and was for many years a mainstay of Jimmy C. Newman's band (he is also an excellent rock'n'roll electric guitarist). This version of the band is the only one I've heard which does not include David Doucet on guitar; Bruce McDonald strums guitar and one of the three band members credited on guitar occasionally tries for some string-bending imitation steel licks. The band is rounded out by the Richard brothers, Kenneth playing mandolin and harmonica, and Sterling playing guitar and tambourine. Most of the singing is handled by the Richards, with Michael Doucet only contributing a few vocals. The Richards do a good job but I miss David Doucet's voice which is one of my favorite sounds in Beausoleil.

This recording is fairly funky. There's some out-of-tuneness, clearly the band did not always succeed in getting in tune with the accordion. But the music has plenty of groove, essential for Cajun music. On "Valse de Bayou Tech" (sic) the singer (presumably one of the Richard freres, it doesn't sound like Michael) evokes the spirit of Nathan Abshire, using his characteristic intonation. The selections are mainly well-worn traditional tunes like "Love Bridge Waltz," "Jeune Fille de la Campagne" (which Michael Doucet plays very much the same more than 20 years later), "Bosco Stomp" (here titled "Bosco Moscow Stomp," and it has some pretty silly three part harmony singing on it in addition to wailing harmonica). Intimations of excesses to come emerge during the song "CIA" in which Michael Doucet does a Darol Anger imitation, there's a lot of aimless strumming on guitar while he and Kenneth Richard sing obscure lyrics about the CIA, which in French is pronounced "Cee Ee Ah." Ah, youth!

With only 12 songs, this CD doesn't provide a lot of music. But it is fascinating to hear these early recordings of what has become the most important group to emerge from the Cajun renaissance which began in the mid-1970s. Fans of Beausoleil who need an exhaustive collection of the band's recordings won't want to miss Arc de Triomphe. Suzy Thompson

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The Blue Sky Boys - On Radio: Rare Radio Transcriptions Recorded in Atlanta, Georgia in 1946 and 1947, Volume 3 & 4
Copper Creek CCCD 0145 and 0146

Bill Bolick: mandolin, lead and tenor vocals; Earl Bolick: guitar, lead and bass vocals; Curly Parker: fiddle, lead vocals in the trios.

Volume 3

Farther Along/Bring Back My Blue Eyed Boy to Me/Soldier's Joy/Just One Way to the Gate/Yellow Rose of Texas/Fire on the Mountain/Heaven Holds All to Me/Little Gal, I Trusted You Too Long/Cacklin' Hen/On the Sunny Side of Life/When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold/Turkey in the Straw/I Have Found the Way/Answer to the Prisoner's Dream/Devil's Dream/Let the Lower Lights Be Burning/Lorena/Death is Only a Dream/When the Roses Bloom Again/Danced All Night with a Bottle in My Hand.

Volume 4

Life's Railway to Heaven/Are You Tired of Me, My Darling/Sally Goodin'/I Have Found a Friend/Darlin' Think of What You've Done/Leather Britches/When The Stars Begin to Fall/Mary of the Wild Moor/Chicken Reel/Shall I Miss It/The House Where We Were Wed/Buffalo Gal/A Beautiful Life/East Bound Train/Ragtime Annie/Silver Treads Among The Gold/Song of the Blind/Precious Memories/Won't it Be Wonderful There/Cumberland Gap.

Travel with me now back to yesteryear, back to 1946-47, and be entertained by perhaps the smoothest duet singers of their time, the Blue Sky Boys. This is live radio as it really was as these cuts were taken from a broad sampling of material from actual shows while the group was playing out of Atlanta, Georgia. You will hear not only the music (often shortened versions), but advertisements, requests for letters, and also comedy skits.

During the 1930s, '40s, and '50s radio was a very popular form of entertainment, and many people, especially rural people, tried to plan part of their day around the string music that was performed live. Radio's influence on the changing musical scene was significant, and the duet groups had a strong effect on the development of country music. Bluegrass music particularly drew from the duet style of brother acts like the Monroes, Delmores, Mainers, Morrises, and of course, the Bolicks.

Bill and Earl Bolick, from Hickory, North Carolina, became the Blue Sky Boys in 1936 when they traveled to Charlotte to record for Bluebird (RCA) Records. They had previously played with such groups as the Good Coffee Boys, and the Crazy Blue Ridge Hillbillies. Often the bands' names would change as they traveled from one area to another, and as their sponsors would change. The name Blue Sky Boys was chosen because they felt that since there were several acts with "Brothers" in their names, a different moniker would help separate them from the other duos. The "Blue" came from the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the "Sky" because they had been performing over a station in Asheville, North Carolina, which is sometimes referred to as "land of the sky."

In addition to these two recordings, there are four others available on the Copper Creek label which is making a name for itself with classic reissues and with other old-time and bluegrass releases. Through the years the brothers cut several 78's and LP's for many companies including Capitol, Starday and Rounder. I personally saw them perform in 1974 at one of Carlton Haney's festivals in Camp Springs, North Carolina, after they came out of retirement.

There are some fine liner and song notes written by Bill Bolick, although I wish they were more detailed with historical facts about the brothers and the interesting time period in which they performed.

Overall the sound quality on these CDs is excellent considering they're over 50 years old. If you're not familiar with the Blue Sky Boys' music, now is a good time to become acquainted. For the most part their repertoire was built around the slower sentimental songs and hymns. They didn't have the power, speed, or edge of the Monroes or the Delmores, but they were certainly smooth and distinctive. Curly Parker renders fine fiddling throughout and sings lead on the trio numbers. Parker was the first musician to commercially record with the Bolicks. All their prewar releases featured only the mandolin and the guitar. My favorite selections include "Death Is Only A Dream," "The Yellow Rose of Texas," "Darling Think of What You've Done," and the beautiful "Home Where We Were Wed."

Dale Morris

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Dock Boggs - Country Blues
Revenant 205

Sugar Baby/Down South Blues/Country Blues/Sammie, Where Have You Been So Long?/Danville Girl/Pretty Polly/New Prisoner's Song/Hard Luck Blues/Lost Love Blues/Will Sweethearts Know Each Other There?/Old Rub Alcohol Blues/False Hearted Lover's Blues/Lost Love Blues (alternate take #1)/Will Sweethearts Know Each Other There? (alternate take #1)/Old Rub Alcohol Blues (alternate take)/Lost Love Blues (alternate take #2)/Will Sweethearts Know Each Other There? (alternate take #2)/Peddler and His Wife (Hayes Shepherd)/Hard For To Love (Hayes Shepherd)/Bound Steel Blues (Bill Shepherd)/Aunt Jane Blues/(Bill Shepherd).

Here, gathered all in one place, are the songs Dock Boggs recorded between 1927 and 1929, including alternate takes not issued at the time. This album is dark, stunning, and necessary. Boggs's music reminds us of darkness and mystery. It is beautiful, intricate, bluesy, and it does not compromise.

Boggs was born in Norton, Virginia, in 1898, as the old, farming way of life was disappearing and coal was coming in. His working life reflected this loss of tradition: mostly he worked in the mines, but also he rented a farm, made and sold moonshine, rambled with his music, quit playing music, and settled in at home in Norton, where Mike Seeger found him in 1963. By then he'd resumed the banjo again. Appearing in concerts and festivals, he enjoyed appreciative audiences. Much of the material he played then, recorded between 1963 and 1965, was issued in three volumes (02351, 02392, and 03903) of Folkways LPs. Also issued by Folkways was an album of excerpts from interviews and conversations (05458), and a collection (RF654) of the 1920s sides that are now re-issued in CD form here.

Boggs's music might be contrasted with the music of Bascom Lamar Lunsford, who, though from a different state, North Carolina, also met this period of cultural transition and loss by singing and playing the banjo. Lunsford's music celebrated and commemorated the old rural life, and took on the task of teaching the new world about the old ways. His music was sweet and invitational. But Boggs's music remains dark. It does not romanticize. Greil Marcus, in the essay (adapted from his book, Invisible Republic) included in the fat booklet that comes with the CD, describes the music dramatically: "Dock Boggs was a singer and banjo player who sounded as if his bones were coming through his skin every time he opened his mouth." "Boggs's music accepted death, sympathized with its mission, embraced its seductions, and traveled with its wiles." He describes Boggs singing "Oh Death," "the words jerking in his throat like the limbs of a marionette."

Marcus's imagery of skulls and death and outcasts might be more appropriate for an audience of people who don't actually plan to listen to the music. Here, accompanying the CD where we can hear the music for ourselves, the words sound as if they are trying to fit Boggs's music into a shape that fits Marcus's purposes. Not that these purposes are invalid: Certainly one of the purposes of Invisible Republic-to include in a cultural interpretation of America those people whose music we love, whose culture and song this magazine is dedicated to-is indeed a very wonderful one, and it's about time someone did it. Nevertheless, Marcus's comments seem rude, making assumptions about what Boggs might have intended with his lyrics or vocal style. Of his own vocal shakes, Boggs said, "Sometimes I get tears in my voice."

On the video Shady Grove (Vestapol 13071), some footage of Boggs taken in the '60s shows him as a dapper, cheerful man with a charming wink in his eye. You'd never guess, reading Marcus, that Boggs could be a well-dressed, social human being. John Pankake's essay (some of it adapted from Folkways 02392) describes this clash between Boggs's dark music and his actual human presence. When Pankake first heard "Sugar Baby" and "Country Blues" on the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music, he imagined Boggs as a "drifter, a hobo, a bum with his weird banjo cadging drinks from the rough trade of some low saloon, then slouching at midnight toward the freight yard, his hat pulled low over his jail-pallored face and his bindle and his banjo on his back." But this image is displaced by reality, when he meets Boggs and finds a "gentle, thoughtful, and articulate retired miner."

The music itself is dark, however, and does conjure images of death and murder and loss. To accompany songs, Boggs's banjo picks out individual notes, bluesy and sharp-edged, and combines them with picking patterns that emphasize the strange tunings. Even by themselves, the tunings evoke what Marcus calls the "old, weird America." Bascom Lamar Lunsford may have commemorated the old America, but not the weird one. And Boggs's music doesn't really commemorate; it's eternal, not nostalgic (Oops, I'm Marcus-izing). The songs are so immediate, so shivery, that we can't help but be inside the country they make.

Something's up in America right now, and I'm not sure what it is. I hear that this Dock Boggs recording is getting a lot of play on alternative college stations. Friends of mine who are absolutely not into old-time music all of a sudden know about Dock Boggs and about the Anthology of American Folk Music. This Boggs reissue seems to be aimed at that new audience, and not necessarily at the small group of enthusiasts who have so far paid the most attention to the various County, Folkways, Yazoo, Arhoolie, and Rounder issues and reissues. I certainly like the idea of engaging a wider audience, and I do love having a whole booklet full of photos and biographical information. But in this collection I miss the invitational spirit of some of the early Folkways recordings. Here the Greil Marcus essay makes the music seem fixed and historical. You'd never know that people actually try to play this stuff.

No tunings are given here, and there is little said about the playing style, although Barry O'Connell's notes to the tunes do give much useful information about the individual songs. For more information about the playing and the tunings, see Jody Stecher's notes to the Shady Grove video, and the notes to the old Folkways records.

Everywhere you go in the Land of Boggs, you find Mike Seeger's name. It was he who took the trouble to locate Dock Boggs, and who introduced him to new audiences. Seeger recorded his music, recorded his conversation, took photographs, and has provided much of this material for every Dock Boggs project I run into. I'd say that, besides Dock Boggs himself, we have Mike Seeger to thank for this music.

In September of 1998, Smithsonian Folkways will be releasing a 2-CD set of the 1960s Boggs material, with new notes by Barry O'Connell and Mike Seeger. Then, I think, we'll have everything. Everything, that is, except the understanding of how music like this happens and what it means.

Molly Tenenbaum

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The Fletcher Bright Fiddle Band - Last Night's Fun
The Three Guys Records

Fletcher Bright: fiddle, George Bright: guitar, Ed Gullis: banjo; Samu Currin: mandolin, Bob Chuckrow: bass.

Last Night's Fun/Come Along Jody/Clinch Mountain Backstep/Boys of Bluehill/Dew Drop Hornpipe/Full Moon/Black Mountain Aire/Jim Clark Hornpipe/Democratic Hornpipe/Bricklayer Hornpipe/First of May/Katy Hill/But for Ireland I'd Not Tell Her Name/Blake's March/Northstar Hornpipe/Soldier's Joy/Pretty Little Indian/Yellow Barber/Camp Chase/Opera Reel/Jackie Tar.

Fletcher Bright is a fiddler and real estate man in Tennessee. This the third recording that I have heard by him, the first being a contra band recording of about a year or so back and the other a recording he made with some longtime chums, the Dismembered Tennesseans. The Tennesseans' have a delightful way with bluegrass that does not necessarily follow all of the rules of that genre.

Here we ostensibly have a contra dance set of tunes. Ironically this set does not include any waltzes but does include one of the few crooked bluegrass instrumentals, "Clinch Mountain Backstep." The balance of the tunes run the gamut from rare to well known, and old to of relative current vintage. There are two Mark Schatz tunes, including the lovely "Black Mountain Aire," a Tex Logan tune, and Norman Blake's "Blake's March." They also pay tribute to the late fiddler Curly Ray Cline with a rendition of his version of "Pretty Little Indian." The range of material covered is quite interesting. "Jim Clark Hornpipe" resides with "Yellow Barber," "Camp Chase," and "Democratic Hornpipe." The stated aim of this band is to find rare tunes that they like and play them.

The title track gets things off and running. The band is not your typical old-time band. They take breaks and that banjo player, Ed Cullis, is using picks and has a marvelous roll. He can really nail down a melody as can everyone in this band. Mandolins and guitars add to the melody line as well as harmonies. There are two airs that show off the guitars and mandolins.

Fletcher Bright is an accomplished fiddler. His bow work is strong and accurate and his phrasing catches the essence of the tune. While playing in a bluegrass style, Fletcher and the band do not superimpose any of the extraneous licks that can often detract from the music. In fact, they play all of the tunes well, using their styles to shed new light on the melody. It would be the rare old-time banjo player who could not get something new from listening to Cullis's banjo. He plays the melodies very clearly. Fletcher's fiddling is hot in an old-time way.

This is not strictly a fiddle recording. The arrangements feature the different instruments. Some tunes are kicked off by the guitar , banjo or mandolin, and all instruments take a break. Some purists will perhaps recoil at listening to a bluegrass format for fiddle tunes, but the tunes are well played and the band obviously loves playing fiddle tunes.

The sleeve pictures the band playing a contra dance at the John C. Campbell Folk School. The liner notes by Matt Glaser are glowing, and the band is quick to point out in the liner notes that they are amateurs, and that this is what they love to do. They do a great job of it. All in all, an enjoyable and well played set of tunes.

Bob Buckingham

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Mike Fenton - The Best of Mike Fenton
Heritage HRC-CD-1280

Mike Fenton-vocals, autoharps, guitar, jews harp; James Lindsey-guitar, bass vocal; Marvin Cockram-bass, bass vocal; Willard Gayheart-tenor vocal, guitar; Jesse Lovell-guitar; Bobby Patterson, baritone vocal-mandolin; Ronnie Higgins-tenor vocal, guitar; Wendell Cockerham-banjo; Thurman Pugh-bass; Robert Gillihan- guitar, hollers; Mary Gillihan-bass, hollers; Carole Outwater-autoharp; Natalie Fenton-flute; the children of The Downs Primary School of Walmer, Kent, England-vocals.

St. Anne's Reel/'Mid the Green Fields of Virginia/Darlin' Corey/My Privilege/Gathering Flowers for the Master's Bouquet/Old Country Baptisin'/Crooked Stovepipe/Golden Slippers/Seamus O'Brien/Rock the Cradle Joe/Dipper of Stars/Endearing Young Charms/The Bells of St. Mary's/Bread and Fishes/Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring/Planxty Fanny Power/Pan-Diatonic Variations on "Over the Rainbow."

Mike Fenton has been a busy fellow with his autoharps all these years. He is booked solid for years in advance with his autoharp workshops in the English elementary school system, has won autoharp championships (1987 International Champion), and traveled back and forth across the Atlantic numerous times to tour the U.S. This CD, his latest recording effort, documents and highlights his career. It has cuts from 1984-1996.

As always, his autoharp playing is clean and precise. Besides showcasing what an autoharp is capable of, the CD also has a substantial amount of singing by Mike and his friends. I personally, have always thought of the instrument as the perfect accompaniment for the voice. Mike has a nice, old-time country sound to his voice. Some of the recordings are live, some done in the studio. Most of the cuts are available on Mike's other recordings, such as My Privilege (Heritage 053) and Accent on Autoharp (Heritage HRC-C-103), or on a compilation on which he is a guest artist, Galax International (Heritage HRC 067). If you are a Mike Fenton fan and have all of those other recordings, this CD may not interest you. It does have the purely technical virtue of being in CD format, and it has his "greatest hits" from the past 10 or so years. There isn't a clinker in the whole collection and I think you will be impressed with Mike's virtuosity, musical taste and knowledge of American traditional music. He has clearly done his homework and his love for the instrument, for the pioneer and contemporary performers on the autoharp, and for the music, is very apparent on this CD. The documentation in the CD booklet is excellent and so is the recording quality.

The CD starts with some cuts from his My Privilege LP recording. St. Anne's Reel, which is listed as a traditional breakdown, is actually a slowed-down, note for note version reminiscent of a Byran Bowers style fiddle tune. "Mid the Green Fields of Virginia," (a Carter Family tune), "Darlin' Cory" and "My Privilege" (written by Mike about his friendship with Maybelle and Sara Carter), are also from that album.

I'm not sure if "Gathering Flowers For the Master's Bouquet" is on any of his other recordings. He states that it is one of his favorite sacred songs. He demonstrates his ability to sing within a gospel quartet on this cut. "Old Country Baptisin'" is from the Galax International album, and is a real winner. "Crooked Stovepipe" is a break-neck, masterful rendition of the "Too Young to Marry" [family] with Robert & Mary Gillihan recorded in 1986 at the Ozark Folk Center. His variations on the tune are right on target.

"Seamus O'Brien" and "Dipper of Stars" (Howie Mitchell) are from Accent on Autoharp. Mike plays mountain dulcimer as well as autoharp on "Dipper of Stars." "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" and "Planxty Fanny Power" were originally on Accent on Autoharp, but have been re-recorded for this CD. "Rock the Cradle Joe" was also on the Galax International recording, but this cut is an updated recording with Mike playing his own guitar and jew's harp backup. "Bread and Fishes" (Alan Bell) is from Fenton's Live at the Downs recording (Heritage HRC-C-1262), with the children of the Downs Primary School, one of Mike's stops with his autoharp workshop tour of the English schools. This cut gives us a glimpse of Mike's work when he is home in England putting on autoharp workshops, which includes doing all that maintenance and the tuning of all those autoharps. "Endearing Young Charms" is another example of Mike's English side, with very nice flute work by his daughter, Natalie. "The Bells of St. Mary's" has a personal meaning for Mike, in that he taught for several years in a St. Mary's Primary School in England. "Pan-Diatonic Variations on 'Over the Rainbow'" is just that. I believe these last three to be new recordings just for this CD. This is a fine autoharp CD with plenty of old-time songs and tunes played with spirit and reverence.

Pat Walke

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Jake Krack - One More Time
Wisekrack Records 1221

Jake Krack-fiddle; Dwight Diller-banjo; Danny Arthur-guitar; Dara Krack-guitar on "Stack 'Em Up in Piles."

Jimmy Johnson/Waiting for the Federals/The Route/Temperance Reel/Cold Frosty Morning/Say Old Man/Charleston Gals/Old Joe Clark/Muskrat Sally Ann/Yew Piney Mountain/Lost Indian/Elsick's Farewell/Jack of Diamonds/Waiting for the Boatman/Loch Lavan Castle/Old Sledge/Ryland Spencer/Rocky Road to Dublin/Cluck Old Hen/Rainy Day/Keys to the Kingdom/Lost Girl/Stack 'Em Up in Piles/Tippy Get Your Hair Cut/Grigsby's Hornpipe/Paddy on the Turnpike.

This is a fine CD containing some of the very heart of the Appalachian repertoire, as you can see, perhaps, just by reading the cut list above. Remarkably it is fiddled by a youngster still standing well to the east of 20: Jake Krack, 13-years-old, Spencer, Indiana. Jake was surely born with his prodigious talent, but he's been lucky in his parents, folks who have nurtured him and brought him to a place where, two years ago, he could win a grant to go study fiddle with Melvin Wine and with other great mountain fiddlers. This is already his second CD-his first, How 'Bout That, appeared when he was eleven!

True to his sources, which include Wine, Wilson Douglas, Joe Thompson, Lester McCumbers, Burl Hammons, Tommy Jarrell, and Ed Haley, many of these gems are set in cross-tunings, either AEAE or GDGD, with a few in the more esoteric settings-F#C#F#C#, GDAD, DDAD. Indeed, the notes properly identify standard tuning as but another possibility-GDAE-reflecting an older reality about the fiddle that Krack in his apprenticeship has harkened back to. (Since the F#C# and GDGD tunings noted above are in a more "modern" sense simply AEAE dropped down, we might also consider that Jake is suggesting that we attend to the significance of absolute pitch, a subtlety of great musical depth, and one not often acknowledged in the world of fiddling.)

Jake is paired here with a banjoist who also takes the old style with utmost seriousness-Dwight Diller. Their playing is tight and complementary, Dwight always seeming to be very aware of the fiddle, never pushing, just sitting fat in the rhythm. The guitar work of Danny Arthur is equally appropriate-solid, nice clean bass-runs with brushes, very little to call attention to itself. This-barring Riley Puckett-is the old-time style. Beyond the repertoire, Jake has found the basic old-time bowing. He has the rhythm. He uses a drone string frequently, as is natural in a cross-tuned situation, and he seldom if ever embellishes or varies the melody-that is, small notes seem to be part of the melody and not additions by the fiddler, to be changed from one time through to the next. The embellishment is in the drive of his bowing, his rhythm, which turns these simple melody lines into fiddle tunes. His bow arm is already very strong-there is a power to his playing that imparts strength to each cut-he pulls in the listener. And I don't mean to suggest here that these are all simple tunes-Jake's rendering of Ed Haley's masterful "Old Sledge," for example, is terrific, and not an easy thing. The tempos of the tunes are always moderate, with a few tending to the stately. This isn't really dancing music, but tunes to listen to. It's possible that the recording studio setting contributed to this-I've not heard Jake play personally-and also that Dwight's banjo style, always very considered, may have contributed to this characteristic of the music here. Though it's not a problem to me, some may wish for a real barn-burner or two to vary the pace.

If I were to try to "place" this CD, then-well, I'd say anyone trying to get a handle on what Appalachian fiddling is about would do well to listen to this carefully. The tunes are simple enough (mostly) to be learnable to folks who might not yet be ready to tackle Luther Strong or Bruce Molsky, but there is much of real authenticity here. The recording is excellent, making the notes of all the instruments clear and distinct. Banjo players can of course always benefit from exposure to a master like Dwight Diller. One wonders now, what Jake's next step will be. Having come to such a deep and early understanding of this great fiddling heritage, how will his own fiddling personality, his own true style, blossom?

To Order: Wisekrack Records, RR 3, Box 207, Spencer, IN 47460 (812)876-6656

Wm. Hicks

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The Maudlin Brothers - Highway of Sorrow
Skylark 220

John Moore-mandolin, guitar, tenor vocals; Jon Newlin-fiddle, guitar, baritone vocals; Ed Norman-lead vocals; with guests Amy Davis-banjo, guitar, alto vocals; and Randy Kloko-bass vocals.

Highway of Sorrow/Drinkin' of the Holy Wine/Gospel Plow/The Old Home Brew/Sweetheart, You Done Me Wrong/Will There Be Any Yodeling in Heaven?/Pistol Packin' Mama/I'll Meet You in Church Sunday/Prodigal Son/Fifty Miles of Elbow Room/Mount Zion's Lofty Heights/Life of Sorrow & Bluegrass Stomp/Going Up on the Mountain/Lamplighting Time in the Valley/Prayer Bells from Heaven.

The Maudlin Brothers are a group from the Chapel Hill/Durham vicinity that do what few other old-time oriented bands attempt to do, that is, they focus almost entirely on vocal material. And it's vocal material from my favorite musical eras, by some of my favorite artists-early bluegrass artists like Bill Monroe and the Stanley Brothers, black gospel quartets like the Heavenly Gospel Singers (whose influence can be heard in Bill Monroe's early gospel quartets) and Mitchell's Christian Singers, and 1930s hillbilly groups like the Dixon Brothers and the Carter Family.

After giving the CD a listen, it became immediately apparent to me that these guys (and their guests) have spent quite a bit of time listening to the sources of the music they perform here and that they are having a great time playing this stuff. I'll bet that they are fun to see perform in person. Live performances are one thing, recordings another. When I listened a bit closer, I felt that something was amiss. The accompaniment was on the mark and Jon Newlin's fiddling added a nice touch here and there. Guest artist Amy Davis's banjo playing also added a little extra boost to "Fifty Miles of Elbow Room" and "Prayer Bells from Heaven." The problem here seems to be that the vocals at times lack the power and conviction needed to pull this material off in a convincing manner-except, interestingly enough, on the songs that came from the black gospel quartet tradition, "Drinkin' of the Holy Wine" (from Mitchell's Christian Singers) and "Prodigal Son" (from Heavenly Gospel Singers). These songs, done a cappella, are the standouts on the album.

In pondering this further, I think I may have stumbled onto something while reading the album liner notes, where the group describes its repertoire as "altogether out-of-fashion, often sappy, sometimes sacred, occasionally silly. . . ." I wondered about the group's tongue-in-cheek name and the name of its Sunday morning alter ego, The Holy Winers. Now I'll be the first to acknowledge that this is the 1990s and not the Victorian era and that the world view expressed in many of the songs sung here don't particularly jive with the post-modern age in which we live. However, I think some understanding of that world view, along with just plain taking this old religious or sentimental material at face value may go a long way towards successfully interpreting it. Maybe I'm wrong, but this may be what is lacking here. Nit-picking and speculation aside, I'm glad to see a project like this one surface, and I hope these folks keep at it. For me it's a breath of fresh air for the old-time music world, where sometimes a good song gets overlooked in the search for an even more obscure and archaic tune.

To order: Ed Norman, 720 Overhill Terrace, Durham, NC 27707

Jim Nelson

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Bob McQuillen, Laurie Andres, Cathie Whitesides - Hand It Down
Avocet CD 105

Bob McQuillen- piano; Laurie Andres- piano accordion; Cathie Whitesides- fiddle; (with) Liz Dreisbach- clarinet; Michael Kerry- tenor banjo; Warren Argo- 5-string banjo.

Father Charlie's, Frankie's Tune/Tony's Quadrille, Priscilla's Jig/Anne's Waltz/John Krumm's Hornpipe, Tolman's Reel/Rappaport's Jig, Dick Nevell's Jig/Bannerman's Quadrille, Mike's March/Argo's Reel, Tracey Sherry's Reel/Lydia's Waltz/Kathy's Jig, Lilac Lady/Dale's Hornpipe, Segal's Flight, Corey's Reel/Byrnne Marie/Roger's Reel, Culhane's Hornpipe/Lia's Jig, Hank's Mother, It's C-C-Cold Out!/Olde Tyme Quadrille, J.B. Milne/Sandy's Waltz, Cathie's Waltz.

In many parts of the country-as many readers of the OTH surely know-contra is king. When I started playing fiddle, in the late '60s, in the South, we square-danced and clogged, they contra-ed. No more. Even in the early 1980s there was an ongoing weekly square dance where I live (held at a grand bar called the Station, a former railroad station and now sadly a former bar as well). I weaned myself from the Red Clay Ramblers playing these square dances, and met my wife and musical partner, Libby, there. Fifteen years later she and I play contra dances around North Carolina, using a Roland piano and the trusty fiddle, and though there are two or three weekly contra dances in the Triangle area, there's hardly a square dance to be seen. Times change. To quote Fats Waller, "One never knows, do one?"

A few years ago Libby and I made a trip to Maine, meeting and visiting with many contra musicians in our travels, even sitting in at a few dances played by bands like Scrod Pudding and Crooked Stove Pipe. We learned some tunes of course, and made friends with the whole idea of medleys-a splendid concept by the way, which I commend to the most hardened cross-tuned aficionado-oh, you can't change to D?? Sorry. In our travels the name McQuillen would come up from time to time, and Libby and I even learned a tune with the name attached-"McQuillen's Squeeze Box."

It is thus a true delight to have the opportunity to review this CD, a whole delicious set of Bob McQuillen's own tunes, out of a thousand (!!!) he has written in a lifetime of music played all over the country, from New England to Alaska. McQuillen is himself heard here on piano-oh, what a fine touch he has, what a joy to play with I'm sure, or to dance to. He is accompanied by his long-time compatriots, Laurie Andres and Cathie Whitesides, with an interesting variety of incidental musicians as his sensibility dictates-clarinet here, banjo there.

The tunes themselves he started to compose in 1972, the first dedicated to a departed family friend, Scotty O'Neill. Bob's musical history goes back much further, to 1947, when he began playing accordion in the Ralph Page Orchestra. He thus bridges generations of musicians, and 50 years of hoofing-enough, surely, when stacked end to end, to make a road all the way to Pluto by now. Even better, for those of us who can read music, all 1000 tunes are collected in a series of notebooks that Bob offers for sale (27 Granite St., Peterborough, NH 03458 (603) 924-9805). The tunes on this CD are identified by notebook as well as title. As is the style in some other fiddling traditions, including Nova Scotian, McQuillen names nearly all his tunes after friends, dance callers, people who have touched him in some way. The illustrious Sandy Bradley has a beautiful waltz here, for example, as does North Carolina caller Glenn Bannerman. "Kathy's Jig" is named for Kathy Anderson, a Dayton, Ohio caller who asked that no jigs be played at her dance-McQuillen thus offers her a patented cure for jig aversion with her own tune. Wonder if it worked??

I won't go through the whole list of tunes. There are many gems here, and no clunkers. The style is the four-square contra dance rhythm, perhaps a tad slow for the dances Libby and I play, but great for learning and listening. Anyone wanting a serious lesson in piano backup need go no further.

People sometimes wonder why I like to play dances. On every cut of this CD I can hear the reason. Give it a listen. You might even want to send a note of thanks to Bob for giving all of us such a present. Imagine. A thousand tunes!

Wm. Hicks

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The Stripling Brothers - Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order, Volume 1 1928-1934
Document 8007 (CD from 78s; 62:15)

Charles Stripling-fiddle; Ira Stripling-guitar; vocal by both only on*.

The Big Footed Nigger in the Sandy Lot/The Lost Child/Dance All Night With A Bottle In My Hand/Horse Shoe Bend/Get Off Your Money/Lost John/Big Eyed Rabbit/Kennedy Rag/New Born Blues/Coal Mine Blues/Red River Waltz/Moonlight Waltz/Midnight Waltz/June Rose Waltz/Ranger's Hornpipe/Railroad Bum*/Weeping Willow*/Wolves Howling/Silver Lake Waltz/Over the Waves/Salty Dog. The Stripling Brothers - Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order, Volume 2 1934-1936
Document 8008 (CD from 78s; 59:34)

Birmingham Jail/Possum Hollow/Down On The L.N. Railroad/Whiskers/Wednesday Night Waltz/Sweet Silas/Chinese Breakdown/When Shadows Fade Away/Late In The Evening/Big Bully/Coal Valley/You Are Always In My Dreams/Big Four/Pallet On The Floor/Mayflower/My Isle Of Golden Dreams/Boatman's Delight/Forty Drops/Soft Voices/California Blues/Spanish Flang Dang.

Charles Stripling-fiddle ; Ira Stripling-guitar

From the very first time I heard a tune played by one of Alabama's best musical exports, The Stripling Brothers, I was totally enamored. It was so long ago, that I can't now place the time or place, but it probably was on an LP anthology. Not long afterwards, County Records issued their wonderful set of Stripling Brothers fiddle and guitar duets. Eventually I obtained a discography and learned that they had 42 sides issued commercially (on the Vocalion and Decca labels) in toto. Thus started a search that took years to complete-my own quest for the grail-finding all the Stripling recordings. I found a few 78s, but primarily I traded tapes with 78 collectors until I had all but a couple in my collection, in various media formats. I pooled resources with Joyce Cauthen a few years ago and I finally had the complete recordings of the Striplings, after 20 years of searching. It was about that time that Joyce told me that she would be writing the liner notes for a CD reissue of the entire Stripling commercial output. Rather than being disheartened or depressed by my seemingly wasted effort, I was overjoyed that all their material would be found in a more permanent medium, and placed on two compact discs, the better for all to behold.

As many of you now know, Document, led by Johnny Parth, is methodically issuing complete works CDs of old-time music artists. As of this writing, they have 28 CDs for sale. It is a valuable service to researchers, discographers, and fans of the so-called "Golden Age of Old-Time Music" (or "first golden Age" as some might have it). With the Stripling set, they have made easily obtainable some of the finest fiddling ever committed to shellac.

The Striplings were talented enough and sold well enough that they had a longer recording career than most of their contemporaries. Lasting from late 1928 through early 1936, they kept their careers going through the teeth of the Depression, and all this with only two vocal numbers, the rest being instrumentals. Charlie Stripling (1896-1966) was one of the great old-time fiddlers, with myriad contest championships under his belt. In her wonderful book about Alabama fiddlers, With Fiddle and Well-Rosined Bow, Joyce Cauthen writes about Charlie as being a "Brag Fiddler," one of the best. And he certainly was. How else could one explain his rise to prominence, coming from an obscure location-the town of Kennedy in Pickens County, in West Alabama? Charlie had a unique style, though it can be somewhat pigeonholed as a "Deep South style," similar in some ways technically to some of the fiddlers of neighboring Mississippi (cf., the Ray Brothers, the Nations Brothers, Willie Narmour, et al), but he played differently enough that I'd hesitate to categorize him with those fiddlers. Similarities would include the "bluesy" notes and the phrasing.

In an interview with Bob Pinson shortly before he died, Charlie was asked from whom he had learned. He essentially said that he had taught himself, that there were no other fiddlers in that area at that time (his childhood). Interviews with two of his children, Robert and Edwin Lee, have echoed that statement. And what a repertoire Stripling possessed! We have a slightly skewed image of his play list, as he was subject to the whims of the labels' A&R men. Loathe to allow their charges to duplicate the tunes and songs that other artists had recorded, Charlie dug deep for some rather obscure melodies, all exceedingly well-played, many haunting. He also composed many of the pieces he recorded, all in "the traditional style" of the region. Charlie was not averse to playing in the more obscure keys, with a number of his best-liked pieces falling in the key of F.

We hear a lightly different side of his music when one listens to the 1952 Library of Congress recordings Charlie and Ira made for field collector Ray Browne, as he was free to play whatever he chose, so there are some more "common," or standard titles there, but as you may have guessed, he had quite a unique presentation for them. Some of the tunes that his sons Edwin and Robert have played for me are rather unique settings for standard tunes, nothing "generic" in the Stripling oeuvre, no sirree.

And lest you think I am forgetting Charlie's younger brother Ira (1898-1967), well, I'm not. He was a masterful accompanist, choosing appropriate runs coupled with rock-solid rhythm, the perfect back-up guitarist in the opinion of many, including me. They only sang on two sides: "Railroad Bum" and "Weeping Willow," but those two examples showed they had mellifluous singing voices and a gift for harmony. Had circumstances been otherwise, they probably could have risen to a higher level of popularity had they been allowed to sing on records. Statistics have shown that vocals in the '20s and '30s vastly outsold old-time instrumentals. Perhaps one thing that helped spur their sales are their lovely renditions of some stunning waltzes. They were among the best in executing that form.

Volume One features a variety of styles, including three raggy numbers and a couple of bluesy pieces, as well as their two vocals. Of particular interest will be one of the earliest pieces Charlie recorded, the showpiece "The Lost Child," replete with discord tuning (AEAC#), pizzicato, and stunning bowing. This of course was the precursor to the bluegrass warhorse, "Black Mountain Rag." The pedigree, lineage, and evolution of this tune family is addressed in Charles Wolfe's fine book, The Devil's Box (reviewed on page ** ).

Volume Two contains most of their raggy material, 10 pieces in all, with that characteristic phrasing and chording, including the extremely slippery-sounding "Pallet On the Floor." The three blues tunes on the second volume are among my favorite Stripling tunes: "Coal Valley," "Forty Drops" (an F tune perhaps distantly related to that waxed by Andrew & James Baxter in Atlanta nine years before the Stripling's final 1936 session where their rendition was preserved), and "California Blues." But for me, from start to finish, the musical quality and musicianship is stellar.

Joyce Cauthen, whom I mentioned above, wrote the splendid liner notes for both discs, filling in personal information, discussing their careers, and describing their music beautifully. Discographies are provided as well. The graphics are rather simple, with a bit of unappealing cropping (on Volume 2's cover) of Charlie's photo. Normally, with all this gushing, you'd probably expect me to order you to run out and purchase these discs, but there is a bit of a "dark" side. Some of the sound quality is a bit less than it could be. There is a strong suspicion that Document did not use original 78s in the mastering of these CDs, in fact, the start of "June Rose Waltz" is clipped much in the way that a tape dub of another tape often sounds. There is noticeable tape "wow" on "Weeping Willow." And had the best available 78s been used, I feel that "Whiskers," "Get Off your Money," "Lost John," and "Midnight Waltz" would not suffer from what I deem unacceptable sound quality. I've heard superior copies of all these pieces. And, you must remember, that I've spent most of my adult life listening to beat up 78s and hissy field recordings, so it will take a lot to provoke me into such a statement about sound quality. These could be better, and other labels are proving it.

But, that said, I would still recommend these discs. The musicianship is of such high quality, that they belong in every serious old-time music fan's collection.

Kerry Blech

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Buddy Thomas - Kitty Puss: Old-Time Fiddle Music From Kentucky
Rounder CD 0032

Buddy Thomas; fiddle, Leona Stamm; guitar

Nine Miles Out of Louisville/Frankie/John Rawl Jamieson/Sheeps and Hogs Walking Through the Pasture/Georgia Row/Briarpicker Brown/Stillhouse Branch/The Blue Goose/Yellow Barber/'Possum Up a 'Simmon Tree/Kitty Puss/Martha Campbell/Turkey in a Pea Patch/Big Indian Hornpipe/Brown Button Shoes/Sweet Sunny South.

The 1974 release of Kitty Puss by the then late, Buddy Thomas was noteworthy as it brought to the attention of the old-time world something of the wealth of the northeastern Kentucky old-time fiddling as it existed then. Since that time, Mark Wilson and John Harrod have continued to mine that rich resource originally tapped with Gus Meade. Contained in these tracks is a level of genius that eluded monumental odds. Suffering the effects of poverty and poor nutrition, Buddy Thomas played some of the most absorbing fiddle ever to be recorded. He lived through his tunes. These are personal parts of him. There is little that could be done to separate the man from the music.

Northeast Kentucky is a special area. It has produced some of the greatest fiddlers to ever record and there is a wealth of regional tunes that once flourished in a great tradition.

These recordings were made in 1973-74 in Waldorf, Maryland and Ashland, Kentucky. They consist of Buddy on the fiddle and his cousin, Leona Stamm on guitar. Mark Wilson's notes to this re-issue point out that two minor changes have been made to this recording, as he substituted recordings made in Maryland for rougher recordings made in Kentucky. In any case, the brilliance of Buddy Thomas shines through on these cuts just as it had on the LP released nearly 25 years ago. Today, many of these tunes are part of many fiddlers' repertoires.

There is something in the style of Kentucky fiddling that marks it as distinctive. It has to do with the phrasing and use of the bow. It is influenced by the Portsmouth (Ohio) trills and the longer bow stroke of Doc Roberts and Ed Haley. It is a variation-laden style that is marked by its subtly and grace of motion. Buddy Thomas's fiddling has all of these qualities and remains the among the most eloquent examples of this tradition.

The accompanying book includes all the original liner notes and Mark Wilson's new notes for this re-issue. This recording does not exist in a vacuum, it's part of a tradition, one that Mark Wilson has worked hard to document. If you want to get a feel for this tradition, listen to this CD in the context of Roger Cooper's recordings, and the field recordings by the late Gus Meade, Mark Wilson, and John Harrod on the two Rounder CDs of Traditional Fiddling from Kentucky. To get the full picture of the wealth of this tradition, you may want to also listen to Ed Haley and J.P. Fraley.

If you are not familiar with Kentucky fiddling, especially from the that rich corner nestled in between southern Ohio and West Virginia, this is the place to start. For all of you who have the vinyl album, it is definitely time to upgrade.

Bob Buckingham

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Tony and Gary Williamson - My Rocky River Home
Mandolin Central MCP-0003

I'm Going Back to the Mountains/My Darlin' Nellie Gray/My Rocky River Home/Shadows on the Hill/Red Wing/Singing Waterfall/Where the Roses Never Fade/It's an Unfriendly World/Whispering Hope/It Won't be Long/New River Train/Knoxville Girl/A Touch of the Past/Sides of the Road.

I should begin this review by declaring a serious bias in favor of the "brother duet" style of music, especially when it is as well done as the Williamson brothers do it. Much of my initial exposure to old-time and bluegrass singing came from The Lilly Brothers, the late Joe Val and various of his partners, whose duet recordings are legendary, and a New England husband and wife team, Whitey and Judy Carrier, who specialized in the Louvins as well as Blue Sky Boys material.

For quite a long time there was very little to choose from in this genre outside of a number of Monroe/Delmore/Louvin/Blue Sky (etc.) reissues, but it seems that recently interest has been revived in one of the most challenging and satisfying harmony vocal styles in old-time music. Trio and quartet singing are, of course, great stuff in their own right, but duet singing presents the dual challenge (so to speak) of creating an interesting arrangement with only two voices and not trying to overcompensate for it with either vocals or instrumental excess. On both counts, the Williamsons acquit themselves admirably. Despite Tony's reputation for being a spectacular mandolinist, his playing never distracts the listener from the point of the lyrics, and Gary's rhythm guitar is of such a quality that I would be tempted to use it as an example to those who have not yet learned the concepts of "restraint" and "taste."

At the risk of being misinterpreted, my reaction to the vocals is that they fit the material (and the style) to a "T." It could be argued that there are references to just about every one of the classic duos of the past here, but there are no copies, even when a song is identified with another group. I must say that I very much enjoy Gary's tenor singing, which I had not heard very much before this CD. It's probably unnecessary to go on about the compatibility of sibling voices, since that's almost universally accepted, but there's a kind of easiness about Tony and Gary's singing which, I suppose, proves the point.

The material is a nice mixture of old and new, some of the standards, and some more obscure. At least three of the cuts are titles I associate with other songs ("Unfriendly World," "It Won't Be Long," "Sides of the Road") so I was pleasantly surprised to hear these tunes. The original material is what really got my attention, in that I suspect that most of us could be fooled into mistaking it for older, more obscure songs. Whether they set out deliberately to write in an older style or if it's just natural with them, their songs hold up just fine with the standards with which they're combined.

While I generally lean toward the older songs, some of the originals are so good that I might have to change my mind, especially "Shadows On The Hill," and "A Touch Of The Past." It's probably unfair, but I've heard so many bad versions of "Whispering Hope" that even a good one (which this one is) makes me wonder if there wasn't an alternative. Their treatment of Hank Williams' "Singing Waterfall" is a nice surprise; it's a wonder more singers don't try his earlier work in old-time styles, since much of it fits so well.

On balance, I'd have to call this CD a real success. The Williamsons have that rare talent: the ability to play seriously good music without showing off. There's no doubt as to their skill as pickers and singers, but the result is completely approachable and friendly. One of the true tests I use to gauge the merits of recorded material of this sort is to play it for a couple of friends of mine, first cousins who have been playing and singing together since the 1930s. (In fact, at least four cuts from the CD are in their repertoire.) Well, I took it to them and I played it through, and after some consideration, the one who is generally the spokesman said, "Well you know, that's just all right. They play it just like it's supposed to be." Who am I to argue.

John Currie

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Book Review: Charles Wolfe - The Devil's Box-Masters of Southern Fiddling
Vanderbilt University Press/Country Music Foundation Press-ISBN 0-8265-1283-6 248 pages, 18 illustrations

Here's a fine volume that could fit most comfortably on the bookshelves of nearly everyone who reads the Old-Time Herald. The 1920s-vintage photograph of Eck Robertson on the cover might be the first clue. Then turn to the table of contents for the second clue. There one will find that this book contains chapters on some of the finest fiddlers America has seen: the aforementioned Mr. Robertson, Uncle Jimmy Thompson, Fiddlin' Cowan Powers, Doc Roberts, Clayton McMichen, Clark Kessinger, Arthur Smith, Bob Wills, Slim Miller, Ernie Hodges, and Tommy Jackson. There's an opening chapter that tries to instruct us in the history of the oldest or earliest recorded fiddling styles. One chapter addresses the history of the tune "Black Mountain Rag." Another chapter discusses the Mexican origin of the contest favorite, "Over the Waves." There are a number of charts and tables as well interesting photographs to complete the package. Add to all of this mix Dr. Wolfe's easy-to-read, accessible prose, and you've got yourself a nice table-top reference about the cream of old-time fiddling.

Charles Wolfe is one of the most tireless researchers of old-time music working today and he is quite the prolific author. The genesis of this book can be found with articles that he first published in the periodical, The Devil's Box. In one sense, this is a collection of many of Dr. Wolfe's articles on "commercial" old-time fiddlers that appeared in that periodical. Because some of these articles were published some time ago, Charles has updated them to include information that was not yet known at the time of first publication. Other articles in this book appear as they originally did in the periodical. And a few others were written specifically, and only for, inclusion in this book. Note that above I have indicated "commercial" fiddlers. These essays are written about old-time fiddlers who played professionally or, at any rate, recorded commercially on 78 rpm disks. So you won't find your Ed Haleys, or John Salyers, or Kenner Casteel Kartchners, legends all who only were recorded on home recording machines. They are for another day.

Delving into the first chapter, the one about the earliest or oldest recorded styles, we find a philosophical discussion. Are we looking for the fiddlers who were born the earliest and who recorded? Or are we looking merely for those who recorded the earliest? And what about the earliest styles, those honed during the 19th Century? Dr. Wolfe discusses all these paths of investigation. It's pretty well accepted that Eck Robertson was the first country fiddler to record commercially, in 1922, and that Fiddlin' John Carson followed suit in 1923. But in evaluating the older styles, or the oldest fiddler to record, one must do some additional ciphering and research. Among the "19th-Century-Style" fiddlers discussed in this chapter are J. Dedrick Harris, Jilson Setters (whose real name was James William Day), Henry L. Bandy, John W. Daniel, Ted Markle, the mysterious Art Haines, Henry C. Gilliland (who played a couple fiddle duets with Eck), Blind Joe Mangrum, Uncle Am Stuart, Emmett Lundy, Jim Booker, the Morrison Twins, George and Andrew Carter, Ahaz A. Gray, and William B. Houchens. All are intriguing lights from the earliest days of commercial recording, so it is nice to get at least a little information on some of them.

The essay on "Black Mountain Rag" also is an interesting investigation on the oral passage of fiddle music and how technology came to influence it. I won't go into detail, as that might spoil the mystery, but we do meet some interesting characters along the way, including Tommy Magness, Curly Fox, Leslie Keith, Charlie Stripling, and Pleaz Carroll.

Before I seem to jump off the deep end in blissful praise of this book and its author, let me also mention some of its shortcomings, though none is severe enough, in my opinion, to shun purchase of this delightful read. By some bizarre twist of events, I was sent a printer's proof copy of this book to review for another magazine, so I saw many of the editor's corrections, which were of some interest to me, a former editor myself. Imagine my chagrin when I received the final, publication and saw more typographical errors than I've seen since a beginning English composition class. It was downright sloppy and rather embarrassing for a book published by a major university. Another thing that personally irks me is the layout of many of the photographs in the book. I was disturbed at the sloppy cropping and seemingly senseless overlays of otherwise finely reproduced vintage photographs. It is also disappointing to discover that a high-profile book concerning all these great fiddlers has, in truth, little substance about their specific fiddle styles and techniques. Dr. Wolfe forms some opinions here and there, too, with which I personally would disagree, but I have no more proof to support my own theories than he provides for his interpretation. I am sure others will find similar points on which to hold discussions or disagreements, but sometimes stimulating discussion is a good reason to publish one's opinions! There are some points, however, where further information, made public after Wolfe's initial articles were published and before this book was completed, was not addressed or even mentioned. For example, the Alabama fiddler D.D. Hollis was an early, elderly recording artist who was not mentioned in Dr. Wolfe's chapter on earliest styles, and can be heard on the CD produced by researcher Joyce Cauthen, Possum Up A Gum Stump, and one can read about him in her book With Fiddle And Well-Rosined Bow.

But as I said earlier, none of these nitpicks should discourage OTH enthusiasts from finding and reading The Devil's Box.

To order: Vanderbilt University Press/Country Music Foundation Press, Box 1813, Station B, Nashville, TN 37235

Kerry Blech

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Various Artists - Black Banjo Songsters of North Carolina and Virginia
Smithsonian Folkways CD 40079 (1998, 64 minutes)

John Snipes-Coo Coo/Old Rattler (Fox Chase)/Long Tail Blue/Ain't Gonna Rain No More (Tommy Thompson, guitar)/ Going Where I've Never Been Before/Going Away From Home/You Don't Know My Darling/Cookin' In the Kitchen; Dink Roberts-Coo Coo/Georgie Buck/High Sheriff/John Hardy/Garfield/Old Corn Liquor/Black Annie/Old Blue/Roustabout/Fox Chase; Joe and Odell Thompson-Georgie Buck/Old Corn Liquor/John Henry/Little Brown Jug (with Tommy Thompson on banjo, Odell doing hambone); Joe Thompson, fiddle & Tommy Thompson, banjo-Love Somebody (Soldier's Joy); James Roberts-John Henry; Etta Baker, banjo & Cora Phillips, guitar-Jaybird March; John Jackson-Going Up North; Homer Walker-Sugar Hill; Irvin Cook, banjo and vocal & Leonard Bowles, fiddle-Momma Don't Allow; Leonard Bowles-Shortnin' Bread; "Big Sweet" Lewis Hairston-Shortnin' Bread; John Tyree-Fox Chase; Rufus Kasey-Coo Coo Bird.

We are living in a golden age of old-time music recordings, when each month brings a queen's ransom in treasures with new CD issues and reissues. One runs the risk of being numbed and overwhelmed by this mountain of greatness, old and new. But this recording simply stands out and shines like a star in the morning for me as one of the true precious gems of the decade. Producers Cece Conway and Scott Odell, renowned for other related ventures, have given us a precious glimpse at a long-overlooked aspect of Americana and they have done it in a way that satisfies on so many levels. Enthusiasts and academics alike have long theorized and collected data trying to illustrate the history of the banjo and its myriad playing styles. Careers have been made based on such works.

Cece Conway's doctoral dissertation went through a rewrite and was published in 1995 as the much-talked-about African Banjo Echoes in Appalachia (Knoxville, University of Tennessee Press). [reviewed in the OTH vol. 5, no. 6, winter 96/97, by Philip Gura]. Not only did it theorize about and document the history of how the banjo came to America, but it addressed another hotly debated issue: how and when banjo playing styles and techniques were exchanged between blacks and whites. A great deal of the book discusses many of the banjo songsters presented on this CD. I had hoped then that some of her fine fieldwork would eventually see the light of day, and I am pleased to report that it exceeds even my wildest expectations. Conway and Odell also saw fit to add other artists who fit this CD's profile but exceeded the scope of the dissertation. I am glad they did, for it only adds to the depth of the presentation and gives us a little bit larger picture to view and savor.

Fortunately, I did not have to dive into this recording cold, for I've had some familiarity with several of the wondrous musicians presented here. I've enjoyed in-person performances many times by Etta Baker and John Jackson (though I had never had the pleasure of experiencing their banjo talents, knowing both as exquisite guitarists) and I was fortunate enough to see Irvin Cook & Leonard Bowles at the National Folk Festival, in Vienna, Virginia in the mid-'70s, even taping and photographing them (they also appear on an LP put out by the Blue Ridge Institute, Non-Blues Secular Black Music from 1978). I have enjoyed a film about Uncle Homer Walker that was made by Seattle filmmaker and musician, Joe Vinikow, produced in 1977 while he was enrolled at Yale. It is called Banjo Man, though I do not believe it is available on video (as yet). And I had the great pleasure of meeting Odell and Joe Thompson in 1987.

But the other names on this recording had remained tantalizing mysteries to me for many years. I recall Cece and Tommy Thompson talking about Dink Roberts about 20 years ago, and I was fascinated, mesmerized by all they had to say. Cece's book only whetted my appetite even more and I wondered if I'd ever hear this legend. He is everything and more. Though after repeated listening, his mystery is no more revealed than before, save that I now have some aural samples of his ethereal music, an instant snatched out of the timelessness of an improvisational form of music. I've anticipated hearing this music so much that there was great potential for a letdown, but after repeated listening, this has not happened. This has become my current favorite recording.

There are many things to learn from this recording. First, though this is string-band music, or old-time banjo music if you will, it is very different from what most people would associate with such terminology. To give you an inkling of this, I quote from the notes: "On our first visit, Dink Roberts seemed old, wise, and mysterious, and his music jarred us. No, he wouldn't play with our fiddler. No, not even on tunes we all recognized. He enjoyed hearing our fiddler and banjo player make music together. And yes, he had known fiddlers-they were old, way old, and dead now. And the banjo players too-there had been some, but they were dead-long dead." Cece describes the old dances, usually with one musician, the banjo player, holding forth, strongly, for hours. Though there are not examples here, she describes dances with two banjos, one backing up the other, complementing the lead. Cece later notes, ". . . Joe and Odell's fiddle and banjo combination is more unusual [in the black tradition] in North Carolina than solo or doubling banjos; it suggests their deep connections with white players," something that is borne out by the Thompsons' stories about their fathers' (Joe and Odell were cousins) duets, playing both for the black communities and for white functions, something that Joe and Odell also did in their youth.

The producers identify three types of banjo songs on this recording and give clear examples. Type I has the banjo primarily providing "rhythmic accompaniment to singing, with little correspondence between the banjo and vocal melodies." These songs "arose among African Americans and have little currency among white banjo players." Type II songs have banjo interludes with "a set and complex melody as in 'Reuben,' 'Garfield,' and 'John Hardy.'" These songs were popular with both black and white banjo players. The Type III "banjo interludes have a set and complex melody that bears little resemblance to the vocal melody," such as in "Coo Coo" and "Roustabout." "Type III banjo songs reflect more complex integrations and embody various influences-especially the early melodic and rhythmic exchanges between Irish-and African-American players."

Whew!! That's heady stuff. The 32-page booklet is chock full of information, technical descriptions, a little bit of something for nearly everyone. Lyrics are transcribed, the settings are made, tunings are indicated, tempo is given (as beats per minute), song families mentioned, and they even sometime relate an anecdote to help the listener envision the moment.

But all this technical and historical information aside, it is the music itself that really shines in this anthology. It is stunning, jarring, even sometimes somewhat familiar. Joe & Odell Thompson's music may be the most easily accessible, having strong ties to more familiar white string-band music, yet there is an obvious difference at once noticeable. The rhythmic component is extremely strong, more pronounced than with most white string bands. Yet their music feels very familiar, like something you've square-danced to before. Cook & Bowles have the same lineup of banjo and fiddle, essentially, and a similar approach, with a highly rhythmic fiddle saltation, but Bowles' bowing has a much lighter touch than Joe Thompson's, so there is a radically different sound. Another difference that is noted here is that these black old-time musicians from the Piedmont seem to be compelled to sing on every piece they play, where in the white tradition, a lot of these pieces would be played strictly as instrumentals. Homer Walker's music seems fairly close to the white banjo tradition as well, in a lot of ways, probably because he has played a lot with white musicians (in the aforementioned film, he is seen playing banjo-fiddle duets with noted West Virginia fiddler, Franklin George).

The most jarring, however, are the pieces by Dink Roberts and John Snipes, which, for the most part bear less relation to white banjo traditions. Some passages in Dink's fretless banjo playing are highly evocative of West African kora playing (for referential comparisons, seek out recordings of Alhaji Bai Konte, of Gambia). This is especially evident with some double noting and repeated drop-thumb embellishments. Snipes' playing has a bit of this, as well, but is less pronounced than in Roberts' playing. Both of these artists interject some ad lib vocalizations, extending the phrasing, creatively ornamenting the music. This is the heart of the recording for me, this improvisational, nearly free-form music. It is engrossing, rapture-producing.

The producers also have given us a great opportunity to sense the individuality of these artists. On example would be the vastly different versions of the "Coo Coo" by Dink Roberts, John Snipes, and Rufus Kasey. Most readers will probably be familiar with the popular version by Tom "Clarence" Ashley. All of these versions are obviously related, but there is more improvisation in the black interpretations found on this recording. And each of the three here differ widely from each other.

Other comparisons and contrasts may be made with "Georgie Buck" and "Old Corn Liquor" (Dink Roberts in relation to Odell & Joe Thompson), and "Shortnin' Bread" (Leonard Bowles vs. Lewis Hairston). In most cases, there are only a few passages and common lyric to indicate they are the same piece, whereas in the white tradition, the versions most likely would have some individualization, but would more easily be identifiable as the same tune or song.

It is pretty obvious that I am very much taken by this recording and the artists therein. But I must offer some caveats. This is not "mainstream" old-time music, as most readers would know it. It may actually be somewhat difficult listening for some people, but making the extra effort to understand it and accept it, I believe, would turn out to be greatly rewarding. The editor also suggested that I note that the review copy I received skipped in a few places when played on one of my CD machines. I also will note that it played fine on two other players. Similar problems have plagued some recent issues of CDs, but I have not heard from anyone else who has this CD that they had a similar experience to mine. Sometimes this is a CD player calibration problem, sometimes it is actually a flaw in the CD production. In the latter case, most record companies have no problem in replacing the defective disc.

All in all, I am extremely pleased to have been allowed to hear the wonderful music captured on this CD. I would heartily recommend getting a copy, given the caveat above.

Kerry Blech

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Various Artists - Music From the Lost Provinces-Old-Time Stringbands from Ashe County, North Carolina & Vicinity, 1927-1931
Old Hat CD-1001

Grayson & Whitter, Frank Blevins & His Tar Heel Rattlers, Ephraim Woodie & The Henpecked Husbands, Jack Reedy & His Walker Mountain String Band, Smyth County Ramblers, North Carolina Ridge Runners, The Hill Billies, Woodie Brothers, Carolina Night Hawks.

Train 45/Nine Pound Hammer/Last Gold Dollar/Ground Hog/My Name is Ticklish Reuben/Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss/Nobody's Darling/Short Life of Trouble/Don't Get Trouble in Your Mind/Cluck Old Hen/Likes Likker Better Than Me/Way Down in Alabama/The Fatal Courtship/I've Always Been a Rambler/I've Got No Honey Babe Now/Governor Al Smith for President/Chinese Breakdown/Be Kind to a Man When He's Down/Old Aunt Betsy/Chased Old Satan Through the Door/Handsome Molly, Sally Ann.

During the 1920s, when phonograph companies were first developing markets for country music, great efforts were directed toward locating and recording new talent. The advent of provisional recording studios, with their semi-transportable equipment, made this venture viable even in non-urban settings, and for the first time rural artists were sought after, recorded and marketed by business-minded talent scouts. Many recordings from this period present music that was largely unaffected by the commercial fare of the day, and these provide rare glimpses into a time when music was learned, performed and transmitted on a strictly local or regional level.

This particular collection of early recordings focuses on a group of artists who emanated from the far northwestern corner of North Carolina, in Ashe, Watauga, and Alleghany counties. This area of rolling plateau, separated from the rest of the state by the abrupt slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains, became known as the "Lost Provinces" during colonial times, due to its inaccessibility and isolation. Settled by English, Scotch-Irish and German immigrants in the 18th century, the area presented a harsh environment to homesteaders, with little to offer in the way of trade or industry. For the more tenacious, though, these hardships were mitigated by the lure of adventure and promise of independence, and the communities endured.

One thing this area produced in abundance was homegrown musical talent, and local dances and socials provided a welcome respite from the rigors and monotony of frontier labor. These recordings present a snapshot of that musical activity at a certain point in its evolution. While still very rural in its approach, and rooted in a unique regional style, this is clearly performance music, presented with a listening audience in mind. The introspective and brooding quality that is reflective of the area's harsh environment is offset by the youthful enthusiasm of individuals who are, for maybe the first time, experiencing a world of exciting new technologies and expanded horizons.

Among the most exciting and influential of the artists included here are the great G.B. Grayson (fiddle) and Henry Whitter (guitar). This duo's "Train 45," "Handsome Molly," and "Short Life of Trouble" are definitive examples of their solid, foundational approach. We hear tantalizing foreshadowings of bluegrass in "Nine Pound Hammer" by Frank Blevins & His Tar Heel Rattlers, and in "Chinese Breakdown" by Jack Reedy & His Walker Mountain String Band. Wonderful country harmonies abound in "My Name is Ticklish Reuben" by the Smyth County Ramblers as well as in "Likes Likker Better Than Me" by the Woodie Brothers. "Governor Al Smith For President" by the Carolina Night Hawks, is a great update to Charlie Poole's popular "White House Blues." And, of course, the list goes on.

This collection, produced by Marshall Wyatt from his and the Country Music Foundation's collections of original 78 RPM recordings, is especially well presented. The remasterings yield very high quality sound, the notes (by Wyatt) are engaging and informative, and the booklet is attractively designed and profusely illustrated.

While many of the artists' names in this collection will be unfamiliar to listeners, neither the styles nor the music itself is likely to be. The echoes of these seminal recordings resound in the country, bluegrass, and old-time music that has followed. Much of the music has found its way into the mainstream, and several of the tunes and songs have become standards recorded by scores of artists over the years. What we hear in these recordings is transitional music filled with the excitement and surprise that one associates with artistic breakthroughs. For anyone fascinated by the reckless, complex and circuitous route American music has taken over the years, this disk will be a welcome arrival. It's also great listening.

To order: Old Hat Enterprises, PO Box 10309, Raleigh NC 27605 (919)833-3746.

Charlie Gravel

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Various Artists - Negro Blues And Hollers
The Library Of Congress Archive of Folk Culture - Rounder CD 1501

Son House, Willie Brown, and Fiddlin' Joe Martin: Camp Hollers; Charley Berry: Cornfield Hollers; Silent Grove Baptist Church Congregation: I'm a Soldier in the Army of the Lord; Church of God in Christ Congregation: I'm Gonna Lift Up a Standard for My King; David Edwards: Worried Life Blues; William Brown: Ragged and Dirty; Son House: Special Rider Blues; Depot Blues; William Brown: Mississippi Blues; William Blackwell and William Brown: Four O'Clock Flower Blues; William Brown: East St. Louis Blues; Son House: Low Down Dirty Dog Blues.

As Bob Carlin's excellent liner notes inform us, the music on this CD was recorded in 1941-1942 by John and Alan Lomax, working in conjunction with sociologist Lewis Jones, as part of a collaborative effort by the Library of Congress and Fisk University to document "the musical habits of a single Negro community in the Mississippi Delta. The region selected was Coahoma and Bolivar Counties, one hundred miles south of Memphis, where the Black population was significantly high." Bob, who also produced this reissue, goes on in the liner notes to provide biographical backgrounds on the various performers (in some instances, very little information is available) and information on the Lomaxes' collecting methods and the circumstances in which the various recordings were made. Rather than do a lengthy paraphrase of the notes, let's just say you can read them if you buy the CD or borrow it from your local library. What about the music?

The CD opens with "Camp Hollers" sung by Son House with spoken commentary by Willie Brown and Fiddlin' Joe Martin, and "Cornfield Hollers" sung by Charley Berry. (I am skeptical of designations like Camp or Cornfield Hollers-they smack to me of ways of classifying the music of a tradition that are arrived at and imposed by persons from outside the tradition.) In any event, the Hollers on this CD are songs, loosely linked and freely phrased blues verses, sung unaccompanied. Son House implacably sings the "Camp Holler," unswayed by the animated testifying and repartee of Willie Brown and Joe Martin, occasionally joining in the discussion himself. Son House was a very charismatic singer, and that comes through on this track. Charley Berry's "Cornfield Hollers" is an especially striking track. Far from being hollered, it is quietly sung in a beautifully ornamented headtone. I am drawn to this kind of song. It has a wonderful ruminative quality, as though you are hearing the interior monologue of someone reliving his life while on the verge of sleep. And it feels old to me, as old as a music can be, predating musical instruments and everything else except the impulse to hear and make music.

The two religious numbers, "I'm a Soldier in the Army of the Lord" and "I'm Gonna Lift up a Standard for my King," though well-sung renditions, are my least favorite tracks on the CD for reasons unrelated to their musical quality. First, of all the music on the CD they seem the most seriously compromised by the recording quality, which for the other tracks is just fine. Secondly, they are fervently shouted hymns and I prefer contemplative religious singing, like Washington Phillips singing "What Are They Doing In Heaven Today?"

The remainder of the cuts on the CD are blues accompanied by guitar, and they are all excellent. David "Honeyboy" Edwards, who is still alive and playing, does a dazzling job on "Worried Life Blues," which he plays in G, standard tuning. His style fluidly combines rapid single-string runs and wild (but controlled) strumming. Whew! Son House does three numbers: "Special Rider" is an open G tune, utilizing the melody Charley Patton sang for "Pea Vine Blues," but re-casting the phrasing in a shuffle rhythm. "Depot Blues" is an E standard tuning blues, of the same family as Charley Patton's "Pony Blues," Willie Brown's "M & O," or Tommy Johnson's "Lonesome Home." "Low Down Dirty Dog Blues" is a slide piece in open G tuning. If you are unfamiliar with Son House's music, these three numbers will provide a great introduction to it. Powerful singing and guitar playing with a distinctive "heavy" time and phrasing characterized his music. Willie Brown, the friend of Son House, does "Ragged and Dirty" in G standard tuning, capoed way up, employing a melody and instrumental lick most often associated with Sonny Boy Williamson's "Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl." (It is hard to believe that this is the same Willie Brown who recorded "Future Blues" and "M & O" for Paramount in the 20s-he sure sounds like a different person.) A different Willie Brown performs "Mississippi Blues," "East St. Louis Blues" and "Four O'Clock Flower Blues," on which he is joined by Willie Blackwell. "Mississippi Blues," which is played in A standard tuning, is one of the marvels of country blues guitar. It is conceived as a piano blues transcribed to the guitar, and is played with great relaxation and easy control. It is extremely sophisticated in the way it uses the guitar, but is in no way effete or careful sounding. It is one of the most tantalizing performances in all of country blues because it is so strong and original, and there is nothing else like it. All credit to Willie Brown for a wonderful piece of music. "East St. Louis Blues" is an E standard tuning 8-bar blues of the "Crow Jane" family, and Willie Brown inserts his own subtle and nifty touches in this commonly heard theme. "Four O'Clock Flower Blues" is a well worked out guitar duet with Willie Blackwell singing. The guitar duet sound in country blues has unfortunately pretty much died out today.

Sound quality of the CD is very good throughout, with the exception mentioned earlier. Lyrics for the songs are provided, and the transcribing of lyrics (which is very difficult to do, I know) is mostly very good with only a couple of nonsensical phonetic approximations. The artwork is good, and includes some excellent photo portraits of the musicians. All in all, this is a wonderful CD of excitingly varied music which I would recommend highly.

John M. Miller

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Various Artists - Southern Journey: Voices From the American South, Volume 1-Blues, Ballads, Hymns, Reels, Shouts, Chanteys, And Work Songs
Rounder 1701 CD (65:46, 1997, reissue of 1960 LP of field recordings from 1959 and 1960)

Bessie Jones & Hobart Smith: O Day; It Just Suits Me/Bessie Jones: Sink 'Em Low/Hobart Smith: Katy Went Fishing With Her Hook and Line/Sid Hemphill & Lucius Smith: Walk In the Parlor/Vera Ward Hall: Momma's Gonna Buy/Fred McDowell: Wished I Was in Heaven Sittin' Down /Bright Light Quartet: Po' Lazarus; Sweet Roseanne/Neil Morris: The Lass of Lock Royale/J.E. Mainer: Three Nights Drunk/Charley Everidge & Neil Morris: Turkey in the Straw/Sidney Carter: Pharaoh/Charllie Higgins, Wade Ward, and Dale Poe: Cripple Creek/Ollie Gilbert: The Diver Boy/Estil Ball: Pretty Polly/Ed Lewis and prisoners: Dollar Mamie/Rev. Crenshaw: I Wonder Will We Meet Again?/Almeda Riddle: Poor Wayfaring Stranger/I.D. Beck: Testimony/Ike Caudill and Congregation: Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah/Sacred Harp Singers: The Last Words of Copernicus/Belleville A Capella Choir: The Gospel Train/John Davis & Bessie Jones: Beulah Land.

Here is another volume from Alan Lomax's influential 1959/60 LP series, Southern Journey, originally issued on the Prestige label. Like Volume 2: Ballads & Breakdowns, this CD has a lot of old-time content by any measuring stick. Throughout the Southern Journey set, we'll meet and remeet many of the characters found here, and believe me, they are always welcome, for they are some of America's finest traditional musicians. From its title, one can easily see that this disk paints with a broader brush than Ballads & Breakdowns, but it is no less entertaining for the old-time fan.

Hobart Smith did yeoman work for Alan Lomax at the end of the '50s, but I can think of no one more versatile. We get to hear the illustrious native of Hillsville, VA here once in a relatively natural setting, playing ". . . Hook & Line" on solo fiddle, a lovely performance, very true to his roots. This CD, however, finishes with an interesting cut, previously unissued, a duet, "It Just Suits Me," between Hobart Smith, the Anglo old-time musician from the Blue Ridge Mountains, and Bessie Jones, the African-American singer from the Georgia Sea Islands. They are backed by Jones‰ compatriots, the Georgia Sea Island Singers.

This cut illustrates one of the controversial situations that Mr. Lomax was prone to create. He took people from different cultures and recorded them, creating some sort of fusion. Ordinarily, there might not be any controversy in doing this, but here we have one of America's best-respected and best-known folklorists recording a couple of highly acclaimed traditional musicians under somewhat "false pretenses." The recording of this song was affiliated with a recording project, part of a movie, of "historical music." Well. . . the end result, as you can hear on this disc, is some quite interesting and aurally pleasing music, but it may well have created some problems in keeping the historical premises and lineage of the music pristine. To many people, this won't matter, they'll just care about the end result.

One thing Alan Lomax seemed to do quite well is locate one form of music in an unlikely place. On this CD, we hear the well-known fiddle tune "Walking in the Parlor" played as a variant by Mississippian Sid Hemphill, a well-known black fifer, but here he plays it on quills, or panpipes, with Lucius Smith accompanying on banjo. Back to more familiar old-time cloth is the performance from J.E. Mainer's band, as they sing the humorous ditty, "Three Nights Drunk." We also hear Neil Morris, from the Ozarks, sing "Turkey in the Straw," accompanied by Charlie Everidge on mouthbow, an instrument that sounds a bit like a jaw harp. But the highlight for most old-time fans will be hearing the fine Galax area trio of Charlie Higgins on fiddle, Wade Ward on banjo, and Dale Poe on guitar. They execute a fine "Cripple Creek" here, though I have heard them in better form on other recordings. Almeda Riddle was one of the country's finest unaccompanied balladeers. Her "Poor Wayfaring Stranger," later a standby in the urban folk boom, still echoes of the mountains with her archaic ornaments and old cadence. And one of my favorite old-time voices is also heard on this disk, Estil Ball from Rugby, VA, with a riveting "Pretty Polly." One can never hear too much of him!

Much of the rest of this recording is given to music that is not part of the old-time world, but it is excellent traditional folk music and blues nonetheless. Fred McDowell and Bessie Jones, for instance, are the best of respective genres, in many ways. The high quality of the old-time music present on this recording should seduce the old-time fan into purchasing this, but the fine performances of the other styles of music make for a wonderful intoduction into the wide variety of American traditional music. If certain things were different, I could give an unconditional recommendation to this recording, for the performances are wonderful, the sound quality is excellent, the notes informative (in a general sense). But some of Lomax's behavior just grates at me. An example (beyond the one cited above) is what occurred with the Bright Light Quartet and their song "Sweet Roseanne." Here are Lomax's own words from the booklet: "It is not often that a song hunter hears a new piece which has the recognizable quality of a new national song. It has happened only a few times in my twenty-eight years of recording [this was in 1960], when I heard 'Down in the Valley' in 1933, 'Irene Goodnight‰ in 1934 and 'Rock Island Line' in 1938. Here was one of those that all America will be singing someday, I thought." He then goes on to describe how he "worked closely with the singers to develop a strong arrangement, and helped them copyright the song in the hopes that it would sweep the country." Although he featured it in a songbook he published that year and it was on the Southern Journey record he issued, it did not "sweep the country" despite being, basically, a good song. But such behavior just makes me wonder why he was collecting. Was he trying to manipulate culture? Was he trying to create crossover hits? Was he trying to exert his power to enhance his own image? Or was he merely documenting American folk culture and music and letting the cards fall where they may? This country is full of altruistic collectors and documentarians, seeking neither fortune nor fame. But is Alan Lomax one of them? Sometimes I think so, but then something like this comes up and makes me wonder.

Kerry Blech

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Various Artists - Southern Journey: 61 Highway Mississippi Delta Country Blues, Spirituals, Work Songs & Dance Music The Alan Lomax Collection Volume 3
Rounder 1703 CD (30:18)

Henry Ratcliff: Louisiana; Ed Young: Jim and John; Fred McDowell: 61 Highway Blues/Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning/Soon One Mornin'/Fred McDowell's Blues/Germany Blues/Lord Have Mercy; Ed Lewis: Stewball; John Dudley: Po' Boy Blues/Clarksdale Mill Blues/A. Burton: God's Unchanging Hand; Sid Hemphill and Lucius Smith: Emmaline, Take your Time/Old Devil's Dream; Miles & Bob Pratcher: I'm Gonna Live Anyhow Till I Die/If It's All Night Long; Mattie Gardner, Ida Mae Towns, Jesse Lee Pratcher: Little Sally Walker; Rose Hemphill: Rolled and Tumbled; Leroy Gary: Mama Lucy; Ervin Webb: I'm Goin' Home; Viola James: Tryin' To Make Heaven My Home; Leroy Miller: Berta, Berta; Mrs. Sidney Carter: Didn't Leave Nobody But the Baby.
Various Artists - Southern Journey: Brethren, We Meet Again Southern White Spirituals - The Alan Lomax Collection Volume 4
Rounder 1704 CD (59:06)

Preston Smith, Hobart Smith, and Texas Gladden: Lonely Tombs/When the Stars Begin To Fall/Jim and Me; Ruby Vass: The Old Gospel Ship; Ollie Gilbert: The Little Family/Joseph Looney; Hobart Smith: See That Me Grave Is Kept Clean; Almeda Riddle: I Am A Poor Wayfaring Stranger; The Mountain Ramblers: My Lord Keeps A Record; Alabama Sacred Harp Singers: Sardinia/Northport/I'm On My Journey Home/Closing Prayer; D.N. Asher: Testimony on Pioneer Religion; Hornton Old Regular Baptist Church: Amazing Grace/Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah/Why Must I Wear This Shroud?/Brethren We Have Met Again; I.D. Beck: Testimony/Poor Pilgrim of Sorrow; Mt. Olivet Regular Baptist Church: When Jesus Christ Was Here On Earth; Howard Adams: Testimony. Various Artists - Southern Journey: Bad Man Ballads, Songs of Outlaws and Desperadoes - The Alan Lomax Collection Volume 5
Rounder 1705 CD (55:08)

Almeda Riddle: Jesse James/Hangman Tree; Bright Light Quartet: Po' Lazarus; Hobart Smith: Railroad Bill/Claude Allen/Hawkins County Jail; Ed Lewis: John Henry/Tom Devil; Neil Morris: Willie Brennan; J.E. Mainer Band: Columbus Stockade; Johnny Lee Moore: Early In The Mornin'; Estil C. Ball: Pretty Polly; Henry Morrison: Lazarus; Oscar Gilbert: Cole Younger; Spencer Moore & Everett Blevins: The Lawson Murder; Floyd Batts: Dangerous Blues; James Carter: Po' Lazarus.
Various Artists - Southern Journey: Sheep, Sheep, Don'tcha Know the Road Southern Music, Sacred & Sinful - The Alan Lomax Collection Volume 6
Rounder 1706 CD (62:18)

Bessie Jones and the Georgia Sea Island Singers: Sheep, Sheep Don'tcha Know the Road; Neil Morris: The Juice of the Forbidden Fruit/Corn Dodgers; Hobart Smith: Devil's Dream/Drunken Hiccups; Willie Jones: You Got Dimples in Your Jaws; Fred McDowell: You Done Tol' Everybody; Almeda Riddle: The House Carpenter; Bright Light Quartet: Straighten 'Em/The Prayer Wheel; Denise Gardner, Mattie Gardner & Fred McDowell: I Wished I Was in Heaven Sittin' Down; Estil C. Ball & Lacey Richardson: Trials, Troubles, Tribulations; Vera Ward Hall: No Room At The Inn/The Last Month of the Year; James Shorty & Fred McDowell: My Mother Died And Left Me; Miles & Bob Pratcher: Buttermilk; Mt. Olivet Old Regular Baptist Church: Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah.

The story thus far: Rounder Records has contracted with noted folklorist and field collector Alan Lomax to issue over the next several years more than 100 CDs that will represent much of his life's work. The first 13 discs are taken from Mr. Lomax's 1959/60 recordings in the American South, the bulk of which appeared on a number of LPs on the Prestige label as the Southern Journey collection in the 1960s. The first half of the Southern Journey CD reissue reviews wraps up here (I reviewed several others, as well as a Lomax Collection sampler, in previous issues of the OTH), and I understand the remainder have, at least at the time of this writing, just been issued. The CD reissues contain nearly all the material originally issued with a few new tracks on each thematic CD. New notes have been written by various people affiliated with the Alan Lomax Reissue Project, though they do rely on Alan's original notes, with some quotes, and have updated some items and have cited his writings on some related projects, such as a series of LPs he produced from these same field recordings for New World Records in the 1970s.

Each volume stands alone well, adhering to some theme that Mr. Lomax developed in order to create an entertaining auditory essay. But taken in larger chunks, as I am doing here with four of the discs, certain patterns seem to emerge, and one can view some of the musicians and singers whom Alan felt had a profound effect on him in particular and on the landscape of traditional American music in a more general way. As I noted in earlier reviews, many of the tracks on these discs are not by any stretch of the imagination old-time music, which of course is the main subject of this magazine. But every track that I have heard is an example of excellent Americana, primarily some form of traditional music, though a few tracks seem to drift a little more towards popular culture. For those who seek only old-time music content, well, perhaps these would not be the best recordings to buy, but in avoiding them, one would miss some very memorable old-time performances. Going into this series with somewhat of an open mind and an appreciation for wonderful old-time music, and related musical forms, and many with absolutely no connection, one would still come away with a smile and much enlightenment, and perhaps a new appreciation for some other forms of American traditional music.

Volume 3 is, as the title shouts, music from Mississippi, with a good dose of blues from the incendiary Fred McDowell, echoes of Africa with Sid Hemphill's fife and drum ensemble, and snapshots of life in the field and the road gang with some call-and-response songs. A bit of a surprise comes with a couple of pieces performed by Bob and Miles Pratcher, the former on fiddle and the latter on guitar and vocals. Their first number, "I'm Gonna Live Anyhow Till I Die," will certainly strike Charlie Poole fans, for it is a variant of "The Coon From Tennessee," one of the North Carolina Ramblers' more popular numbers from the 1920s. The Pratchers, also heard on other volumes in this series, have a second song, "If It's All Night Long," on this disc, which is much more African-American in flavor than the above-mentioned piece.

Volume 4 is an entire disc devoted to White Spirituals. The opening cut, "Sardinia," is by the Alabama Sacred Harp Singers, who have an entire disc dedicated to them in the second half of the "Southern Journey" issues. They are powerful, riveting, a stormy force. Another sect, the Old Regular Baptist Church, has a number of cuts here using a different group singing technique than what the Alabamans use. Where the Sacred Harp tradition has lush, complex harmonies and full ensemble singing, the Old Regulars have a leader "line out" the hymn and the congregation sings it back to him, usually with no intended harmony. Hobart Smith makes another appearance in this series on this disc, singing one of my favorites, "Lonely Tombs," with his sister Texas Gladden and brother Preston Smith, as well as a couple of other sacred numbers. Though they are well-known in the old-time canon, they are here caught in songs of praise rather than performing secular old-time music. I first heard some sounds of what eventually became one of my favorite groups, The Mountain Ramblers of Galax, Virginia, on a couple of Mr. Lomax's records on Prestige and Atlantic that were produced from these 1959 tapes. They were a champion bluegrass band in their time, revered for their stunning mountain harmonies. We get a stellar "My Lord Keeps a Record" from James Lindsay, Cullen Galyean, Charles Hawkes, Eldridge Montgomery, and Thurman Pugh. It's goosebump time.

Volume 5 contains quite a bit of old-time content, starting with Almeda Riddle's Ozark balladry. Her shortened version of "Jesse James" has special meaning to me as it is extremely close textually to the version my grandfather, Bill Smith, sang to me as a child in the late 1940s, though Almeda's rendition is much more highly ornamented. Hobart Smith returns with a lengthy "Railroad Bill," featuring some exciting bluesy guitar picking. The several selections on this and other volumes by Neil Morris should draw some type here, too. Not only is he an interesting Ozark singer, but he fathered one of America's more beloved and renowned folk singers, Jimmy Driftwood. Estil C. Ball, from Rugby, Virginia, has had something of a renaissance on CD these past couple of years, with entire CDs dedicated to his wonderful music and that of his wife Orna. Alan Lomax's father John first introduced the music of E.C. to the world outside the Blue Ridge Mountains with his 1937 field recordings for the Library of Congress's Archive of Folk Song. Alan revisited Estil and family several times thereafter. Estil sang (and picked on guitar) "Pretty Polly" for John and did it again here for Alan. It is still one of the greatest versions of the archetypal American murder ballad (yes, yes, I know it is descended from British ancestors, but this version becomes wholly American in Mr. Ball's hands). J.E. Mainer's group contribute a nice "Columbus Stockade," featuring J.E.'s well-known old-time fiddling and some gorgeous harmony singing.

Volume 6 again returns Hobart Smith, but this time with fiddle in tow on a rousing "Devil's Dream," proving once again his versatility, as he appears on this series with fiddle, guitar, banjo, and vocals, solo and in familiar ensembles, as well as with strangers in some odd fusion experiments. The Pratchers also reappear, with a charged piece called "Buttermilk." A few of my all-time favorite songs also happen to appear on this disc. I nearly fell over when I first heard Fred McDowell (with Denise & Mattie Gardner) wail on "I Wished I Was in Heaven Sittin‰ Down" more than 30 years ago. It still sends me. The E.C. Ball composition "Tribulations" has the same effect, especially when he is doing the lead singing, as he does here. Neil Morris returns, this time with "Corn Dodgers," a song covered by John Cohen, much to my delight, in the early 1970s.

There's a wider variety of styles on these recordings than I am specifically mentioning, just because a "complete" review of all this would take an entire issue (at least) of this magazine, so I am trying to highlight those items that would seem to appeal most to old-time music aficionados. The Bright Light Quartet have a kind of jubilee gospel sound and several other performers have extremely powerful vocal talents that have no correlation to anything old-time. But there are wonderful blues, ballads, ditties, sacred music, just about everything one could hope to find in an encyclopedic venture into American tradition. There is great music here, indeed, yours for the taking and appreciation. But, there is so much. If anyone might be interested in obtaining some of these recordings, but not all, I'd suggest contacting some radio stations that might have them and making requests, so you can hear for yourself. Such tactics may even turn on other people who may have been unaware of this historic reissue. It's rather awesome.

Kerry Blech

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