The Old-Time Herald Volume 6, Number 6


The Belleville A Cappella Choir - Southern Journey: Honor The Lamb
BR Boys - Good Things
The Carter Family - Gold Watch And Chain-Their Complete Victor Recordings, 1933-1934
The Carter Family - Last Sessions-Their Complete Victor Recordings, 1934-1941
The Carter Family - Longing For Old Virginia-Their Complete Victor Recordings, 1934
John Dilleshaw - Seven Foot Dilly-1929-1930
Wilson Douglas - Fiddle Tunes From Central West Virginia
BOOK REVIEW: Doo-dah! Stephen Foster and the Rise of American Popular Culture By Ken Emerson
Wayne Erbsen - Railroadin' Classics: 16 Great Instrumentals
Joe Falcon - Live in Scott, La. 1963
The Freight Hoppers - Live at the Bearsville Barn
The Freight Hoppers - Waiting On The Gravy Train
BOOK REVIEW: How To Be Your Own Booking Agent and Save Thousands of Dollars: A Performing Artist's Guide To A Successful Touring Career By Jeri Goldstein
Brett Howland - America's Gatekeeper of Traditional Music
Frank Hutchison - Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order-Volume 1, 1926-1929
Mississippi John Hurt - Legend
Kessinger Brothers - Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order, Vols. 1, 2, 3
Walt Koken - Finger Lakes Ramble
Johnnie Lewis - Alabama Slide Guitar
Palmer & Greg Loux - In Good Company
Alex Francis MacKay - A Lifelong Home
Reed Martin - Old-Time Banjo
The New Lost City Ramblers - There Ain't No Way Out
Old Time Tradition - Jamboree
Eck Robertson - Old-Time Texas Fiddler
The Robichaud Brothers - The Slippery Stick: Traditional Fiddling from New Brunswick
Sea Island Singers - Southern Journey: Earliest Times-Georgia Sea Islands Songs for Everyday Living
Sea Island Singers - Southern Journey: Georgia Sea Islands-Biblical Songs and Spirituals
The Skirtlifters - Wait for the Wagon
The Stanley Brothers - Earliest Recordings-The Rich-R-Tone Recordings
Williamson Brothers & Curry (1927), Frank Hutchison, 1929 (Vol. 2), Dick Justice, 1929 - Old-Time Music From West Virginia
Wolf Bros. - Old-Time Tuning
Various Artists - American Primitive Vol. 1 - Raw Pre-War Gospel (1926-36)
Various Artists - The North Carolina Banjo Collection
Various Artists - Southern Journey: And Glory Shone Around: More All Day Singing from The Sacred Harp
Various Artists - Southern Journey: Harp of a Thousand Strings All Day Singing from The Sacred Harp
Various Artists - Wood That Sings: Indian Fiddle Music of the Americas

BR Boys - Good Things

David Sheppard-violin, guitar, vocals; Scott Manring-banjo, mandolin, dobro, guitar, vocals.

Broken Hearted Lover/Railroad Blues/Babies in the Mill/Streets of London/No Letter in the Mail Today/The Good Things/Lose Your Blues/Yellow Roses/Are You Tired of Me My Darling/Sunny Side of Life/Poor Rebel Soldier/Prairie Reverie/Married Life Blues.

This "home-made" CD, engineered and produced in Greensboro, NC (Bobby Kelly and Kip Williams were on the board of Acoustic Creations Studios and did a mighty fine job too) features a cover photo of the instruments played herein, and is a document to the business of playing acoustic music in the clubs in the '90s, where you need some variety but can still, it seems, show lots of good taste and musical ability too. Most of these songs are duets, with good close harmony which, if it's just a little to the "folky" end of the spectrum, remains honest, real, true to the guys behind the voices.

We think of English folk music, of people like Fairport Convention, as having to do with the culture of "over there," of life across the pond, and those strange, elegant accents, contrasting with the raw American edge of Robert Johnson or Jimmie Rodgers or Ralph Stanley. But the process of cultural blending continues at its glacial pace. Sheppard and Manring are southern I think, but they've done gone off to the university and so now anyone can understand what they're singing, the high lonesome edge has been worn away, and the cultures have all been jumbled up under the ice: Alton Delmore, Ralph McTell, Karl Farr, A.P. Carter, all impeccably picked and sung and shuffled under the baby spots, in the cigarette haze.

This CD is very listenable, a fine effort (the first?) by a duo of seasoned musicians very much worth listening to, live or recorded. Maybe the weakest cut is the last, "Married Life Blues," with fiddle and banjo and these same educated, cultured voices, and a nice arrangement with stops and a fade out. It's good listening, like the rest of these songs, but I kinda wanted to hear something else in there, something weird or crazy, a Riley Puckett bass run that goes off into outer space or something. Maybe the engineers should have tossed some beer bottles on the floor? It worked for "Hickory Wind."

Wm. Hicks

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The Carter Family - Gold Watch And Chain-Their Complete Victor Recordings, 1933-1934
Rounder CD 1070

When the Roses Come Again/I Loved You Better Than You Knew/This Is Like Heaven to Me/See That My Grave Is Kept Clean/Over the Garden Wall/Gold Watch and Chain/Schoolhouse On the Hill/Will My Mother Know Me There/Faded Flowers/Poor Little Orphaned Boy/Cowboy Jack/I'll Be All Smiles Tonight/Away Out on the Saint Sabbath/Darling Little Joe/Happy or Lonesome/One Little Word. The Carter Family - Longing For Old Virginia-Their Complete Victor Recordings, 1934

Rounder CD 1071

Darling Daisies/East Virginia Blues/Lover's Return/It'll Aggravate Your Soul/Hello Central, Give Me Heaven/I'm Working on a Building/On a Hill Lone and Gray/You've Been Fooling Me Baby/Longing for Old Virginia/March Winds Gonna Blow My Blues All Away/There'll Be Joy, Joy, Joy/Home in Tennessee/Are You Tired of Me, My Darling/I Cannot be Your Sweetheart/My Heart's Tonight in Texas/There's No Hiding Place Down Here/The Cowboy's Wild Song to His Herd/The Evening Bells Are Ringing. The Carter Family - Last Sessions-Their Complete Victor Recordings, 1934-1941
Rounder CD 1072

I'll Be Home Someday/Faded Coat of Blue/Sailor Boy/Why Do You Cry Little Darling/You Tied a Love Knot in My Heart/Lonesome Homesick Blues/Dark and Stormy Weather/In the Valley of the Shenandoah/Girl on the Greenbriar Shore/Something Got A-hold of Me/Fifty Miles of Elbow Room/Keep on the Firing Line/Waves on the Sea/Rambling Boy/You're Gonna be Sorry You Let Me Down/The Mountains of Tennessee.

Rounder has released nine CDs detailing the Carter Family's recording career for Victor, from 1927 through 1941. These are the last three CDs in the series. If you're a newcomer to old-time or country music, you might be confused about the Carter Family. These were the original Carters: A. P. Carter, his wife Sara, and Maybelle Carter, Sara's cousin, but married to A.P.'s brother. They founded one of the major lines of modern country music, straightforward sentimental songs (a cousin of theirs, Jimmy Rodgers, founded another, the yodeling blues). The signature Carter Family piece involves serious songs, sung earnestly with smooth country harmonies, punctuated by a thumb-picked guitar where the melody is played on the bass strings. The guitar typically plays the melody between each verse. Autoharp and Hawaiian guitar were used on some numbers, but the verse/instrumental alternating pattern was almost always the same. All three of the Carters were excellent singers and performers, as were their children, grandchildren, (great-grandchildren?). To tell the truth, I got confused about the details of the Carter dynasty a couple generations ago. I think I have Helen and June and Anita and Joe and Janette straightened out, but there are many more after that-someone should put a family tree up on the World Wide Web.

The original Carters were popular beyond their wildest imaginings, and found themselves with a recording contract that wouldn't quit. The family even had to stay together as a performing organization for about eight years after A.P. and Sara's marriage fell apart. If the average old-time mountain singer knew a dozen songs, the Carters were committed to more than that at every recording session. I don't have a count of the total songs they recorded for a number of companies, but my (incomplete) collection totals about 200. They ran out of the traditional songs they knew, and wrote some very good original ones in the genre, but still couldn't keep up. A.P. Carter didn't want to cover other artists' recordings, so he spent a lot of time scouring the mountains for unrecorded songs, often just written "ballets" to be sung to a familiar tune. Cecil Sharp and Alan Lomax were academic collectors, but A.P. depended on his collecting for his livelihood, so he was much more efficient. He found out what the folk wanted and sold it back to them.

So-should you buy all three of these CDs? The short answer is yes, you should buy all nine. But if you already have some Carter Family material, on tape or older LP re-releases, and if your old-time budget has been strained by the recent flood of great rereleases, consider whether you already have the following Carter songs, which are must-haves:

From CD 1070: I Loved You Better Than You Knew, See that My Grave Is Kept Clean, Gold Watch and Chain, Will My Mother Know Me There, Cowboy Jack, I'll Be All Smiles Tonight, Away Out on the Saint Sabbath, Darling Little Joe.

From CD 1071: East Virginia Blues; It'll Aggravate Your Soul; March Winds Gonna Blow My Blues All Away; Are You Tired of Me, My Darling; There's No Hiding Place Down Here; The Cowboy's Wild Song to His Herd.

From CD 1072: Faded Coat of Blue, Dark and Stormy Weather, Girl on the Greenbriar Shore, Something Got A-hold of Me, Fifty Miles of Elbow Room, Waves on the Sea, Rambling Boy.

If you're missing any of those, get the appropriate CD. If not, the CD sound isn't all that much better than the average tape or LP of a Carter recording, which is usually already of high quality.

Lyle Lofgren

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John Dilleshaw - Seven Foot Dilly-1929-1930, Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order
Document 8002 (CD reissued from 78s) (78:10)

John Dilleshaw-guitar, speech, vocal; Pink Lindsey-fiddle, guitar, mandolin, bass; Harry Kiker-fiddle; Shorty Lindsey-(tenor) banjo; Joe Brown-fiddle; Ahaz. A. Gray-fiddle, vocal; Archie Lee, Bill Brown, and Hoke Rice-speech; probably Lowe Stokes-fiddle.

Where the River Shannon Flows/Bad Lee Brown/Spanish Fandango/Cotton Patch Rag/The Square Dance Fight on Ball Top Mountain - parts 1 & 2/A Fiddler's Tryout in Georgia - parts 1 & 2/A Georgia Barbeque at Stone Mountain - parts 1 & 2/Tallapoosa Bound/Streak O' Lean - Streak O' Fat/Georgia Bust Down/Pickin' Off Peanuts/Lye Soap/Hell amongst the Yearlings/Nigger Baby/The Old Ark's A-Moving/Sand Mountain Drag/Bust Down Stomp/Farmer's Blues/Walkin' Blues/Kenesaw Mountain Rag/Bibb County Hoe Down.

While in Chicago in 1972 visiting a 78 collector friend in his basement apartment, decorated floor-to-ceiling with vintage musical artifacts, he put a disc on, having intuited some of my interest. The tube amplifier translated that signal: "All right boys, we come up here to play for these folks up here on Dog River; now let's get started. What'll be a good tune to get started with? 'Lye Soap!' 'Lye Soap.' Bust Down!!!" and that was my introduction to Seven Foot Dilly and His Dill Pickles, a breakdown band in the North Georgia fiddle band style, with hot flatpicked runs by leader John Dilleshaw that would make Riley Puckett envious, a pulsating bowed bass, a ripplingly rhythmic tenor banjo, and some of the finest country humor and commentary one will ever encounter. I fell in love with a band's sound and didn't rest until I had heard everything by them. Now, you too can be inspired by this reckless band, as all their recordings are contained on this one silvery disc.

What was it about the sound of the Dilleshaw ensembles? The rhythm section, for sure. They had a wonderfully effervescent dance beat, with a unique underpinning of that bowed bass, that lively tenor banjo, and the accents and counterpoint of Dilleshaw's left-handed guitar-playing. And Dilleshaw had a talent (or his A&R men did) for attracting great fiddlers to his recording sessions. A.A. Gray, Joe Brown, and most of all, Lowe Stokes, were already legends in the southeastern part of the United States by the time these discs were cut. And Pink Lindsey and Harry Kiker were no slouches either. The band mixed some chestnuts, usually with some little hook in them to make them stand out from the crowd, with rather rare tunes. "Streak O' Lean" might fall into the former category, as it was a popular regional piece that was recorded under various titles by John Carson and the Skillet Licker circle, among others. But the A-minor section is almost jarring behind Gray's rhythmic bowing. "Kenesaw Mountain Rag" should be easily identifiable as a version of "Cumberland Gap," but with masterfully subtle variations from the standard melodic course. And of course they had their own takes on "Chinese Breakdown" and "Wyzee Hamilton's Breakdown" (also known locally as "G Rag"), but rather than telling you which of their fanciful titles overlaid these familiar tunes, I'll let you discover that for yourselves. In addition to their personalized stamp on the familiar, their rarities included "Sand Mountain Drag," "Bibb County Hoe Down" (perhaps the best breakdown ever recorded?), and "Hell Amongst the Yearlings," among others. I've not heard these melodies elsewhere.

There were great vocals on the few songs, especially the duets by Gray and Dilleshaw. Add to that Dilly's guitar prowess, illustrated on "Spanish Fandango" and his quaint, period singing on "Bad Lee Brown," "River Shannon," "Farmer's Blues," and "Walkin' Blues," well you're getting close to having a whole entertainment package.

Their skits-ah-their skits. Most likely they were inspired by the ever popular "Corn Licker Still in Georgia" series from the Skillet Lickers, but in the opinions of many, yours truly included, the writing and execution is near perfect, as the listener can easily visualize and enjoy the varied settings of the skits. What an experience the "Square Dance Fight" becomes. From "All right folks, let's get this square dance started up on Ball Top Mountain tonight; get your partners, boys, let's go back; You ready, Music?" "Yeah! Bust Down!" up through "Between that fight and playing all night, I don't want any more of Ball Top Mountain!" "Same here, brother!" The emotions become drained. And the fiddling in "A Fiddler's Tryout" is simply spectacular, with Fiddlin' Joe Brown cutting it with "Arkansas Traveler" ("Wheeeee"), and "Blue-Tailed Fly" ("Wheeeee") and A.A. Gray wowing them with "Buckin' Mule" ("Wheeee") and "Sally Gooden" ("Wheee") and the two of them busting down on "Leather Breeches" ("Wheeee") and "Katy Hill" ("Wheeee"). Simply exhilarating playing, folks. We get tutoring in barbeque and dismembering cooked meat in the "Barbeque" skit, but it's more than the music, as all these players have a presence and delivery. We can feel their personalities shine through.

And speaking of personalities, the biggest attention-getter throughout their work is Dilly's ease and fluidity in delivering his monologues over the spectacular music. He was the original Rap poet. And what phrases: "I told you I heard something cooking; turnip greens, sweetland 'taters, cornbread, buttermilk. I sure have a bad cold . . . say, can you reach over here and pull my nose? Much obliged." and "Look at that red-dressed gal over there yonder; Yeah, that's her

. . . I know that old boy she's with; I used to play baseball with him eight or ten years ago . . . we played down in Smith's pasture; he was on base and I knocked a high fly . . . plumb over the fence . . . I slid into something that I thought was third base . . ." if that ain't poetry . . . and all with some great accompanying music behind it. Or is it the rapping that accompanies the music?

Some musical "purists" wish that Dilleshaw wasn't gabbing and flapping his jaw and interrupting the stellar fiddling going on, but it is all part of the ambiance. If such things disturb you, you might have to look elsewhere for your jollies, I'm afraid. I think their music is absolutely wonderful as is.

Tony Russell must be commended for an extremely superior job in writing the notes for the booklet, as he presents a decent history of the band members and properly sets their place in the milieu of North Georgia fiddle bands. He has intelligent statements about their approach to their performances and of the fiddlers themselves (I mean, when was the last time you saw the word "quotidian" in the notes for an old-time string band?). I also would imagine that he is responsible for the detailed discography. Huzzah, Tony. The cover features a quite clear photo of one version of the band; it is quite stunning to see how much larger than the others Dilleshaw is. And finally, we come to the weakest part of the package, the sound quality. As with a lot of other Document recordings, it could be much better. I again suspect that this CD was assembled from tapes from a number of collectors and that extensive digital noise reduction and enhancement was not performed in the original mastering, if any, of the discs themselves. The levels vary from cut to cut, though this is somewhat natural in 78 rpm record reissues, as some discs are rarer than others, meaning that if it is damaged or noisy, there may be no alternatives, short of quite expensive remastering, for it may be the sole accessible copy. This may be one of the negative aspects we'll have to endure when we have a "complete recorded works" issue like this one. I for one am grateful that Dilleshaw's entire oeuvre has been amassed and issued in one place. I strongly suspect that this trade-off will be an issue throughout the entire reissuing project by Document. We'll have to live with it, but also, maybe put some pressure on them to "clean up the act," like the American reissue labels are doing. Nevertheless, this is an outstanding recording.

Kerry Blech

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Wilson Douglas - Fiddle Tunes From Central West Virginia

Wilson Douglas-fiddle; Kim Johnson-banjo; Mark Payne-guitar.

Elzic's Farewell/Leather Breeches/Muskrat Sally Ann/June Apple/Walkin' in the Parlor/Sandy River Belles/Granny Will Your Dog Bite?/Baby-O/Mother Flanagan/Sugar Hill/Stoney Point/Run Here Granny Take a Look at Uncle Sam/Durang's Hornpipe/Old Aunt Jenny with Her Night Cap On/Petronella/Sally Gooden/Sugar in the Gourd/Devil in Georgia/Brushy Run/Pretty Little Cat/The Girl I Left Behind Me/Ryestraw/Sweet 16/Cotton-Eyed Joe/Fair Morning Hornpipe/Cluck Old Hen/Forked Buck/Cold Frosty Morning/Flop-Eared Mule/Abe's Retreat/Run Johnny Run.

Wilson Douglas is one of the grand old men of West Virginia fiddling. His long bow is unique as it manages to define the quirkiness of this mountain state's fiddle style. Without excessive bow movement, Wilson can go into a tune, redefine it and emerge from the other end with a brilliant interpretation. His playing is one of the defining styles for fiddling in West Virginia. Unlike his unfortunate Rounder release of 20-some years ago where he was matched with less than sympathetic accompaniment, this compilation from two former cassette tapes is a satisfying listening experience.

Kim Johnson is the only banjo player who can stay with Wilson. Her empathy is complete. She obviously has spent a great deal of time with the man to know his twists in musical logic so well. She bends with his melodies and glides with his timing. Mark Payne's guitar underpins the banjo and fiddle and works with them nicely.

There are 31 tunes in this compilation. These are among Wilson's favorite cuts and they represent a fine cross section of his repertoire. The tunes range from fairly standard pieces like "Sally Goodin" and "Cluck Old Hen," to pure West Virginia like "Elzic's Farewell" and "Cold Frosty Morning," when he digs deep to bring that French Carpenter influence to the fore. The one thing that is not standard here is Wilson's unique perspective on each tune and the richness he brings to each piece by virtue of his approach. His reworking of "Petronella" recasts this tune so that it is devoid of any of its Yankee preciseness and takes on a rough and ready flavor that may make some New England fiddlers cringe.

At this writing Wilson is fighting yet another battle with an old nemesis, cancer. Hold him in our prayers as he continues in his warfare for life. Meanwhile, we have this fine CD as a token of what Wilson Douglas means to old-time music.

To order: Kim Johnson, 143 Spencer Rd., Clendenin, WV 25045

Robert Buckingham

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Wayne Erbsen - Railroadin' Classics: 16 Great Instrumentals
Native Ground CD 920

Wayne Erbsen-clawhammer and bluegrass banjo, banjo-guitar, guitar, banjo-mandolin; Bucky Hanks-guitar; David Holt-harmonica, jew's harp, bones, spoons, washboard; Donnie Scott-dobro; Bob Willoughby-bass.

Wabash Cannonball/Railroad Corral/Paddy on the Railway/The Lightning Express/Casey Jones/L & N Rag/Freight Train/New Lost Train/Wreck of the Old 97/In the Pines/Kansas City Railroad Blues/On the Dummy Line/New River Train/Reuben's Train/Lost Train Blues/Nine Hundred Miles.

I suppose that if you didn't care about the wonderful hooks and nubs of old-time music then this recording might be just the thing. Otherwise, it's far too irritating to listen to. It's irritating because these wonderful old tunes are reduced to easy-listening little nothings, interrupted by blatant shifts in what instrument takes the lead. It's irritating because the notes say-as if we didn't recognize a con when we saw one, "The complete words, music and histories to many of the songs . . . can be found in the book Singing Rails: Railroadin' Songs, Jokes & Stories, published by Native Ground Music and Mel Bay Publications." And meanwhile, the single paragraph of notes here provides only fragments of information, and suggests a theme no minimally educated person would believe: The tunes here remind Erbsen, he says, "of a hobo hitching a ride on a rolling freight train. Footloose and fancy free, the stories, told here without words, tell a tale of the glory days of railroadin'." Who's fancy free? Really? But maybe this lack of notes is OK, because if you heard music like this, you'd never guess there was anything behind it to find out about.

This recording is irritating because it seems to condescend to its listeners, assuming they need constant provoking with cute little banjo-mandolin breaks to keep interested, and assuming that they are not capable of enjoying anything real and honest about the old railroad days. For example, why take all the life out of "The Lightning Express" by removing the words? Why not sing the story of "The Wreck of the Old 97"? Is it because the record wants to romanticize the "Railroadin'" past?

It's irritating especially because Erbsen's playing is clean and strong, his ear for the feel of a tune is good, and in general he chooses instrumentation and a beat that brings the most out of each tune. And yet this competence makes the situation worse: if he were a beginner, we could write this off to youthful enthusiasm. But if he can do this, why doesn't he do something better? Why doesn't he give his music the full range of emotion?

But why bother to get irritated? Why not just say, "I've heard better," and let it go? Because we have enough blandness and happy little made-up plots on TV. Because old-time music should be protected from this fictionalizing.

To order: Native Ground Music, 109 Bell Road, Asheville, NC 28805-1521; 800-752-2656;;

Molly Tenenbaum

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Joe Falcon - Live in Scott, La. 1963
Arhoolie 459 CD

Joe Falcon-accordion, vocals; Lionel Leleux-fiddle; Theresa Falcon-drums, vocals; Allen Richard-guitar, vocals.

Joe's Breakdown/99 Year Waltz/Corrine, Corrina/Jole Blonde/Lacasine Special/Le Traces De Mon Buggy (The Tracks of My Buggy)/Osson Two-Step/La Valse De St. Landry/Hip et Taiaut/Creole Stomp/Myer's Waltz/Allons a Lafayette/La Valse A Nonc Gustave (Keep A'Knockin)/Allons Danser Colinda/Les Flambes D'enfer (The Flames of Hell).

This "audio verite" recording was made at a dance in Southwest Louisiana in 1963, nearly 35 years ago. It is of note because the man who was leading the band that night was none other than pioneer Cajun accordionist Joe Falcon, who gained fame as the first Cajun musician to make a record way back in 1928 when he and his guitar-playing wife Cleoma recorded "Allons A Lafayette." Joe Falcon went on to make many more 78s with Cleoma (who also recorded about a dozen sides under her own name). The band on this recording (which was Joe Falcon's last) also includes Falcon's second wife, Theresa, on drums (Cleoma Falcon died in 1941 as a result of complications from an auto accident); guitarist Allen Richard (pronounced "Ree-shard" with the accent on the first syllable); and another beloved Cajun musician, Lionel Leleux, on fiddle.

The songs and tunes here are nothing out of the ordinary: "Jole Blonde," "Lacasine Special," "Allons A Lafayette," "Colinda," "Flambes D'Enfer" have all been recorded dozens (perhaps hundreds) of times before. As often happens on Cajun recordings, when you listen to the few selections with unfamiliar titles, hoping for something new and unusual, they turn out to be "Cherokee Waltz," "the Acadian Two-Step," "Tee Monde Waltz," etc. All 15 selections are long: the shortest being nearly four minutes, while the longest goes on and on for nearly five and a half minutes.

Joe Falcon's playing appears to have hardly changed at all in the intervening 35 years between his first recording and his last. His style remained uncomplicated and straightforward, in contrast to the more elaborate playing of some of his contemporaries (such as Sidney Babineaux and Amad" Ard Ardoin) as well as the technical wizardry of many who followed (like Iry LeJeune, Nathan Abshire, Marc Savoy, Steve Riley).

Lionel Leleux's fiddling is somewhat unusual among old timers in southwest Louisiana, because, rather than tuning a whole step low and playing out of D and A, he leaves his fiddle in standard tuning, playing most tunes out of C and G, which gives him a very distinctive tonality, quite different from that of Dewey Balfa. The only other older player who does this as far as I know is Merlin Fontenot (who is a generation younger than Lionel; he is a contemporary of Dewey Balfa, and can be heard on many of the old Nathan Abshire recordings). Lionel continued to be musically active right up to his death just a few years ago; he was one of Michael Doucet's first inspirations. While it should be a pleasure to hear Lionel Leleux fiddle, the production values on this album are so funky that I really can't listen it for very long at a time.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, this album is just too low-fi to be of interest to anyone but the most obsessive Cajun diehards. It does succeed in recreating the ambiance of a '60s Cajun roadhouse, complete with loud and garbled banter from the patrons, unintelligible stage patter in Cajun French, ear-splitting distorted sound system, bass-heavy amplified guitar, etc. Too bad the smells of gumbo, beer, and cigarettes couldn't have been included.

Suzy Rothchild Thompson

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The Freight Hoppers - Live at the Bearsville Barn
Homespun VD-HOP-PF01

David Bass-fiddle; Cary Fridley-guitar and vocals; Frank Lee-clawhammer banjo and vocals; Jim O'Keefe-string bass.

Sugar Hill/Reuben's Train/Banjo Picking Girl/Won't You Come and Go/Arkansas Sheik/Pretty Little Widow/Money in Both Pockets/God Gave Noah the Rainbow Sign.

This video is basically of performances by the Freight Hoppers, with interviews with the individual band members about their instruments, style, philosophy about old-time music and musical backgrounds. Although the video is called Live at the Bearsville Barn, this is not a performance in front of a live audience. Between tunes, each person discusses how they play their instrument, but this is not strictly an instructional video. There is plenty of good old-time string-band music, strong vocals and spirited performances. Because this group is so visual, a video of their performances makes sense. You'll enjoy it if you like old-time string-band music and/or are a fan of the Freight Hoppers.

The Freight Hoppers are based in Bryson City, NC. They began their career by playing at the train stop at the Great Smoky Mountains Railways in 1993. When the tourists got off the train, they were greeted with music of the railroading era, hence the name of the band, the Freight Hoppers. The group has gone on to win awards at major fiddler's contests and to perform at folk and bluegrass festivals; they won second place in Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion contest, "Talent From Towns Under 2000," which I believe introduced a national audience to the energy of old-time string band music.

The band was selected among the top 30 acoustic artists of the "Next Generation" by Acoustic Guitar in December 1997. They reached #20 on the Gavin Americana chart and #21 on the Bluegrass Now chart. They received the only standing ovation for a showcase group at the International Bluegrass Music Association in 1997. Besides this video, and the CD Where'd You Come From, Where'd You Go? on Rounder, the group also has an earlier, self-produced cassette called Going Down the Track with a Chicken on My Back. At this writing, Frank just released an instructional video on clawhammer banjo, Cary's harmony singing video is available now, too, as well as their new CD on Rounder, Waiting for the Gravy Train.

Each member of the group has a strong commitment to old-time music and to entertaining. Fiddler David Bass used to make his living by fiddling and clogging at the same time in the New York subways. The bass player, Jim O'Keefe, busked in Europe. Cary is committed to music and performing. In her "other" life, she had a job teaching music. She quit that job to be a full-time member of the Freight Hoppers. Frank Lee has been playing banjo for years, first playing bluegrass but then switching completely over to the clawhammer style. They mention that their goal is to make their audiences sit up and take notice. As former street musicians, their very livelihood depended upon being able to stand out in a crowd or on a busy street corner, or, in their case, at a whistle stop. They are now a full-time touring band, working very hard at playing and promoting the music, and themselves. However, true to the old-time "lifestyle," they are honest about their feelings about the music and what it means to them. They may be a powerhouse of energetic string-band music but they are studiously "non-slick" in their appearance and performance style. The performances are tight and lively. They definitely have charisma so that this video is fun to watch the second and third time. The sound quality is excellent and the camera work, with various angles and close-ups, is interesting for the viewer. The liner notes are on the cardboard video cover. There is no supplemental pamphlet with words or tab or anything like that. The fiddler, David, breaks into clogging while fiddling, holding the instrument sideways on his chest so that he is sawing up and down with the bow. Cary tosses her head and hair around just as energetically as Ringo used to do.

Jim keeps time with his head and neck in a rigid forward jerking motion, like a scratching chicken, and plays straight-forward driving bass. Every motion conveys energy and a sense that the individuals are themselves mesmerized by the sound of the music. Given that today's teenagers in mainstream America are wearing baggy carpenter's blue jeans, this group could appeal to the younger generation visually. A person can't help but compare the Freight Hoppers to the Highwoods Stringband. One big difference that I can see is that the Freight Hoppers know how to market what they've got with the help of modern technology. This is 25 years later. Run a search on your browser on the Internet for the Freight Hoppers and you'll get many solid hits, at their web site, that of their manager, at Rounder, at various CD vendors, pictures of them performing at various festivals, magazines with reviews. You can buy their videos, CDs, T-shirts, even an autographed picture of the band for $4, right there on the web. The Highwoods had three wonderful albums and a string of appearances for a few years. Used to be, and it still is true, that many bands sell most of their recordings at live appearances. I'm sure the Freight Hoppers do that, too, but their Internet presence allows instant 24 hour a day access. Having a video like this falls right in with that strategy. It's a matter of being accessible, and having the capacity to get busy and have a product to sell while the group has the listener's attention. These things, to me, speak of longevity for the band. They've branched out into instructional materials and so they've got something else to sell besides live performances. If they got someone to get hooked on the music, they also can help that person to learn to play the music and thus ensure that old-time music will continue. The time may be right for old-time music to become recognized by "the masses." Children gravitate to the music, almost instinctively.

A group like the Freight Hoppers can usher in an era of the acceptance of old-time music to a whole new generation. They certainly are trying.

We old-time fanatics are just starved for a visual record of our favorite performers. Many of us don't live where we can get to see our favorite bands perform live. I remember the hushed, reverent viewing of the Tommy Jarrell video, Sprout Wings and Fly at a pre-dance party, years ago. We all drank in every word, every bow stroke. Even now, wouldn't we love to see some old footage of the Highwoods Stringband? I hope more present-day old-time bands and performers will make videos. I liked the Freight Hoppers' format of full performances alternating with the interviews. When do we start an old-time music television channel? OTMTV. It has a nice ring.

I only have a couple of reservations about the band. The Freight Hoppers are doing a fine job of disseminating old-time music to the masses and gaining converts to this style of music. However, it is easy to see and hear the bluegrass tendencies in this group with the heavy emphasis on the bluegrass-style harmony singing, and the strong bass-guitar-banjo combination. But the Freight Hoppers do play everything at once and don't take bluegrass-type solo breaks. For the most part, they have kept true to the old-time repertoire and have resisted the temptation to "modernize" it too much. They are good ambassadors for old-time music. May they live long and prosper.

Pat Walke

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BOOK REVIEW:Doo-dah! Stephen Foster and the Rise of American Popular Culture
By Ken Emerson

Simon and Schuster, 1997. 400 pages.

This unfortunately titled but impeccably researched book details Foster's sad life but also describes the tumultuous evolution of American popular song during the brief 38 years between his birth and death. At the time of Foster's birth in 1826, Americans who bought printed music to perform or who paid to hear musical performers had little or no American-produced music from which to choose. Popular music was pirated or imported from England, much of it the tuneful but arty airs of Thomas Moore, who had a knack for composing genteel romantic lyrics to tunes nabbed from Irish tradition, a gift which gained him entry to Lord Byron's salons. By Foster's death in 1864, America had experienced the rise of the minstrel show with its elements of African-American music and dance, had sung its first national "hit" songs (Dan Emmett's "Dixie" and Foster's "O Susanna"), and in New York City, Tony Pastor had already begun to stage musical shows which would by century's end evolve into the Broadway musical theater.

Emerson is especially good in tracing the background of Foster's compositions in the earlier and quite separate parlor and minstrel traditions. In the former, Thomas Moore was to have a lasting and perhaps unfortunate influence on American popular song. An expatriate Irishman, Moore penned sentimental laments for an imaginary, idealized lost home which were to resonate mightily with American audiences. Emerson points out that "Moore's nostalgia appealed to 19th-century Americans because whether they had crossed the Atlantic, the Alleghenies, or the Mississippi, they were an uprooted people, ever on the move. In making their new homes, they missed their old ones. There is something else in Moore's music that makes it quintessentially American popular music: a sentimentalism that is slightly but discernibly disingenuous. . . . In other words, popular music posed problems from its very beginnings in America that concern it to this day: issues of sincerity, authenticity, and kitsch." (To which the modern country music fan may hum, "By day I make the cars/By night I make the bars/Oh, how I want to go home.")

To this sentimental tradition Foster wedded what he understood of African-American music and began moving his compositions toward the strange and exciting new hybrid that would become American popular music. Emerson shows that as Foster worked on "Old Folks At Home," it is "as if Foster's pencil were teetering on the brink between blackface and a deeper identification with African Americans, an identification at once more personal and more universal. He had tried, in earlier songs, to cross the great divide between blackface and parlor ballad, black and white, them and us. Now he was inching closer than ever before." That divide was to survive in and define American popular song and is clearly traceable in old-time music. The very first old-time recordings, Fiddlin' John Carson's "Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane" and "Old Hen Cackled and the Rooster's Going to Crow," finds Fiddlin' John exploring the same divide as did Foster-a sentimental lament for a lost home coupled with a vibrant African-American influenced fiddle tune with animal imitations-perhaps the quintessential American recording.

Old-time music fans will find much of interest in Emerson's account of Foster's life. We learn that while he was not a performer, Foster was an accomplished guitarist who learned the instrument from his older sisters. In Foster's notebooks Emerson has discovered the lyrics to an unpublished jangling verse titled "Going INDIAN," a startling document which demonstrates both Foster's considerable power as a poet and his frequent inability to channel his best efforts into marketable form. Though never set to music, this verse is in the rough spirit of and could be sung to the "Brown Skin Gal" performed by Mike Seeger on the recent New Lost City Ramblers album. We learn that in 1853, Foster attended America's first World Fair in New York City, where he may have rubbed elbows with Henry James, William James, Walt Whitman, and Mark Twain, all of whom also attended. (One imagines a most amusing afternoon of conversation-and song-had these worthies gathered around a table at the beer garden.) And this bizarre vignette emerges from Foster's letters: only once in his life did Foster travel into the slave-holding South, on a steamboat trip to New Orleans. The art-versus-life response of Foster and his party to their first sighting of slaves working in the fields was to gather at the boat's railing and to sing "Old Folks At Home" as they floated past. (The reaction of the slaves was not documented.)

Less attractively, but true to the modern biographer's model, Emerson probes Foster mercilessly on the couch. Too tight with mom, cold and distant dad. Check. Possibly sexually inadequate. Check. Possible but unproven homoerotic leanings. Check. Problems dealing with women, who appear in his songs as asleep, dreaming, or dead. Check. Emerson frames these fashionable speculations on some elusive but fascinating evidence, such as Foster's notebook entry in which he anxiously added up the days between his wedding day and the birth of his daughter nine months (to the day) later. One wonders if Foster's alcoholism and self-destructive choices might be traceable less to such Freudian paradigms than rather to the depression that shaped the life of Foster's contemporary, Herman Melville.

We recommend Emerson's book to those students of old-time music who are discovering that, while old-time music's roots in English balladry and African polyrhythms seem increasingly distant and tenuous, its debt to the popular culture of the nineteenth century becomes increasingly tangible through studies such as this one. Seek the guitar and banjo instruction books, the parlor songsters, the minstrel and vaudeville and medicine shows, the military marches, the piano ragtime, the books of fiddle tunes, the compositions of Stephen Foster, and there you will find old-time music a-borning.

Jon and Marcia Pankake

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The Freight Hoppers - Waiting On The Gravy Train
Rounder CD 11661-0433-2

Trouble/Backstep Cindy/Anchored in Love/Molly Put the Kettle On/Ways of the World/Warfare/Polecat Blues/Nobody's Business/A Roving on a Winter's Night/Fall on My Knees/Fort Smith Breakdown/We Shall All Be Reunited/Wild Fling in the Woodpile/Hell Broke Loose in Georgia/Young Emily/Shortenin' Bread

The summer 1997 OTH reviewed the Freight Hoppers' first CD, Where'd You Come From, Where'd You Go? The review chided them for excessive speed on too many breakdowns and vocals that didn't balance their instrumental skills. Prescription was a study of the singing of Clarence Ashley and the Carter Family. The Freight Hoppers started as a tourist band at the Great Smoky Mountains Railway in Bryson City, NC. That's a venue where you need Hard Sell, like the 1970s Stoneman band, with a white-booted miniskirted Donna Stoneman prancing around, selling us music that really needed no visuals. Given the Freight Hoppers' popularity, I assumed they'd stay with success and make a second album a twin of their first. Instead, the Hoppers seem to have taken the reviewer's advice. They have produced a CD that retains a lot of excitement, but without hyperventilating. The presentation is a nice mixture of fast and relaxing numbers, and the vocal work is as good as you could want. As with the first album, they list all the banjo and fiddle tunings.

Speed fiddle addicts will like "Backstep Cindy," "Molly Put the Kettle On," "Polecat Blues," "Shortenin' Bread," and "Ways of the World." This last tune didn't seem quite the same as Wm. Stepp's Library of Congress recording. The Music of Kentucky, Vol. 1 CD (Yazoo 2013) was handy, so I compared them. The tune is indeed the same, but, surprisingly, Stepp's version was even faster. I didn't think that was possible. Now I wonder if some of the impression of speed is due to the obvious energy the Hoppers put into their breakdown pieces.

Being a geezer on heart medication, I appreciated their quieter songs. "Anchored in Love Divine" shows they have been paying attention to the Carter Family vocal skills, and "Warfare" even improves E.C. and Orna Ball's definitive version by adding a nice low-register fiddle part. Carey Fridley demonstrates excellent mastery of mountain vocal style with her unaccompanied "A Roving on a Winter's Night," which by itself is worth the price of admission. On "We Shall All Be Reunited," she adds some nice vocal bends that the straightforward Alfred Karnes never thought of; fine Carter-style guitar also improves this song. Frank Lee's vocals blend in nicely, without demanding your attention the way Carey's do. His voice is very reminiscent of A.P. Carter's, and that's a compliment.

I greatly appreciated the euphemistically titled "Wild Fling in the Woodpile." When it started out as a fiddle/fretless banjo duet, I anxiously anticipated the point where the bass and guitar join in to convert a special sound into just one more band piece. I was thrilled when it didn't happen.

Graphics is my only complaint. The monochromatic blue cover photo is perhaps meant as an homage to the obsolete mid-19th century cyanotype. Unfortunately, the poor contrast makes the image almost invisible-it certainly would not catch your eye in a CD bin at a music store. Maybe the Freight Hoppers don't need dynamite visuals, and can count on word-of-mouth to sell their albums. I'm willing to contribute to the chorus.

Lyle Lofgren

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BOOK REVIEW: How To Be Your Own Booking Agent and Save Thousands of Dollars: A Performing Artist's Guide To A Successful Touring Career
By Jeri Goldstein

The New Music Times, Inc. 1988

Author Jeri Goldstein has been the agent and manager for Robin & Linda Williams, the Fiddle Puppet Dancers, Garrison Keillor and the Hopeful Gospel Quartet, and others. She's been a concert promoter and television producer, and has consulted and conducted seminars on career management. Her show-biz insight, compiled in this informative and accessible book, will save performers, and even those just considering going professional, an endless amount of time, money, frustrations, and perhaps, even heartaches.

"There is a tension between the tasks of booking and performing," Goldstein says in the introduction. "You must become proficient at business in order for your art to thrive." This book is a perfect reference tool, providing the business smarts that tend to be overlooked by artists immersed in creativity.

Planning is the first leg of the trip to success, according to the author. She helps identify and set up long-term goals and devise how to reach them through ten, five, two, and one-year goals. She'll have you planning from the broad to the specific, from "I'd like to tour nationwide and have three recordings under my belt" (a 10-year goal) to "I need to make a promo package" (a one-year goal). Next, you prepare to do business by determining necessities such as computers, faxes, or certain phone services, then setting up a workspace. Structures and types of businesses are explained, and those sticky little matters of taxes, deductions, even retirement plans, are served in a digestible fashion.

When you're ready to make booking calls, the "First Encounters" chapter will bolster your possibly flagging confidence with strategies for cold calls that include useable scripts, and tips on open-ended questions, follow-ups, and more.

A section that's chock-full of nuts and bolts information is "The Promotional Package." Goldstein details what needs to go in it, how to get the best photos taken, methods of arranging material in a folder, working with copywriters and printers. It's information you'll refer to and use more than once.

The practical advice just doesn't quit, with chapters on negotiating, touring, marketing, attending conferences, accessing the media, and more. A particularly enjoyable one is "Managing the Road," which discusses inevitable problems such as not getting paid, or lost or damaged instruments. Numerous performers tell their own road stories, which, horrific then, are laughable in hindsight. Ani DiFranco's manager describes arriving at a gig for which their contract had called for a professional sound engineer. The "professional" was a student volunteer who called the soundboard a keyboard and said she didn't know how to play it.

The book's format is friendly and convenient. Its wide margins hold quotes from entertainment professionals and "Hot Tip" boxes with advice ranging from the deadline for updating Pollstar's tour itinerary to, "If the desk clerk says it's just a five-minute walk to the club, you can count on 20 to 30 minutes instead."

Main points are conveniently summarized at the end of each chapter. There are worksheets and checklists, enlargeable forms for contracts, information sheets, and contract budget/settlement sheets. A thorough index is included, plus numerous source lists, although the number given for ATT was no longer valid when I called it.

This book's $24.95 cost will pay for itself many times over. If I were a performer handling my own business it would be my Bible.

To order: New Music Times, Inc. PO Box 1105, Charlottesville, VA 22902 (804)977-8979.

Toni Williams

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Brett Howland - America's Gatekeeper of Traditional Music

Brett Howland-vocals, guitar, banjo, fiddle; Jacke Dillen-guitar, slide guitar, string bass, harmony vocals.

Grandfather's Clock/Waiting for a Train/Old Plank Road/Mississippi River Blues/Baby-O/T.B. Blues/Lorena/Sweet Sunny South/Gwine Back to Dixie/Boll Weevil/Blue Yodel #4 (California Blues)/Railroad Work Song/Hard Times/Uncloudy Day.

Brett Howland has a fine sweet voice and is a solid guitar and banjo player when backing himself up at least. I would think (and actually know from his accompanying press release) that he is a very enjoyable performer-the title of this CD, "America's Gatekeeper of Traditional Music," is actually a phrase applied to him by unnamed "fellow songwriters and performers . . . during a show several years ago." He is following, in his style and choice of material, many performers down through the years. As a "mainstay" at the Coffeehouse on the Hill in Wellsburg, PA for the past five years, this recording surely represents an accurate distillation of Brett's show.

So one thing to say here is that this CD is a document of this real aspect of American music today, that there are, "out there," all over the place, in little towns and big cities, very talented musicians playing the old music in the venues they can find. I have CDs produced by quite a few such bands and musicians, and I can say that Brett's is certainly up towards the top of my pile in terms of musicianship. This, however, is a very "safe" recording. Brett does not here offer particularly "traditional" renditions of these oft recorded pieces--he's not trying to recreate the sound of the late '20s or the Depression era. But neither does he reveal much of himself, what he thinks, either about these songs or about the world in general, beyond an obvious reverence for them. When he sings "I'm working on the railroad for a dollar a day," it's just words. When he sings Dave Macon's "Gwine back to Dixie," he is draining the blood from the song-and there's a lot of blood, good and bad, in Uncle Dave. Tommy Jarrell's "Boll Weevil" is a nice listen-but there was anguish in Tommy's singing: Tommy knew about that spider crawling up and down the wall. About "Grandfather's Clock" I can only wonder whether anyone ever needs to record this chestnut again. It's kind of like what Vassar Clements did for "Orange Blossom Special" about 30 years ago-this one is done finished off now, perhaps in this case by committee, but finished nonetheless.

People are where they are, after all. Brett Howland is young and talented. I'm delighted that he likes the old songs. When they are performed, however they are performed, they are alive. They deserve to be alive. Right now, when he sings about an uncloudy day, that's kind of what he's talking about-all this nice weather. I hope with his next CD that Brett will include some songs he has written. This is really the territory he's traveling. I should mention that this disc was very well recorded at Creative Sounds Recording Studios, Asheville, NC, engineered by sideman Jack Dillen.

To Order: Brett Howland, 13114 West Lake Rd., East Springfield, PA 16411.

Wm. Hicks

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Mississippi John Hurt - Legend
Rounder CD 1100

Trouble, I've Had It All My Days/Pera Lee/See See Rider/Louis Collins/Coffee Blues/Nobody's Dirty Business/Do Lord Remember Me/Monday Morning Blues/Let the Mermaids Flirt with Me/Pay Day/Stack-O-Lee/Casey Jones/Frankie and Albert/Stockwell.

Mississippi John Hurt has long been legendary in American folk music circles. His playing and singing left its mark on the '60s folk revival and had a profound influence on a range of performers from singer-songwriters Tom Paxton and Patrick Sky to Doc and Merle Watson. Not only that, nearly everyone who has tried his or her hand at fingerpicking in the past 35 years has a few John Hurt tunes under their belt.

Mississippi John lived for most of life in Avalon, Mississippi, smack dab in the middle of the delta and blues country. Interestingly, his music sounds very little like other guitarists and singers in the region. Unlike the more aggressive and sometimes harsh sounding sounds often associated with delta blues, Hurt's music is laid back, syncopated, and perhaps even gentle. As Jon Hartley Fox points in the liner notes, blues scholars attempting to categorize the music of John Hurt may have been looking in the wrong direction, as Hurt was clearly aware of and a big fan of contemporary hillbilly singers like Jimmie Rodgers. In fact, it was fiddler Willie Narmour (with whom Hurt often played for dances) who helped Hurt secure a deal with OKeh by recommending him to the label's talent scouts. Hurt recorded several sides for OKeh in two separate sessions in 1928. The records sold fairly well, but after this Hurt was not asked to record again. He went back to his life as a farmer and played music around home as often as possible.

Hurt's serendipitous "rediscovery" in the 1960s led to a whole new series of opportunities for him, including several records for the Piedmont and Vanguard labels. The reissue of this material makes for a good story in itself-one that includes theft of the master tapes, their being spirited away to Canada, and then being seized by a bank in a lawsuit. Fortunately for us, the tapes were finally released and are available in the form of this CD. The material here was recorded during informal sessions circa 1963 or 1964. The resulting performances are relaxed, low key, and just may be some of best recordings of Hurt made during the second phase of his career. Several of the songs here are staples of the John Hurt repertoire-"See See Rider," "Louis Collins," "Coffee Blues," "Monday Morning Blues," "Pay Day" for instance. There a couple of songs here I haven't heard played by Hurt before-"Pera Lee," the melody and accompaniment of which sound a lot like Hurt's "Worried Blues"; and a rollicking guitar instrumental called "Stockwell." Also included are Hurt's wonderful versions of a some of widely-sung African-American folksongs about real-life characters-"Stack-O-Lee," "Casey Jones," and "Frankie and Albert." I'm glad to see this material available and highly recommend this CD.

Jim Nelson

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Frank Hutchison - Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order-Volume 1, 1926-1929
Document 8003 (CD reissued from 78s; 74:51)

Frank Hutchison-guitar, vocal, harmonica; Sherman Lawson-fiddle.

Worried Blues/Train that Carried My Girl from Town/Stackalee/The Wild Horse/Long Way to Tipperary/The West Virginia Rag/C&O Excursion/Coney Isle/Old Rachel/Lightning Express/Stackalee/Logan County Blues/Worried Blues/The Train that Carried My Girl from Town/The Last Scene of the Titanic/All Night Long/Alabama Girl, Ain't You Comin' Out Tonight?/Hell Bound Train/Wild Hogs in the Red Brush/The Burglar Man/Back in My Home Town/The Miner's Blues/Hutchison's Rag/The Boston Burglar.

Williamson Brothers & Curry (1927), Frank Hutchison, 1929 (Vol. 2), Dick Justice, 1929 - Old-Time Music From West Virginia
Document 8004 (CD reissued from 78s; 77:02)

Arnold Williamson-fiddle; Irving Williamson-?; ? Curry-banjo, guitar; unknown vocals: Cumberland Gap/Warfield/The Fun's All Over/Lonesome Road Blues/The Old Arm Chair/Gonna Die with My Hammer in My Hand; Dick Justice-vocal, guitar: Old Black Dog/Little Lulie/Brown Skin Blues/Cocaine/Henry Lee/One Cold December Day; Reese Jarvis-fiddle; Dick Justice-guitar, vocal: Guian Valley Waltz/Poor Girl's Waltz/Poca River Blues/Muskrat Rag; Frank Hutchison-guitar, vocal: The Chevrolet Six/Cumberland Gap/The Deal/Railroad Bill/Johnny and Jane, parts 1 & 2/Cannon Ball Blues/K.C. Blues.

We'll start with Frank Hutchison, Volume One here, in this review of musicians flourishing in Logan County, WV. Hutchison was rather the enigma to researchers for a long time, yet his music cast a spell on many 78 collectors. Collector/researcher Tony Russell was so enamored that he featured Hutchison in the very first issue of the British magazine, Old-Time Music, which appeared in 1971. That article gives little or no background information on the man behind the music, but did offer a bit of data based on John Coffey's interview about that time with Aunt Jennie Wilson, the fine Logan County banjo player who knew Hutchison in the teens and twenties. Russell was able to add a little bit to what otherwise is a fine discussion of Hutchison's music and style. Three years later, in 1974, Russell published a follow-up article concerning Hutchison, in Old-Time Music #11, based on an interview by Mike Seeger in 1964 of Switzer, WV fiddler Sherman Lawson, who had accompanied Hutchison on seven of his recordings in 1928, though only three were ever issued. Essentially, those interviews comprise all the knowledge ever learned about one of the "Golden Age's" finest performers.

Russell drew on this information for his entertaining notes to both CDs. He starts out volume 1 with: "In the history of hillbilly blues, Frank Hutchison dominates the first chapter. Making a record in September 1926 not only gave him nearly a year's lead on Jimmie Rodgers, but even put him ahead of black contemporaries like Big Bill Broonzy and Memphis Minnie." In retrospect-these notes were written in 1997-we may now feel that way, but Russell's earlier articles ponder who this rather obscure musician was, and even mention that his recordings probably did not sell all that well. Hardly a "dominating" character, at least in terms of popularity and influence compared to Rodgers, Broonzy, or Douglas. I'd hazard a guess that most people today who are part of the old-time or folk revival do not know Hutchison's name, yet nearly all probably have heard one of his signature tunes, albeit performed by Doc Watson, "The Train that Carried My Girl from Town." This is probably true even though one of the earliest reissues on Rounder Records was a Hutchison LP (Rounder 1007, from the mid-'70s).

Hutchison was a pretty versatile musician, breaking into the recording industry with some fine country-blues vocals and searing knife-style guitar, played in his lap. His second session included some rack harmonica and more conventionally played guitar. His harp playing, though belittled a bit in some of these articles and notes, is a fine example of rural dance music, as he offers a beautiful presentation in typically crooked West Virginia style of the well-traveled dance tune "The Wild Horse," and even "anticipates" the Skillet Lickers with "Long Way to Tipperary." He also performed the mandatory train imitation on the harp, ‡ la DeFord Bailey, with "C&O Excursion," in the process memorializing one of the routes out of his Logan County coal field existence. Hutchison also was an adept blues guitar picker, in a more conventional, not slide technique, way. We have many, many examples of his fine picking throughout these discs. His most popular numbers, though, were most likely his "Coney Isle" (later popularized by country singer Cowboy Copas as "Alabam'") and the already mentioned "The Train that Carried My Girl from Town." Per Russell, Hutchison's version of "Stackalee" also was the basis for Bob Dylan's interpretation. Hutchison's rendition was included on Harry Smith's popular Anthology of American Folk Music, issued on Folkways Records in 1952.

Another aspect of Hutchison's music was that he was a crackerjack backup guitarist for old-time fiddling. We hear three examples here, behind Sherman Lawson (who also can be heard on the CD anthology, Close To Home-Old-Time Music from Mike Seeger's Collection, Smithsonian 40097, fiddling "Blackberry Blossom") on "Alabama Girl," "Hell Bound Train," and "Wild Hogs in the Red Brush" (which is not the expected Logan County tune of that name, but is a personalized version of "Wild Horse"-though all versions of that tune are rather "personalized"). Lawson had told Mike Seeger that Hutchison was greatly influenced by a black singer-guitarist, Bill Hunt. This interesting tidbit of knowledge really raises my curiosity about one of the Hutchison-Lawson couplings that was not issued, "Old Corn Liquor." This title is affixed to a tune very popular in the North Carolina Piedmont among black banjo and fiddle players (see the CD Black Banjo Songsters of North Carolina and Virginia; Smithsonian Folkways 40079 for several examples). Could Lawson and Hutchison have recorded this wonderful piece of black old-time arcana? Perhaps we'll never know, but maybe Mike Seeger learned something about this 35 years ago in his interview.

All in all, we have 32 fine recordings by Hutchison (all his issued work, save the bits he performed on the OKeh Medicine Show skits) between these two volumes. He definitely is worth hearing.

With the Lawson and Hutchison recordings, we get a taste of some of the earliest recorded West Virginia string-band music. Volume 2 continues this investigation, starting off with one of the wildest ensembles, The Williamson Brothers and Curry, a somewhat unknown Logan County trio. Tony Russell reports just about all that is known about them. Their wild fiddler was 23-year-old Arnold Williamson, his brother Irving probably was the guitarist, and Mr. Curry most likely did the bulk of the singing and played a banjoid instrument, perhaps a banjo-uke. It all starts with a striking version of "Cumberland Gap," when suddenly the listener is stunned by a surprising II-chord. They also cement their Mountaineer status by playing what certainly must be West Virginia's anthem, "The Fun's All Over," again in a very spirited manner. At this point, the listener may sense a certain spiritual kinship between WB&C and a Kentucky ensemble that recorded about that time and was led by another fiery fiddler, Andy Palmer: The Jimmy Johnson String Band. Perhaps what is most intriguing about WB&C to me is that they play "Warfield," and well they should, as they seem to have hailed from very close to that town. Henry Truvillon also was captured by the Archive of Folk Song, Library of Congress singing multiple verses. And curiously, Perry Riley, a Kentucky fiddler (and Buddy Thomas' cousin) was recorded playing it on Up the Ohio and Licking Rivers-Traditional Fiddle Music of Kentucky, Volume 1 (Rounder CD 0376). Truvillon's extensive lyrics incorporate much of what the others sing, but not all. But how did that tune/song migrate? Did the legendary Logan County fiddler Ed Haley take it with him to the Ohio River ports in Kentucky and Ohio? Something to ponder.

Next up on Volume 2 is Dick Justice, whose style and career is remarkably similar to Frank Hutchison's, though Justice might be a bit better known these days than Hutchison. He has been featured on a number of reissue anthologies (his "Henry Lee" is the first selection on the aforementioned Anthology of American Folk Music, for instance) and some of his material has been covered in the folk revival, including his "Cocaine," which was sung by Californian Phil Boroff on the Elektra LP String Band Project from the 1960s, and "Old Black Dog" was nicely interpreted by the Twin Cities' Koerner, Ray & Glover about that same time. Both pieces have been presented frequently in urban coffeehouses, sometimes even introduced as being from Dick Justice, probably by people who had never heard the originals. Justice was quite deft with country blues. Another of his skills, like Hutchison, was his ability to back up old-time fiddlers, something he did with Clendenin, WV fiddler Reese Jarvis. Their "Poca River Blues" is a variant of "East Tennessee Blues," their "Muskrat Rag" a version of "Hop Light Ladies." Jarvis reported that he and Justice had never played together prior to their 1929 recording session, but ". . . they must have had a chance for rehearsal, since they break up 'Poor Girl's Waltz' with a couple of excerpts in breakdown tempo from 'Turkey in the Straw'" as Tony Russell informs us in the notes. Justice also was known to have played with the black fiddler Pete Hill.

But most interesting of Justice's songs are the final two, recorded solo, "Henry Lee" and "On A Cold December Day." The former is a version of Child Ballad Number 68, the latter, Child 85. Such versatility.

All in all, these discs give us a nice overview of the old-time music scene early in West Virginia's recording history, and it gives us some examples of the rarely recorded string-band tradition in that state. All of these make this an interesting acquisition. Add Tony Russell's informative notes and discographical information, and a couple of photos he supplied (that break up an otherwise blah, predictable use of common clip-art in the design), and we have a decent package. Sound quality, you ask? Well, it's what I've found typical of these Document 78 reissues, fair to dreary. For those who are becoming accustomed to the superior sound quality of 78 reissues by other labels, this might not be something that could be so easily tolerated.

When one considers that the music found on these two CDs probably will not be issued by any other companies, the choice becomes easy-"buy these"-for the option is to listen to the music with a lot of extraneous noise, or to not hear this material at all. Oh and the other "bonus" is that Hutchison recorded one of the great songs about the sinking of the Titanic-a rather unique song-but maybe you are sick of that by now.

Kerry Blech

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Earl Johnson - Complete Recorded Works In Chronological Order, Volumes 1 & 2
Earl Johnson - Complete Recorded Works In Chronological Order, Volumes 1 & 2
Document (DOCD 8005 & 8006)

Vol. 1: Ain't Nobody's Business/Dixie/Hen Cackle/Bully of the Town/I'm Satisfied/Three Night's Experience/Johnson's Old Gray Mule/Boil Dem Cabbage Down/John Henry Blues/I Don't Love Nobody/Shortenin' Bread/I Get My Whiskey from Rockingham/Red Hot Breakdown/I've Got a Woman on Sourwood Mountain/All Night Long/Old Grey Mare Kicking Out of the Wilderness/They Don't Roost Too High For Me/Mississippi Jubilee/Leather Breeches/Poor Little Joe/The Little Grave in Georgia/In the Shadow of the Pine/Johnnie, Get Your Gun.

Vol. 2: Earl Johnson's Arkansas Traveller/Twinkle Twinkle Little Star/Nigger on the Woodpile/Nigger in the Cotton Patch/Alabama Girl, Ain't You Comin' Out To-night?/Laughin' Rufus/G Rag/Wire Grass Drag/Rocky Palace/Green Mountain/Fiddlin' Again for the Bootlegger/Buy a Half Pint and Stay in the Wagon Yard/Take Me Back to My Old Mountain Home/There's No Place Like Home/Bringing in the Sheaves/I Know that My Redeemer Liveth/Close Your Bright Eyes/Way Down in Georgia.

Document continues with its "complete" series, this time offering us all of Earl Johnson and his Clodhoppers/Dixie Entertainers. I think less than half of this material has been previously available on reissues. Probably the best things were on those reissues, but there's plenty of great music here that was previously quite hard to find. And if this full serving is too much for even the biggest old-time listeners to listen to this much intense craziness at one time, well-take a break and start in again!

Volume 1, all cuts from 1927 OKeh sessions, features the best-known Johnson sides: "Red Hot Breakdown," "Hen Cackle," "I Get My Whiskey from Rockingham," "Leather Breeches," etc. All but one of the numbers on the classic County reissue Red Hot Breakdown are here on this first disc. Old-time fiddle band music doesn't get much more exciting than Johnson's soaring, sometimes screeching fiddle, not always quite finding the note he's after but always pushing to the limit. The percussive banjo of Emmet Bankston and the guitar of Byrd Moore on the earliest cuts and Red Henderson on the later ones provide a strong rhythmic foundation for Johnson's dynamic fiddling and singing. The selections are predominantly humorous songs or fiddle tunes with singing with the notable exceptions of the fine song about the death of Mary Phagan "The Little Grave in Georgia," "Poor Little Joe," and " In the Shadow of the Pine," a song in the "Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes" and "Prisoner's Song" family. I don't know if you'd say that Earl Johnson's singing is an acquired taste; I've always found it appealing, but not everyone will. He's no crooner, no copier of the smoother Riley Puckett style, even though Johnson's recordings reflect the influence of the earliest Skillet Licker releases, but his singing is authentic, often boisterous, and never maudlin even on the sentimental songs mentioned above. Falsetto vocals in the Gid Tanner manner are provided by one of the band members on many songs.

Fewer of the recordings on volume 2 will be familiar to most old-time fans. Included are the rest of Johnson's sessions for OKeh in 1927, '28, '30, and '31 plus six sides made for Victor in 1929. Among the Victors are two duets by Earl and his wife Lula Bell, lovely rustic gospel music. Other unusual pieces on this second volume are the bluesy "Wire Grass Drag," the prohibition parody "When the Roses Bloom Again for the Bootlegger," a version of "Stay in the Wagon Yard" with a more complete text than the familiar Lowe Stokes' take, and "Close Your Bright Eyes," a lament for a lover lost in the Spanish-American War.

It's unfortunate that five numbers on volume 2 are marred by the laughter of some of the band in the tiresome manner of the "laughing records" that were popular in the early recording days, an annoyance so severe that I usually find myself skipping past these cuts and missing much fine fiddling; in fact, on these cuts it's double fiddle with the second fiddler unidentified. I would like to see Document do a better job of cleaning up the scratchy sound from the 78s. That's a drawback to both discs, but more pronounced on the second which includes the later and rarer 78s. Tony Russell's notes are informative and entertaining though briefer than I'd like.

For readers who have not sampled much of Earl Johnson's output, it's high time that you do. He was a superb dance fiddler, the wildest of the Georgia Crazies, and evidently a wonderful entertainer. Volume 1 is the better of the two if you can only spring for one. If you have the old County LP, you might want the second disc instead to get more material you don't have. It's all "red hot."

Bob Bovee

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Kessinger Brothers - Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order, Vols. 1, 2, 3
Document 8010, 8011, 8012

Vol. 1: Chicken in the Barnyard/Forked Deer/Hell Among the Yearlings/Patty on the Turnpike/Devil's Dream/Wild Horse/Wednesday Night Waltz/Goodnight Waltz/Garfield March/Kanawha March/16 Days in Georgia/The Girl I Left Behind Me/Arkansas Traveler/Turkey in the Straw/Old Jake Gillie/Sally Johnson/Portsmouth/Wild Goose Chase/Dill Pickles Rag/Tug Boat/Johnny Bring the Jug Around the Hill/Birdie/Mississippi Sawyer.

Vol. 2: Richmond Polka/Soldier's Joy/Chinky Pin/Sally Goodin/Sourwood Mountain/Long-Eared Mule/Done Gone/Brownstown Girl/Josh and I/Boarding House Bells Are Ringing Waltz/Rat Cheese Under the Hill/Durang Hornpipe/Hot Foot/Over the Waves Waltz/Black Hawk Waltz/West Virginia Special/Salt River/Kanawha County Rag/Going Up Brushy Fork/McCloud's Reel/Liza Jane/Whistling Rufus.

Vol. 3: Don't Let the Deal Go Down/Sopping the Gravy/Polka Four/Midnight Serenade Waltz/Gippy Get Your Hair Cut/Little Brown Jug/Little Betty Brown/Wildflower Waltz/Ragtime Annie/Chicken Reel/Mary Jane Waltz/Under the Double Eagle March/Steamboat Bill/Marching through Georgia/Dixie/Lauterbach Waltz/Lonesome Road Blues/Pop Goes the Weasel/Regal March/Mexican Waltz/Neopolitan Two Step/Everybody to the Punchin'/Shoo! Fly.

It's hard to overestimate the importance, the widespread influence, of fiddler Clark Kessinger's early recordings. He was a virtuoso of prodigious ability with an immaculate sense of timing and taste. The noted violinist Joseph Szigeti, upon meeting Kessinger and hearing him play some of his showpieces, actually asked in amazement, "How do you do that?" That's a question many fiddlers have been asking since the first Kessinger Brothers releases in 1928.

Clark Kessinger was a West Virginia native who learned the long bow technique from area fiddlers, most notably the legendary Ed Haley. His repertoire reflects Haley too, such as the version of "Forked Deer" and "Portsmouth," a tune usually associated with Haley. Kessinger also borrowed numbers from the recordings of other hillbilly fiddlers of the time. "Done Gone" was obviously learned from Eck Robertson's Victor 78 and the pairing of "Wednesday Night Waltz" and "Goodnight Waltz" was a cover to the Leake County Revelers recording of the same two pieces for Columbia. But wherever the pieces came from, Clark Kessinger always put his own stamp on them.

The first recording session of Clark and Luches Kessinger (Luches was Clark's nephew) included a square-dance caller on 8 of the 14 sides. These proved to be successful sellers because of Clark's exquisite fiddling and the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company wisely chose to record him thereafter without the distraction of dance calls. The company also encouraged the Kessingers to cut a bunch of familiar tunes that were always in demand. In the first session they had already done "Arkansas Traveller," "Turkey in the Straw," "The Girl I Left Behind Me," etc., but the second session was loaded with standards like "Soldier's Joy," "Mississippi Sawyer," "Sally Goodin," and "Sourwood Mountain." You've heard them a million times but Kessinger's swooping bow and driving rhythm always make the tunes worth attending to. Luches' guitar accompaniment, never the extravagant Riley Puckett approach whose merits are still argued today, nor the dazzling Gene Meade style heard on Clark Kessinger's later records, was always appropriate and supportive. So understated was his playing that few ever consider him when thinking about their favorite backup players, but he was consistently excellent.

I must admit that for years I was ignorant of how much style and repertoire had been appropriated from Kessinger's early recordings by fiddlers everywhere. Benny Thomasson and other Texas fiddlers took "Sopping the Gravy," "Tug Boat," and Clark's version of "Don't Let the Deal Go Down" and made them standards of their style. Midwesterners, too, have picked up tunes like "Johnny Bring the Jug Around the Hill" and passed them around. Another that I wonder about is "Hot Foot," identical to the piece known in Missouri-Iowa-Nebraska as "Old Parnell." Was this a widespread tune with different names or did it enter the old-time repertoire from Kessinger's 78s and undergo a name change?

Many fiddlers have said they don't like Clark Kessinger's slickness and questionable taste. Usually these folks have been listening to the later recordings made in the 1960s and '70s with bluegrass backup. Whether you like these later records of Kessinger or not, do yourself a favor and try the vintage Kessinger. Only a handful of other early recorded fiddlers were as influential or could touch him in style and execution.

Document Records has done us a tremendous service by offering all these recordings, complete and in order. Unfortunately the sound quality leaves something to be desired on many of the cuts. We have come to expect very clean remastering, especially on CDs, and admitting that some 78s are rare and clean copies not available, some of the ones that are so distorted on these CDs have been previously reissued with much better sound quality. Charles Wolfe did the notes; they're good as far as they go, but the limitations of the one-fold insert means they are sketchy and incomplete. If you can only choose one volume to buy, go with whichever has the tunes you want or don't already have on other reissues. All are equally filled with excellent tunes, a mix of the familiar and the rare, and with top notch fiddling.

Bob Bovee

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Walt Koken - Finger Lakes Ramble
Mudthumper Music MM-0070CD

Walt Koken-banjo and vocals.

Finger Lakes Ramble/Turkey Trottin'/The Valentine/Banjo Sprite/Jimmy Brown, the Newsboy/Money Musk/White Deer/Whiskey/Billy in the Lowland/Money Train Blues/The Old Man at the Mill/Rag-a-Muffin/June Apple/Doctor Jazz/Salt River/The Cabin on the Hill/Laughing Waltz/Gray Eagle/Ground Hog.

I've been sitting and listening to this CD for hours now, over and over. Partly because that's the only responsible way to review something, but with this one it's just that I can't turn it off.

Walt Koken and I started out on the old-time music trail at about the same time, the late '60s. In fact, in his beautiful notes to this CD I not only find myself mentioned a couple of times-Walt and the other Highwoods folks came to visit us Fuzzies in Chapel Hill, NC back around 1970 and a good time was definitely had by all!-but discover that we were both at the same concert at the Family Dog in San Francisco in November of l969, both of us having washed up out there, but never meeting till later when the Highwoods Band had formed. It was a Dan Hicks concert, opened by Dr. Humbead's New Tranquility String Band, a Highwoods precursor. Right after Altamont.

Walt has always been a great banjo player, but the Highwoods was more in need of a fiddler and he was that too, oh yes, so his banjo talents kind of sputtered under a bushel for the '70s while he traveled the world-what he calls in his notes "the ramble." Since he's left the road and taken up the hammer and the square, the banjo has returned, it seems, as his first love.

The tunes offered herein cover a wide range within the basic clawhammer style. Some are barn burners-"Finger Lakes Ramble" is on fire, and so full of notes, a hard rain on a perfectly tuned tin roof. Others, like "Turkey Trottin'" are mellow and easy-going, and Walt offers us tastes of his matured, rich voice, older, probably wiser, and still with that little hint of a smile that he always just kept from breaking into a grin when he sang with the Highwoods. It's easy to think of the banjo as an accompanying instrument-because it certainly is-but when you hear Walt on "Money Musk" or "Billy in the Lowland" or "Gray Eagle" you see possibilities for melody you just won't have thought of before. And Walt understands that every tempo has a tune--it's not all breakneck hoedowns, his banjo mastery is up to everything, including "Hello Central, Give Me Dr. Jazz," and the gorgeous "Laughing Waltz," and a wonderful original Walt calls "Banjo Sprite," about which he comments: "can you envision the little thing bouncing up and down the banjo's fingerboard." He's talking about his magical and unerring left hand I think.

Walt ends the album up with "Ground Hog," pretty much the Round Peak version, great singing, and he even has Marty Lebenson blowing the harp on this one-the only guest artist in evidence except for some distant laughing voices somewhere way off on "Turkey Trottin'": the CD was recorded direct to DAT in Walt's parlor, and is full of the warmth of a real "natural" room.

Although the music is of course the main thing with any CD, I can't say enough here about the sense this whole effort presents of Walt Koken, the whole person. The liner notes-Walt's essay "The Ramble"-is worth the price of admission, at least to this geezer/hippie musician, who finds so much to remember in Walt's story of life when it was young. We thought back then, in the late '60s, that there was something so pure and honest about a plucked string, a skin head, horse hair strung between the ends of a thin stick. "I suppose we brought joy to many over the years, but I believed my intentions to be somewhat deeper," Walt says. "I always felt that playing the 'people's' music would be a fairly clear and poignant expression of my feelings, but all in all, it seems to have been somewhat ineffectual. Acoustic music has decreased in scope over time, and 'unplugged' just means hide the wire. . . . When the police stopped us and searched us on the highway (as frequently happened in the '70s), we always thought it was another injustice that would be overcome in time, but currently there's a television show with videos of police stopping and searching people on the road!"

Walt's music here, informed by these truths in these strange times, soars above them nonetheless. The notes are like beautiful raindrops, and perhaps a little like tears as well, for those fine old days that aren't honored as they ought to be. Thanks Walt. Let's have a tune one of these days!

To Order: Mudthumper Music, Box 853, Trumansburg, NY 14886

Wm. Hicks

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Johnnie Lewis - Alabama Slide Guitar
Arhoolie CD 9007

Hobo Blues/He Met Me on a Thursday Morning/Uncle Sam Ain't No Woman/Can't Hardly Get Along/My Little Gal/North Carolina Blues/I'm Gonna Quit My Baby/Baby, Listen to Me Howl/You Gonna Miss Me/Mistake in Life/I Got to Climb a High Mountain/My Mother Often Told Me/Lewis' Little Girl Done Stole a Black Cat Bone/Jumpin' Jive/Poor Boy/Guitar Blues/Comb My Baby's Hair/Oh Lord, Tell Me Right from Wrong.

According to the notes accompanying this CD, Johnnie Lewis was born near Eufala, Alabama in 1908, moved around a bit in Alabama and Georgia, supporting himself as a painter and day laborer, until the mid-30s, at which time he relocated to Chicago. Once in Chicago, he worked as a painter exclusively, maintaining a notebook listing over 100 satisfied customers. He was still living there as of 1991, which is the last time Chris Strachwitz, president of Arhoolie Records was in contact with him. Strachwitz concludes the CD notes by requesting that anyone knowing Lewis's whereabouts contact him.

The recordings included on this CD were made at two sessions in 1971, at which time Lewis was, by the sound of it, a very vigorous 63-years old. Despite the CD's title there does not appear to have been anything distinctly Alabaman about Lewis's approach to slide guitar, so perhaps his playing can be construed "Alabama slide guitar" simply by virtue of his having been born in Alabama. Of the 18 tunes on the CD, 12 are played in open E tuning, three are played in open G tuning, one is played in C, standard tuning, with kazoo accompaniment, one is played in G, standard tuning, and one is a harmonica solo.

Johnnie Lewis is, on this CD, a player with strong rhythm and phrasing, a powerful declamatory vocal delivery, and a sort of rough-hewn, "unfinished" quality to his music. Part of that quality in his sound derives from the fact that he is playing a pretty crappy guitar on this recording. Most of it comes, though, from the fact that he was never a full-time working professional musician, but rather a serious and skilled part-time player. But, do you know what? He's really good. Part of the problem in reviewing music is that the sounds of the absolute masters you have heard roll around in your head and tempt you to adopt unrealistic musical standards. Sanity tells you, though, that requiring slide guitarists to perform on a level with Blind Willie Johnson or Tampa Red before you'll be satisfied is about as fair and reasonable as insisting that unless old-time fiddlers can play with the skill of Leonard Rutherford or J.R. Dykes, they have no business picking up a fiddle. One of the greatest things about music is that there are so many ways for it be to be good and true for the people who make it and hear it.

Many of Johnnie Lewis' songs begin with, or are interspersed with, spoken interjections. It is a nice informal touch, and also leaves you with a very strong sense of him as a person. "Hobo Blues" is a train blues, somewhat like Bukka White's "Panama Limited." "He Met Me on a Thursday Morning" tells of Mr. Lewis's conversion experience. On "My Little Gal," which is played in the style of Tommy McClennan, Lewis is joined by the great blues harp player, Charlie Musselwhite. "You Gonna Miss Me" and "I Got to Climb a High Mountain" are dedicated to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Mr. Lewis shows a flair for solo harmonica playing on "Lewis' Little Girl Done Stole a Black Cat Bone." "Jumpin' Jive" is a funny version of "Bugle Call Rag" with kazoo and raggy guitar. The standard "Poor Boy" is done with a very strong rhythm, in open G, and "Comb My Baby's Hair" is another great open G cut with some of the sound of Little Son Jackson. My one complaint with the sequencing is that the open E tunes are all pretty much bunched toward the beginning of the program, with the less numerous open G tunes clumped at the end of the program. With a sequence which distributed the tunes not played in open E more evenly throughout the program, a feeling of sameness or restricted musical range which creeps in around the middle of the program could probably have been avoided.

This CD is kind of a sleeper. I liked it much better in subsequent listenings.

John M. Miller

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Palmer & Greg Loux - In Good Company
Chubby Dragon CD 1004

Polly Put the Kettle On/Washington's March/Waltz for the Little Girls (La Valse pour Le Petites Jeunes Filles)/Sweet Jenny/Jenny on the Railroad/Sally in the Turnip Patch/Coulter's Rag/Cherry Blossom Waltz/Sycamore Shoals/East Texas Drag/Sandy Boys/The Horney Ewe/Indian Ate a Woodcock/Paddy on the Turnpike/Snakewinder/Shades of the Yellow Rose/There's a Brown Skin Girl Down the Road Somewhere/Georgia Buck/Red Bird/The Pretty Waltz/Chinese Breakdown/Rachel.

Palmer and Greg Loux are a fiddle-and-guitar team from the Philadelphia area, and, according to the notes, appear regularly with two string bands, Run Of The Mill and Snow Hill. The "Good Company" of the title presumably refers to the other members of these bands-most of them appear on at least some of the pieces. In fact, the minimum combination (and the most common) used on this all-instrumental album is fiddle, guitar, and clawhammer banjo. I'm not familiar with either string band, but from the tunes chosen and the group sound, I believe they play mostly for dances. The studio recording process allows them to use four different fiddle tunings and at least five different banjo tunings, a variety that would be impractical in a performance unless you're very good at retuning.

The playing is precise and clear, and this would be a good CD for learning new tunes, either on the fiddle or the banjo (which usually plays the tune along with the fiddle). As a bonus, they list their sources (and tunings) in the liner notes, so that, while learning, you can go find the original recording as well. On two samples ("Cherry Blossom Waltz" by Tony Ellis and "Sally in the Turnip Patch" by Benton Flippen) where I had the source recording readily available, I could certainly find no fault with the Loux's interpretations.

Some of the instrumentation combinations are inspired: particularly noteworthy is my favorite: "Waltz for the Little Girls," with twin fiddles, bowed cello, and guitar. The cello and guitar work particularly well together. In addition to the Ellis and Flippen numbers, other well-played presentations here are "Coulter's Rag," "The Horney Ewe," "The Pretty Waltz," and "Chinese Breakdown." The mix between hell-for-leather breakdowns and slower, more interesting pieces (waltzes, Rags, Drags, etc.) is about right.

Almost no one escapes one of my reviews without some complaints, however. I have to confess that the first time I heard this recording, I wasn't grabbed by it. It may be the circumstances of the recording studio, but these musicians don't sound like they're having a rollicking good time while playing; instead, they sound like they're concentrating real hard to get it just right. Thus, the dynamics are flatter than they would be at, say, a house party. I'd be interested in what they sounded like in a live recording, even with poorer acoustics. Also, I'm a fan of twin fiddle pieces, but I wish the harmonies would have been a little wilder. A good example is "Jenny on the Railroad," originally a Carter Brothers & Son recording. The twin fiddles on the Loux recording sound like an especially rich version of a single fiddle playing double-stopped. The Carter Brothers typically didn't sound that way, because their two melodies were too far apart to be played on one violin. I like that in a string band.

To order: Chubby Dragon Productions, 124 Quakerbridge Rd., Croton-on-Hudson, NY 10520.

Lyle Lofgren

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Alex Francis MacKay - A Lifelong Home
Rounder CD 7020

Alex Francis MacKay-fiddle; Gordon MacLean-piano.

Introduction, Rosin The Bow/Duke of Athole/Earl Grey/Lady Mary Ramsay/Highland Society/McGlashan Jig/Coilsfield House/Christy's Quickstep/Craigailliche Bridge/Welcome to Your Feet/Mrs. Garden of Troup/Double Kisses/Dunkeld Hermitage/Jenny Carouthers.

If there are as many reasons for loving traditional old-time music are there are traditional old-time music lovers, one of the big reasons is surely that real traditional music, collected from farmers and working people, people with a weather-beaten look and a home far, far from the madding crowd, this music stands squarely in the path of our progress toward cultural homogenization. Whatever you're listening to, for example, you have to get pretty far out to the edge to find an extra beat. Yet if you go back to the old-time recorded classics of the '20s and early '30s, extra beats and phrases abound.

Nova Scotia is out there on the edge of all of it. MacKay was recorded for this CD at his home, a farm in Glendale, Cape Breton, where he has lived nearly all his life. He stands there in the cover photo, a wind-blown man in a plaid shirt, balding, in the middle of a bow stroke, the farm behind him. At the end of the superb accompanying booket, MacKay's older brother Jimmy, in a self-recorded essay, tells us his family's history in Gaelic!! with an English translation. And reading this, we can see that the MacKays are standing against not only the wind off that cold North Atlantic sea that sweeps across Cape Breton, but against a lot that most of us accept so completely as to never even experience it as the wind it surely is:

"In conclusion I would like to say that, although the Gaelic is going by degrees there is hope that in time it will be restored. If our politicians would make up their minds to support us and see Gaelic in the schools or a Gaelic school kept here and there, in time maybe more people would take an attachment to the language. So far there's been nothing but a wisp of straw for the sake of effect. Although there's difference in the Gaelic they speak in the corners of this island, that's no hurdle at all. . . . As John Y. MacLellan said to me when I met him-he asked me did I have Gaelic-he said, 'Trifling its burden on the tip of the tongue.' Despite the domination of English speakers thus far, perhaps Gaelic will advance. As John Roy Stewart said, 'the wheel will come round a turn from South or North and our enemies will receive the reward of their injustice. . . .' So we can only listen to hear how things are going and I hope things change in favor of the Gaelic."

The music herein is of course part of this ancient, weathered tradition, held fast by Scots settlers who found home on this rocky shore-and drove many of their French counterparts to Louisiana it must be said as well. It is the part we can directly understand, without translation. Mr. MacKay's repertoire will be familiar if you have listened to much Nova Scotian or Scotish playing. Alasdair Fraiser plays many of these tunes in his much more polished style, and Natalie McMasters. There is something refreshing about hearing them played by a man whose arms and hands hold the reins of a pair of Clydesdales most days, who toils outside winter and summer and fiddles when the day is done. The playing is impeccable, yet not so polished. I think of Lee Triplett, Burl Hammons, John Salyer.

As is noted on the cover of the CD, "Over 75 minutes of music, the 14 titles listed actually embrace some 76 distinct jigs, reels, airs, marches and strathspeys." In the Cape Breton tradition, all tunes come in medleys, and the skill of moving from a 6/8 jig tempo to a 4/4, and of learning to push the tempo by careful degrees, is well worth the effort. If you're working on learning to fiddle, or wanting to expand your repertoire, definitely give this CD a listen. MacKay's playing is approachable and there is much to learn here. When I was starting to play, the first tune that really "caught" was a strathspey. I found it on a record I bought in Sydney, Nova Scotia, in 1968, by Winston "Scotty" Fitzgerald. It should be mentioned, too, that in the world of piano accompaniment of fiddle tunes, the Nova Scotian style is pre-eminent.

Wm. Hicks

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Reed Martin - Old-Time Banjo

Reed Martin-fretted and fretless banjos.

Barbara's Tune/Twin Sisters/Tater Patch/Johnson Boys/Rosetree/Last Payday at Coal Creek/Cluck Old Hen/Cacklin' Hen/New River Train/Little Pink/Prince William/Charlie's Neat/Flop Eared Mule/Nancy/Last Chance/Half Shaved/Darling Nellie Gray/Speed the Plow/The Old Stillhouse/Chilly Winds/June Apple/Blackberry Blossom/Marching Jaybird/Coal Creek March/Old Molly Hare/My Old Home in Baltimore/Goin' Around this World Baby Mine/Ducks on the Millpond/Drunken Fiddler/Sylvester Poole March/Lone Prairie/Redwing/Chinquapin/Jenny Lind Polka/Sally in the Garden/Farewell My Bonnie Blue Eyes.

If only we had something better than those old, weathered, homemade acetates of the playing of so-and-so in 1945. If only so-and-so had been able to record more than those two amazing pieces for Columbia in 1931. If only so-and-so had a chance to record in her prime. . . . The litany of regrets that old-time music aficionados have lived with over the years is an extensive one. Unfortunately, there will always be more good music made in the world than can ever be recorded and distributed. Sometimes the real good stuff won't make it to market, and even when it does, there's a chance it may not be advertised on highway billboards.

It would have been regrettable indeed not to have gotten a recording of the great Reed Martin playing some of his renowned clawhammer banjo solos in a studio setting. After 25 years of good intentions, Reed spent a marathon session with friend Don Anderson in 1996 recording 90 of his tunes. Some of that music was released briefly on a cassette, which has since been replaced by this CD with its 37 outstanding cuts. This is straight solo banjo, both clawhammer and finger-style, all first takes, and all in Reed's complex, intricate but wholly traditional style. Those who know his playing may not be surprised by what they hear, but others will be amazed.

For those unfamiliar with Reed Martin, his is a name that often comes up when conversation comes around to great southern mountain-style playing. Reed grew up in Bloomington, IN, now lives in Cabin John, MD, and has been working on his music since boyhood. He has been a frequent contest-winner over some 30 years, and has taught clawhammer banjo at settings including Augusta in West Virginia, Common Ground at Westminster, MD, and the Summer Solstice Festival in Los Angeles. Now in retirement, Reed is free to pursue his love of collecting (circus rings, vintage automobiles, instruments...), and of course, to make music.

This collection displays Reed Martin's skills admirably. Clocking in at over an hour, the CD includes almost exclusively traditional tunes, with the exception being the opener, "Barbara's Tune'" written by Reed for his wife on the day he met her in 1978. Many of the tunes are familiar, some are not, and a couple are presented twice, in alternate tunings and settings. Acknowledged influences include older players Wade Ward, Kyle Creed, Pete Steele, Dock Boggs, and contemporaries like Peter Hoover, Peter Colby, Andy Cahan, Howie Bursen, and others. Reed clearly heard enough, and played enough, to develop his own sound, and it is at once both unique and memorable.

Happily, this recording has picked up on a recent trend toward wholly acceptable trappings. The booklet insert is well-prepared, with narrative about each piece, discussion of influences and events, and recollections from Reed about his own learning process. Most important for banjo players, correct tunings are given for each piece on the collection. There are also a number of fine photos of many of Reed's mentors, friends, and fellow travelers.

Inevitably, a full-length recording of solo banjo presents some challenges for the listener. Even the best can quickly move from breathtaking to mesmerizing to mind-numbing, and this one is no exception. It wasn't designed to inspire rolling up the carpet and carrying the furniture out into the yard, and it won't have that effect. There are no novelties, hooks or gimmicks, and there is no band. What's here is a treasure trove of solid and often beautiful solo traditional music, in various styles and tunings, played by a modern master of the five-string banjo. To quote Reed himself, "And now it's done!"

To order: Reed Martin, 6431 79th St., Cabin John, MD 20818; 301-229-3482; $15 ppd.

Charlie Gravel

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The New Lost City Ramblers - There Ain't No Way Out
Smithsonian Folkways CD 40098

Buck Creek Girls/Skip to My Lou/Jolie Petite Blonde/God's Gonna Ease My Troublin' Mind/Anchored in Love Divine/Last Chance/Weave Room Blues/Sugar Baby/Oh Death/Cumberland Gap/Do You Call That Religion?/Crapshooters Hop/Brown Skin Gal/Abe's Retreat/Big Ball in Town/Colored Aristocracy/Treat My Daughter Kindly/I'm on My Way to the Old Home/Farewell Sweet Jane/The Girl I Left Behind/Miner's Lament/Shady Grove/Free Little Bird/Rabbit in the Pea Patch/One-Step de Riche'/Tom & Jerry.

Back in the early 1960s, when there was an enthusiastic audience for any musician with "folk" associations, I spoke with a performer who at the time was doing old-time songs in a spruced-up fashion, and the conversation turned to the New Lost City Ramblers. He stated confidently that the Ramblers would not stay with old-time music. "They're good musicians," he said, "and they'll get bored with its simplicity." This guy has gone on to compose some of the most forgettable progressive bluegrass you're likely to hear. And the Ramblers are still good musicians. However, they have been mining reissues and reunion albums for a long time, so you might be excused if you mistook this for another one: the Russell Lee FSA photograph on the cover is the same one they used for their first 12" LP (Folkways FA 2396, 1958). Your clue that this CD is the result of a return to the studio is that the Ramblers are now sitting on the hillside in the picture's background, and are playing along with the Okie singing a lullaby to his child laying on a blanket.

By observing the artistic careers of the Ramblers as individuals, one can understand how traditional music goes through its own life cycle within the lifetime of the performer, as the hell-for-leather renditions of youth become the more thoughtful, circumspect performances of middle age. But a band comprises more than the sum of its members, and ages at a different rate and in a different way. In the Ramblers case, the aging effect is very subtle, perhaps best demonstrated by comparing their new "Colored Aristocracy" instrumental with the same piece from their first album (reissued on Smithsonian-Folkways SF CD 40036, The New Lost City Ramblers: The Early Years, 1958-1962). The pacing is about the same, and the instrumentation is similar (a mandolin has replaced the banjo), and the tune hasn't changed much. Still, the new version is "deeper," with "more meaning," and there seems to be lots more room for the "tune to breathe" between the notes- terms that popped into my mind during the comparison.

The release of an NLCR album in their heyday was an event: I couldn't wait to obtain the original sources listed in the album insert so I could critically judge the Rambler's faithfulness to the traditions. The Ramblers still list their sources on this new album, but I don't have as much urge to check them out. After all these years, I trust their integrity, and know that, even if they don't copy the original, they will produce "true" traditional music. Thus, in "Oh Death," Tracy faithfully transforms a Dock Boggs song into one he could have learned from Roscoe Holcomb. And, even though I had long since discounted the progressive bluegrasser's comments about boring tradition, I was surprised at the freshness the Ramblers bring to such familiar pieces as "Skip To My Lou," "Cumberland Gap" and "Big Ball in Town." "Shady Grove," on the other hand, is not the fiddle tune I've learned to expect-you could give it a new name and I'd be fooled.

Incidentally, the CD title comes from the chorus of "Miner's Lament." As I've said before, the Ramblers never recorded a "bad" piece, the kind you skip over after a few listenings. This CD is not a replacement for the earlier releases; it is a valuable addition to the aural history of traditional music.

Lyle Lofgren

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Old Time Tradition - Jamboree
Heritage HRC-C-125

Eddie Bond-fiddle, vocals; Ray Chatfield-banjo; Jesse Lovell-guitar; Jamie Edwards-bass.

Susanna Gal/Cacklin' Hen/Nancy Blevins/Chilly Winds/Sally Ann/Cotton Eyed Joe/Lost John/Fire in the Mountain/Polecat Blues/Black Mountain Rag/Ain't Gonna Work Tomorrow/Ruben's Train/Shout Lula/Cumberland Gap/Let Me Fall/Sweet Marie/Orange Blossom Special.

There's not much to go on in the notes, but I gather that this string band calling itself Old Time Tradition is from southwestern Virginia and/or northwestern North Carolina. They mention both Galax and Mount Airy. What they do communicate in the meager notes is that they are "committed to keeping old-time music and dance alive" and that mostly they play for dances.

This is old-time music with few frills, dominated by strong fiddle and banjo as dance music should be played in that region. Guitar and bass are unobtrusive, providing the freedom for the fiddle to soar at times, or for the fiddle and banjo to drive along like a steam locomotive. The fiddle and banjo are coordinated so well on tunes like "Polecat Blues" and "Chilly Winds" (and most of the others) that you expect these two players must have been doing this together for a long time.

Eddie Bond is the fiddler and only vocalist, a singer who stands atop that ridge that is the divide between old-time and bluegrass. At one moment I'd swear he's a bluegrass singer and the next I decide he's one of the more exciting old-time belters I've heard lately. His fiddling follows the same pattern, usually straight rhythmic old-time, then again bluegrassy. Least successful of the cuts on the tape are the two most closely associated with bluegrass, the overplayed "Orange Blossom Special" and "Black Mountain Rag."

Banjo player Ray Chatfield pushes the rhythm along well and on several of the tunes he was mixed to the front so that these appear to be showcase pieces for the banjo. I'd rather the balance had brought the fiddle and vocal up on those tunes, notably "Ain't Gonna Work Tomorrow" and "Lost John," but I'm being pretty particular.

I think this is a tape release only and a little short at that, clocking in at just over 35 minutes of music. A few more less-common tunes would have been a plus, as would more variety in tempo. The only slower tune is "Sweet Marie" and it's an elegant piece. Dancers often ask for recommended recordings for clogging practice. Well, this one is high on the list-fine dance music played well.

Bob Bovee

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Eck Robertson - Old-Time Texas Fiddler
County 5515

Brilliancy Medley/Texas Wagoner/Arkansas Traveller/Great Big Taters/ Sallie Gooden/There's a Brownskin Girl Down the Road Somewhere/Ragtime Annie/ Amarillo Waltz/Done Gone/The Island Unknown Pt. 1 & 2/Sally Johnson-Billy in the Lowground/Turkey in the Straw/Brown Kelly Waltz Pt. 1 & 2/Run Boy Run.

Eck Robertson was the first old-time musician recorded on 78 rpm records (an arguable point, I'm sure), cutting his first sides in June and July of 1922. A fiddler of the first rank, singer, entertainer, and longtime professional musician, Robertson was, nevertheless, under-recorded during the "Golden Age." In addition to the six sides issued from his first session, he produced ten more at two 1929 sessions. Although only these eight two-sided records of Eck reached the stores, he was one of the most influential and emulated fiddlers of those days. This new CD from County gives us all of Robertson's 1920s recordings and it's a treat to have them all available again.

Back in the 1970s Peter Feldmann's Sonyatone Records reissued these same recordings on an LP, but it has long been out of print. Several of the cuts have been featured on other reissues, too, so they are familiar to many old-time listeners without access to the original 78s. Particularly well-known are "Brilliancy Medley," "Ragtime Annie" and "Sallie Gooden" and many believe that Eck's version of the latter with its seemingly endless variations is still the definitive rendition of this classic tune. You can hear the beginnings of Texas contest-style fiddle on this tune, but never does it stray so far that you can't recognize the melody.

"Turkey in the Straw" and "Arkansas Traveller," fiddle duets with Civil War veteran Henry Gilliland from Oklahoma, are straightforward versions. These were Eck's first two recorded selections with four solo fiddle pieces filling out the first session. In 1929 he again made two duet recordings, this time with Dr. J.B. Cranfill, on "Great Big Taters" and "Run Boy Run." On these two tunes and several other cuts the members of Robertson's family provide accompaniment: his wife Nettie on guitar, daughter Daphne on tenor guitar, and son Dueron on tenor banjo.

The two waltzes are not your usual waltz fare. "Amarillo Waltz" has some unexpected turns and "Brown Kelly Waltz" is the only example that comes to mind of an instrumental waltz done in two parts, i.e. both sides of a 78. Also in two parts is the ballad "The Island Unknown" sung by Eck and Nettie with fiddle and guitar. This was the only vocal number Robertson did on his vintage recordings, a rare tale of shipwreck, which sounded traditional but for which Robertson claimed composer credit.

The sound quality on this CD is generally fine even on the sides that were early acoustic recordings. I've heard cleaner copies of a few of the cuts, but this is not serious enough to detract significantly from this overdue reissue. I think any old-time fan would love this CD and especially every fiddler should put it at the top of his must-buy list. Each tune is a classic recording. The notes are by Charles Wolfe who does his usual masterful job and the cover and layout are a joy, simply beautiful. This is not to be missed.

Bob Bovee

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The Robichaud Brothers - The Slippery Stick: Traditional Fiddling from New Brunswick
Rounder CD 7016

Gerry Robichaud-fiddle; Bobby Robichaud-guitar.

Grand Lake Reel-The Silver Wedding Reel/The Coal Branch-Emile Arsenault's/Moccasin Shuffle-The Brae Reel/Fred's Tune-Money Musk/The Bunkhouse Jig/Cousin Bill-Fiddlin' Phil/Island Ferry-The Herring Reel/Herring Brook-The High Level Hornpipe/Father Legere's Marches/Constitution Breakdown-Dragger's Reel/The Atlantic Polkas/Tullybardine-La Disputeuse/March from My Mother/The Dancing Hornpipe/The Slippery Stick/Leprechaun Jig/The Miramichi Fire/Bouctouche Reel-Saint Anne's Reel/The Watch City Hornpipe/Traditional New Brunswick Jig/The Abegweit Breakdown.

Receiving The Slippery Stick has proved to be a real treat for me. This CD was the first example of this style of fiddling I recall ever having heard other than an occasional excerpt of an old Don Messer recording. Before giving it a listen I was pretty much in the dark when it came to New Brunswick fiddling. For those who do not know, the Canadian province of New Brunswick is situated above Maine between Quebec and Cape Breton Island. Similarly, New Brunswick fiddling seems to fall somewhere in the middle between Quebecois and Cape Breton fiddling when it comes to style and repertoire.

Gerry Robichaud is a masterful fiddle player. His bowing is extremely complex, but at the same time delicate and quite smooth. The tunes are played at a brisk pace (except for a couple of marches), and are highly ornamented and, at times, highly syncopated (especially the hornpipes). Bobby Robichaud is a skillful rhythm guitar player. He knows his brother's playing well. He plays just the right chords at just the right time, and like his brother he possesses an impeccable sense of timing. When you add this all up, the result is music that is great for listening and dancing, and The Slippery Stick offers plenty of just that. Although this style of fiddling is about as dissimilar to Appalachian fiddling as you can get, I would highly recommend it to those looking for something really good and alittle different. Of course to those already familiar with New Brunswick fiddling-especially the lovely playing of the Robichaud Brothers-enuff said.

Jim Nelson

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The Skirtlifters - Wait for the Wagon
Skirtlifters CD 1998

Clarke Buehling-5-string banjos, bones, tambourine, vocals; Jim Lansford-violin, mandolin; Kelly Mulholla-guitar; Allan Gibson-C trumpet; Doug Reid-banjo-mandolin, jawbone; Carol Widder: cello, piano.

Smokey Mokes (Cake Walk and Two Step/Eureka Clog Dance (Primrose and Wests Clog)/Joe Murphy's Jig/Wait for the Wagon/Waggon Jig/Takes the Cake Walk Around/Grey Eagle/St. Louis Tickle (Rag Time Two-Step)/Under the Double Eagle (March)/Old Dan Tucker/Fred Wilsons Clog/Maria Mazurka/All Night Reel/Trouble Begins/Dill Pickles.

Part of the fascinating transformation of the African gourd banjo into a mainstream musical instrument was its elevation into a component of light classical performance ensembles. Between the years immediately following the Civil War and the turn of the century, the banjo became a well-loved parlor instrument, and many communities and colleges boasted banjo societies. In these clubs, elegantly dressed upper-class young men and women performed on a variety of sizes of banjo-like instruments. Wearing swallow-tailed suits, well-groomed groups of serious-faced musicians posed with five string banjos, banjo-mandolins, cello banjos, mandolins, and guitars for group photographs that can still be found in university photo archives. The common labels parlor and classical banjo are not quite accurate, however, since the music wasn't necessarily played in a parlor nor was it actually classical in the sense that we use the word today. Even though, as Karen Linn points out in her history of the banjo in popular culture (That Half-Barbaric Twang), some turn-of-the-century banjoists did indeed play selections from Mendelssohn or Chopin, most of the material that banjo orchestras and clubs played came from the wide realm of popular music of the day. As the sheet music of the day shows, banjo clubs performed elaborate arrangements of many forms of popular music: marches, rags, waltzes, schottisches, two-steps, jigs, mazurkas, reels, as well as highly arranged minstrel pieces.

Showcasing virtuoso classical banjoist Clarke Buehling, this recording is a delightful introduction to a largely forgotten world of late 19th-century banjo ensemble music. The pieces, which are arranged with great care, represent many popular American and European dance types and even a well-known minstrel tune by Daniel Emmett ("Old Dan Tucker"). Unlike wildly irregular, improvised southern old-time banjo music, these tunes are formally arranged precision extravaganzas. These selections are masterpieces with quite complex structures made up of many parts, varying rhythms and dramatic transitional bridges that link different musical passages. As the brief but informative liner notes indicate, the music played here comes from a variety of sources published in the later years of the 19th century. Some, such as "Wait for the Wagon," "Grey Eagle," and "Maria Mazurka" are from the pages of popular banjo instructional books such as Briggs Banjo Instructor, The Banjoists Budget, Buckleys Guide for the Banjo, and collections by H C. Blackmar, S.S. Stewart, and Frank C. Converse. "Under the Double Eagle" is a march composed by Josef Franz Wagner (1856-1908), the Double Eagle being the symbol of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The raggy "Dill Pickles" was penned by multi-instrumentalist Charles Leslie Johnson who played with a Kansas City mandolin club around the turn of the century.

Throughout the recording Buehling makes use of a variety of banjos of different sizes and shapes and Doug Reid joins him on banjo-mandolin on the cakewalk "Smokey Mokes," "Eureka Clog Dance," and the march, "Under the Double Eagle." Carol Widders' cello provides a satisfying foundation on "Smokey Mokes," "Wait for the Wagon" and "Under the Double Eagle." Also heard are a trumpet (Joe Murpheys Jig/Water Street Reel and Grey Eagle), bones and jawbone (Wait for the Wagon, Old Dan Tucker and All Night Reel/Trouble Begins). Jim Lansford, who is also a terrific old-time fiddler, provides appropriate violin accompaniment on many of the selections.

This is joyous, infectious music that is just about impossible to dislike. The musicianship is outstanding-clearly the result of a life-long fascination with a particular era and genre of music-and the recording quality is crisp. Though it speaks to us today, there is an archaic feel to this music that vividly evokes a particularly vigorous period in American history. In fact, I kept having the feeling that this is the sort of accurate rendition of period music that we do not hear enough of in films that purport to depict nineteenth century public performances and dances. As Buehling notes on his description of "All Night Reel," imagine a sailors' dance hall in a sub-basement of Water Street. Highly recommended.

To order: Skirtlifters, PO Box 744, Fayetteville AR 72702-0744; 501-442-5368

Gail Gillespie

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The Stanley Brothers - Earliest Recordings-The Rich-R-Tone Recordings
Revenant 203

Carter Stanley-lead vocals, guitar; Ralph Stanley-tenor and lead vocals, banjo; Pee Wee Lambert, Jim Williams-mandolin; Leslie Keith, Art Wooten, Art Stamper-fiddle; Ray Lambert-bass vocal.

Molly and Tenbrooks/The Rambler's Blues/Mother No Longer Waits for Me at Home/The Girl Behind the Bar/Little Maggie/Little Glass of Wine/Our Darling's Gone/The Jealous Lover/I Can Tell You the Time/Little Birdie/Little Glass of Wine (Alt. Version)/Death Is Only a Dream/Little Girl and the Dreadful Snake/Are You Waitng Just for Me?

These recordings catch the Stanley Brothers just as they are embarking on their career. Bluegrass was not even a genre yet. they were playing music that they heard from the likes of J. E. Mainer and other typical old-time string bands play. They were also influenced by one of the hottest bands of the day who had been having a lot of success both on the radio and with recent recordings, Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys.

With these recordings, Ralph and Carter became some of the hottest selling artists in their region. Those sales would lead to a contract with Columbia records just a few years later when Bill Monroe moved on to Decca. These Rich-R-Tone recordings not only contain the original " The Little Glass of Wine," "Death is Only a Dream," and "The Girl Behind the Bar," they also document a band on the cusp of old-time and bluegrass music. These recordings rank with Monroe's RCA sides and the work of Roy Hall, who was probably the only other artist to record music that predicted what was to become bluegrass, displaying elements of the style that grew into genre. Listening to these recordings you can hear the elements come together as the Stanley Brothers hone their sound to an edge that would be only keener by the time they made their classic Mercury recordings in the mid-50s. By the time they cut "Molly and Tenbrooks" they had developed a sound that could be called bluegrass.

Ralph plays some clawhammer and two-finger style banjo as well as his distinctive three-finger style that would become more old-time again after his brother Carter's death. The fiddlers on these recordings read like a who's who of first line bluegrass fiddlers, all of whom were accomplished old-time fiddlers. Art Wooten and Leslie Keith, who is credited with "Black Mountain Blues" later to become "Black Mountain Rag" (see Dr. Charles Wolfe's fine book, The Devil's Box for the interesting story of this tune's evolution) both well known at this time (the late 1940s, early 1950s) display a soulful prowess that is still more archaic than the fiddling that would come into fashion a few years later. Nevertheless, this is hot fiddling for the time and would serve as the model for many fiddlers to come. A very young Art Stamper shows the promise that he would become the great fiddler he is today.

The late Pee Wee Lambert's mellow F-4 mandolin gets that sparked drive that marked Monroe's attack. It sets off Ralph's banjo nicely. There is no bass on these recordings and a previous release of this material on LP added reverb and Tom Gray on bass. These recordings capture the sound as it was originally intended and are all the better for it.

These recordings document a time when the string bands were coping with the Post War changes that were affecting their audiences. The rural lifestyle was eroding as folks continued to move to the cities in search of the good life, or at least work. The pressure of a developing Nashville sound and rock and roll would almost stamp this music out a few years later. These are great recordings that carry on the traditions and helped them to survive in a world ever more hostile to things old and quaint.

If you want to know how bluegrass and old-time are related, or if you love great mountain style vocals and songs, don't pass up these recordings. They are priceless and belong in the library of any serious student of old-time music.

Bob Buckingham

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Wolf Bros. - Old-Time Tuning
Yodel-Ay-Hee CD-025

Casey Hash-guitar, accordion, vocals; Roger Wilson-banjo; Donna Correll-bass, vocals; Jerry Correll-fiddle; with Mac Traynham, Tom Ohmsen, and Jay "Washboard Sam" Griffin on various selected cuts.

Camp Meeting in July/Flatwoods/8th of January/Southern Girl's Reply/Tumwater Breakdown/Rye Whiskey/Raining on the Mountain/Little Daze Robertson/Home by the Sea/Old Scotland/Get Along Boys/Ivanhoe/Fisher's Hornpipe/Little Willie/Judge Parker Take these Shackles Off Me/Robinson County/I Will Arise.

The Wolfe Bros. is a solid old-time band based in southwestern Virginia. Listening to this CD makes me think of wood smoke campfires and jams at fiddlers conventions, bands circled around practicing for their one tune or getting over their one tune with a burn-it-down session afterwards. I'd sure jump into this circle for a while-"Hell yes, I'll take a hit of whatever's in that jar . . . mmmmmm, nice bead, boys!" And the funny and not really surprising thing is, most of these folks have migrated into Grayson County from "up north," meeting each other while at college in Wytheville, VA and originally forming the band in the '70s. This CD represents the second effort of the "reformed" group in 1992-though I don't think they've reformed at all as they're still having way too much fun. They seem to have pretty much settled in now, biscuits and kittens notwithstanding.

Instrumentally the Wolfe Bros. play a solid ensemble style, with a few "breaks" only in the sense that someone comes "out front" for a bit. The fiddling is of the short bow variety you'd expect, the banjo clawhammered, with a bass and guitar filling in the bottom. I really like their fiddle-tune songs a lot-"Get Along Boys" and of course the "8th of January," which it's nice to hear sung again. They also offer up "Ivanhoe," which is a song written by the Renegades and based on Burl Hammons' great tune "Big Sciota," the words now changed to mention a town in the Grayson Co. area-and so goes the evolution of things old-time. "Judge Parker," also a tune based song, is scary and wonderful-I like how Wolfe Bros. has had the nerve to make a CD that builds, with some of the very best cuts left to towards the end. With their overall drive, I'd expect audiences to be bobbing and dancing immediately, and surely these folks would be great to dance to in a more formal setting. Casey and Donna offer several duet vocals which exhibit nice tight harmonies, and their choice of material helps to explain why they won the Virginia Country Music Association's Traditional Music Heritage Award in 1997.

The CD was recorded and produced at Flat 5 Press & Recording Co., Salem, VA. And the cover wins the prize for charming photo of the year in my book.

To order: Wolfe Bros., 586 Possum Run, Elk Creek VA 24326; 540-655-4159.

Wm. Hicks

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Various Artists - American Primitive Vol. 1 - Raw Pre-War Gospel (1926-36)
Revenant 206

Blind Willie Davis: I Believe I'll Go Back Home/Eddie Head & his Family: Down On Me/Blind Mamie Forehand: Honey in the Rock/Jaybird Coleman: I'm Gonna Cross that River of Jordan Some of These Days/Charley Patton & Bertha Lee: Oh Death/Rev. I.B. Ware w/wife & son: You Better Quit Drinking Shine/Blind Joe Taggart: Been Listening All the Day/William & Versey Smith: Sinner, You'll Need Your King Jesus/Rev. Edward Clayborn: This Time Another Year You May Be Gone/Eddie Head & his Family: Lord, I'm the True Vine/Blind Roosevelt Graves & Brother: Woke Up this Morning/Elder Otis Jones: Holy Mountain/Rev. I B. Ware w/wife & son: I Wouldn't Mind Dying/William & Versey Smith: Everybody Help the Boys Come Home/Dennis Crumpton & Robert Summers: Everybody Ought to Pray Sometime/Eddie Head & his Family: Tryin' To Get Home/Blind Roosevelt Graves & his Brother: I'll Be Rested When the Roll Is Called/Bo Weavil Jackson: I'm On My Way to the Kingdom Land/Frank Palmes: Troubled About My Soul/William & Versey Smith: When that Great Ship Went Down/Washington White: I Am in the Heavenly Way/Austin Coleman: Good Lord (Run Old Jeremiah)/Luther Magby: Jesus Is Getting Us Ready for that Great Day/William & Versey Smith: I Believe I'll Go Back Home/Elder J. J. Hadley (Charley Patton): Prayer of Death, Parts 1 and 2.

This remarkable collection is one of the first releases to be put out on guitarist John Fahey's new Revenant label. Everything about the project is exceptionally well done. The CD design/packaging is simple, strong and visually arresting. The booklet accompanying the CD includes photographs and two sets of notes-the first, by Gayle Dean Wardlow, who has done much of the most fruitful field research into the Country Blues in the past 30 years or more, provides background on the various singers and players on the CD; the second, by John Fahey, discusses in a brief, dense essay the nature of American Folk Music, the differences between Roman Catholicism and the various American strains of Protestantism, and how those differences are manifested in the religious music of American Protestants. Fahey also provides very interesting commentary on the performances on the CD. Sound quality of the CD is quite good, considering that the majority of the tracks are taken from very rare 78s, and you get 77(!) minutes of music. Although it is not made explicitly clear in the title of the CD, all the music here is from the black American gospel tradition. (I hope Revenant is planning to do a companion re-issue of white country gospel music from the same period.)

The family groups on the CD take varied approaches to their music. Eddie Head and his family do songs with a strong, almost hillbilly kind of beat, in which the guitar, playing in C, manages to simultaneously play raggy sounding runs in the treble while maintaining a boom-chang rhythm in the bass. The family's singing might best be described as "free unison" in style, where the lead is passed around and everyone joins on the chorus. I have always associated their song, "Lord, I'm the True Vine," with Rev. Gary Davis. Rev. I. B. Ware and his wife and son do a couple of numbers in which they are accompanied by a bottleneck guitar played in open D. Their song, "You Better Quit Drinking Shine" might be more aptly titled by its response line, "God Don't Like It I Know." The four songs by William & Versey Smith transport you to another time and place. While William sings lead and strums a guitar in open G, Versey plays intricate tambourine figures and joins in with sung/moaned interjections. It took me a while to figure out that Versey's part is not harmony singing in the conventionally understood sense at all, but rather a stylized vocal riff which comments in an affirmative way on William's lead singing. Put another way, she sings the same "harmony" part, no matter what the melody is to the song she is singing, changing only her words to accommodate the different songs. Something of the same approach is taken by Mrs. I.B. Ware on "You Better Quit Drinking Shine" and by one of the Head family on "Tryin' to Get Home." It is an amazing way to approach group singing and I'm sure the sound will stay with me.

There are a number of great vocal and guitar numbers on the CD. Charley Patton, who must certainly be the person least intimidated by a recording studio in history, does "Oh Death" ("Soon one morning, when Death comes in your room") with his partner Bertha Lee, and working under the pseudonym Elder J. J. Hadley does a medley of "Take A Stand," "I've Been 'Buked and Scorned," and "God's Unchanging Hand." Blind Willie Davis does his own version of "The Prodigal Son" as "I Believe I'll Go Back Home," and his bottleneck work in open D is a revelation. Rev. Edward Clayborn shows a very spiffy open G style on "This Time Another Year You May Be Gone." Dennis Crumpton & Robert Summers do a bottleneck duet (!) on "Everybody Ought to Pray Sometime." Bo Weavil Jackson (who also recorded as Sam Butler) does a slamming version of "I'm On My Way to the Kingdom Land." If I had to select my two favorite songs from the CD, I would choose Blind Mamie and A.C. Forehand doing "Honey in the Rock" and Roosevelt Graves and his brother Aaron doing "Woke Up This Morning (With My Mind Standing on Jesus)." Accompanied by slide guitar and bell, Mamie Forehand starts out "Honey in the Rock" so shyly you can barely catch the words-as she gets into it she projects more, but as she was singing so sweetly, I could feel my heart breaking. "Woke Up This Morning" is about the happiest piece of music I have ever heard. Roosevelt Graves plays an amazingly original guitar part of tremendous rhythmic vitality, capoed up in open G, flat-picking (I think), and playing bass runs, melody, harmony and chords all at once. In addition to his guitar, though, you also get Roosevelt's great lead singing, and his brother Aaron's funky tambourine playing and sneakily rhythmic back-up singing. When I hear Aaron's time, it makes me laugh out loud, because Roosevelt can't lose him.

In addition to the songs I've already described, there are a host of other numbers which stand alone: Joe Taggart's "Been Listening All The Day," a vocal duet with fiddle and guitar in which the almost Asian sound of the fiddle bears some similarity to Gid Tanner's on "Down on Tanner's Farm"; Jaybird Coleman's and Ollis Martin's screaming harmonica duet on "I'm Gonna Cross that River of Jordan Some of These Days"; Luther Magby's "Jesus Is Getting Us Ready For That Great Day" with harmonium and, I'm pretty sure, tap dancing; and Austin Coleman's "Good Lord," recorded by the Lomaxes in Louisiana in 1934, which sounds like it came straight from Africa.

If you enjoy religious music you would have to be crazy not to get this CD. Given the quality of the music offered here and the number of songs presented, it is a great bargain. I consider a few of the cuts to be in the "life-changing" category. How can you put a price on that?

To order: Revenant, PO Box 198732, Nashville, Tennessee 37219-8732; 615-251-1068;

John M. Miller

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Various Artists - The North Carolina Banjo Collection
Rounder CD 0439/40

Disc 1: Odell Thompson-Georgia Buck/Babe Reid- Corinna/Etta Baker-Going Down the Road Feeling Bad/Libba Cotten-Low Baked a Hoe Cake/John Snipes-Snow a Little, Rain a Little/Dink Roberts-Fox Chase/Ola Belle Reed-Going to Write Me a Letter/Samantha Bumgarner-The Worried Blues/ Bascom Lamar Lunsford-Mr. Garfield/Bertie Dickens-Cleveland's Marching to the White House/Marvin Gaster-The Old Doctor That Fell in the Well/Walter Raleigh Babson-Hello Coon/Scotty Wiseman-Sugar Babe/Doc Watson- Reuben's Train/Gaither Carlton-Rambling Hobo/Frank Proffitt-Cumberland Gap/Fred Cockerham-Roustabout/Stella Kimble-Cotton Eyed Joe/Tommy Jarrell-John Henry/Kyle Creed-Lost Indian/Charlie Lowe-Cripple Creek/Carlie Marion-Under the Double Eagle.

Disc 2: Glenn Davis-Blue Ridge Mountain Home/Kelly Sears-Little Log Cabin in the Lane/Ernest Helton-Royal Clog; Arkansas Traveler; Old Black Joe/Clay Everhart-Sweetheart, Would You Come?/Frank Jenkins-Baptist Shout/Smith and Allgood-American and Spanish Fandango/Fisher Hendley-Shuffle Feet Shuffle/J.G. & Jerry Wayne Britt-Missouri Waltz/Carl Nance-Italian Waltz/Charlie Poole-There'll Come a Time/Mack Woolbright-The Man Who Wrote "Home Sweet Home" Never Was a Married Man/Wilmer Watts-Cotton Mill Blues/Dock Walsh-Come Bathe in that Beautiful Pool/Arnold Watson-Biscuits/Hobbie Whitener-Whoa, Mule, Whoa/George Pegram-I Left My Old Home In the Mountains/Wade Mainer-Short Life and Its Trouble/Snuffy Jenkins-Nancy Roland/A.C. Overton-Railroad/Carroll Best-The Nut Medley-Chinquapin Hunting; Acorn Hill Breakdown.

As you can see, there is a huge amount of banjo music here. Disc 1 presents a million older-style players (mostly downstroke, and some up-picking), disc 2 a million more modern-sounding up-picking players. And the collection includes a huge amount of information. In the fat booklet full of notes and photographs, Disc 1 is introduced with brilliant essay by Andy Cahan discussing the player Manly Reece (b. 1830-d. 1864) and speculating about the origins of banjo music in North Carolina, while disc 2 is introduced with an essay by Robert Winans about up-picking banjo. Though some of the pieces here are well known, have been released before, and are included because without them the collection would not fully represent North Carolina banjo, many of these pieces come from obscure or private recordings, so this is our first chance to hear them. The entire collection offers a wealth of music to return to over and over again.

Disc 1 starts out with those African-American players who, according to Winans, "represent the remnants of this once vital" black string-band tradition. Odell Thompson's "Georgia Buck" gets the CD off with a deep low-in-the-throat rhythm. I find Libba Cotton's "Low Baked a Hoecake" extremely beautiful-slow, rhythmic frailing between the single-note melody lines under Libba's sweet light voice-it's a dreamy sort of song. Dink Roberts's "Fox Chase" also stands out, the opposite of dreamy. It's got random-ish sung-spoken verses, banjo effects typical to "Fox Chase" tunes, and a snappy repeated melody line linking all the random parts. So much variety of approach even within this one tradition suggests that you can't pin a banjo down, and the rest of the CD continues to make this point.

Some of my favorite cuts here are the ones by women: Samantha Bumgarner's "Worried Blues" is an example of how good a woman's high voice can sound with the banjo. So often women in old-time music sing in their lower registers. (Because it sounds more "traditional?" Because the Carter Family women had low voices? Because D & A, the keys of so many old-time tunes, are easier for men to sing in? Because the men in music have historically been more audible?) But Samantha Bumgarner, the first female country performer to record a 78, reminds us to use whatever voice we come with. I also especially love Bertie Dickens's "Cleveland Marching to the White House."

Of course the men are nothing to sneer at. Bascom Lamar Lunsford's "Mr. Garfield" is wonderful-a loping banjo background to some very humorous verses. Walter Raleigh Babson's "Hello Coon" is also especially beautiful, melody notes with light arpeggiated accompaniment.

Disc 2, as you may imagine, sounds more modern, even though it includes many recordings from the past, among them Ernest Helton's 1925 "Royal Clog," Charlie Poole's 1926 "There'll Come A Time," and George Pegram's circa 1943 "I Left My Old Home in the Mountains." Despite the modernity, several of these picked tunes stand out to me as having an "older" sound, for example Dock Walsh's 1929 "Come Bathe in that Beautiful Pool."

Though the set is loosely organized from older to newer sounds (and thus I prefer disc 1), "old" and "new" are not really useful distinctions. Up-picked and down-picked banjo styles, as presented in this collection, seem to be two strands of one tradition, strands that interlock here and there. Some of the predominantly downstroked tunes contain a few up-picks to emphasize melody notes, and some of the up-picked tunes, such as Marvin Gaster's "The Old Doctor that Fell in the Well," have the soft interaction between melody notes and back up chordal rhythm that I associate with downstroke styles.

I wish this collection had been available years ago when I was first learning. Having heard very little, and not knowing where to find recordings, I thought there was one way to play the banjo and my job was to figure out what it was and then do it. This CD set would have saved me all the time I wasted chasing after one non-existent Way. There are as many ways to play the banjo as there are players. I'm stunned and inspired by all the individual creativity presented here. And the CD helps to put this individuality in a context-we can hear how each style comments on, takes off from, intertwines with the others. But can we come to any conclusions about banjo music in North Carolina? Yes: there's a lot of it, and it's wonderful.

Molly Tenenbaum

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Various Artists - Southern Journey: Harp of a Thousand Strings All Day Singing from The Sacred Harp
The Alan Lomax Collection, Volume 9
Rounder CD 1709 (55:08)

Sherburne/David's Lamentation/Soar Away/Commentary/Wondrous Love/Traveling On/New Harmony/Hallelujah/Prayer for Recess/Loving Jesus/Greenwich/Milford/Baptismal Anthem/Amsterdam/Montgomery/Memorial Lesson/Cussetta/The Last Words of Copernicus/The Morning Trumpet/Homeward Bound/Northfield/Doddridge/Weeping Mary/Christmas Anthem/New Prospect/Oxford.

Various Artists - Southern Journey: And Glory Shone Around: More All Day Singing from The Sacred Harp
The Alan Lomax Collection, Volume 10
Rounder CD 1710 (58:38)

Newburgh/Eternal Day/Heavenly Vision/Sardis/Windham/New Jerusalem/ Present Joys/Logan/Ocean/Alabama/Bear Creek/ Mission/Protection/Notes Almost Divine/Morgan/Melancholy Day/A Cross for Me/Anthem on the Savior/Mount Zion/Victoria/Sinner's Friend/The Promised Land/New Jordan/Ragan/Commentary/ Hallelujah/Amazing Grace/Closing Prayer.

This is music to be played loud. This is not background music for anything. This is the full-throated, almost shouted, singing of people who have gathered together to praise their God. This is music to move hearts and minds and, quite possibly, walls and foundations.

These recordings were made in 1959 at a weekend-long singing convention held in north-east Alabama. The performance of this music is unusual. The musicians sing sitting rather than standing. They are grouped in four rows of about ten people each with the rows arranged to form a box with the singers facing inward, toward each other. The leader or conductor of the group stands in the center of the box. This music is not intended for an audience in the usual sense of the word. These people were singing for themselves and for their faith. Of the some 100 people who attended this convention, all were participants at one time or another, including the children. One of the leaders of these songs was 12 years old. No one was simply a "spectator" (except, of course, Lomax, his assistant and the tape recorder).

Almost all of the performances start with a rehearsal of the melody in which the group sings the names of the notes (fa-sol-la-fa-sol-la-mi-fa in this notation) rather than the words of the text. From the rehearsal, the group goes directly to the performance. Although the music itself is often quite complex, harmonically and structurally, the performance style is simple and straightforward: up tempo and full volume right to the end. Then go immediately to the next song. It is a singing style that produces an emotional intensity that is very moving if not, indeed, overwhelming.

Sacred Harp music is written down in what is known as a "shape note" system, a form of musical notation used in the United States for about 200 years. It represents an attempt (obviously successful) to make the basics of music reading accessible to many by giving distinctive shapes to different notes. The booklets to these CDs contain reproductions of several pages from shape song hymnbooks showing just what these people were using. The music itself is drawn from a wide variety of sources from Anglo-American folk music through traditional Protestant hymns up to recently composed pieces. Some of the melodies and songs will be familiar to those acquainted with American traditional music, secular and sacred, although they may not have heard them delivered with such power. The notes to this set of CDs contain two 1977 Lomax essays. One is on the circumstances of these recordings and the other is on the fascinating history of what he calls this "fiery choral sound" which he traces back to early European polyphonic music traditions and which he considers to be the inspiration for the black spiritual. The rest of the notes are "adapted and expanded" from the original notes for the LPs on which much of this material was first released. Persons wanting to know what are Lomax's thoughts on this material and what has been added later will find little to help them distinguish one from the other.

Near the end of the second CD are a few spoken remarks by one of the participants. Delivered in the soft, gentle drawl of a rural, southern white, they sum up with simple eloquence, the importance of this music: "I love the Sacred Harp because the sentiment of these words gets down into your soul, it stirs your heart and makes your soul happy."

The Belleville A Cappella Choir - Southern Journey: Honor The Lamb
The Alan Lomax Collection, Volume 11
Rounder CD 1711 (44:59)

The Gospel Train/Keep Me As the Apple of Thine Eye/David Was a Shepherd Boy/What a Time/ The Lord Is My Strength and Song/ None But the Righteous/Come On Israel/Medley of Spirituals: Great Camp Meeting in the Wilderness, Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Steal Away, What Kind of Shoes You Gonna Wear, Oh Them Golden Slippers, I'm a Soldier in the Heavenly Choir, Down by the Riverside, Swing Low Sweet Chariot/The House of the Lord/Honor, Honor/On the Battlefield for My Lord/The Creation/Honor the Lamb

This glorious album is one of the jewels of the Lomax collection. The overall quality of the recordings in this series has been very high but there are degrees even of excellence, and Honor The Lamb is an outstanding album in an outstanding series. It is very rare that you are able to hear an ensemble whose performances maintain such high professional standards and, at the same time, deliver their music with such infectious exuberance as The Belleville A Cappella Choir.

This is music that is much easier to hear than it is to classify. In the notes to this album, Alan Lomax points out that The Belleville A Cappella Choir usually performs songs they compose rather than traditional spirituals. And their performance style is, as he observes, "carefully rehearsed in the fine-arts spiritual tradition in the European harmonic tradition rather than of the folk." Even so, they use no written music; everything is learned by ear. And yet, "they perform key changes and use complex chord progressions that would do credit to the best-trained and most musically literate choruses in the land."

An example of what Lomax is describing might be the second stanza to the song "The Lord Is My Strength and Song" which is repeated four times, each version building melodically on the previous version. And as each version is sung, a male voice rises briefly above the choir touching the song like a shaft of sunlight shinning through a stained glass window. Or take "Keep Me As the Apple of Thine Eye." As this song progresses, the singing becomes increasingly complex. Melodic variations are incorporated into the song as the tempo builds and the bass line moves the song forward as inexorably as a locomotive. Then suddenly the song takes on a quality as pure and bright as sterling silver as the sopranos take the lead and soon the whole choir has broken into syncopated clapping that gathers you up and carries you to the end. Now, neither of these examples is, by itself, typical of what The Belleville A Cappella Choir does. But they are both typical of the sort of thing they do which infuses their performances with such variety and excitement.

There are two soloists represented on these recordings. Caleb Garris's rich voice augments a half dozen of these performances. Rhoda Parrish, described in the album notes as a "truly spectacular soprano," is certainly one of the most expressive singers I have heard and I am sorry she appears on only two selections. One of them, however, is the medley of traditional spirituals which gives us a chance to hear her treatment of a wide variety of songs.

One song, "The Creation," is less effective than the others. The text is taken from the first five verses of Genesis and although the setting is, as the notes suggest, ". . . intricate and imaginative," it also leaves you with the impression that The Belleville A Cappella Choir is better at joyful exhortation than they are at straightforward narrative.

The Belleville A Cappella Choir is part of The Church of God and Saints of Christ which has its headquarters in Belleville, Virginia. These recordings were made in 1960, but the choir is still performing today. The notes to these recordings do not tell us when the choir was founded.

The notes to this album are based on Alan Lomax's liner notes for the 1961 Prestige LP of this material. Lomax's original comments have been "adapted and expanded" for this release but if there is something in the booklet that enables you to clearly distinguish Lomax's notes from the added material, I missed it.

In his 1993 book, The Land Where the Blues Began, Lomax has described, in beautifully written prose, his joy at being able to make high quality stereo field recordings such as these and it is recordings such as these that benefit most from high technical standards. The balance is excellent throughout. The relationship between the various sections of the choir comes through with admirable clarity and all of the solo lines are clear and distinguishable. All in all, a very fine album indeed.

Sea Island Singers - Southern Journey: Georgia Sea Islands-Biblical Songs and Spirituals
The Alan Lomax Collection, Volume 12
Rounder 1712 CD (58:16)

Nat Rahmings-drum; Ed Young-fife; Hobart Smith-guitar.

Moses/Moses, Don't Get Lost/Turkle Dove/Adam in the Garden/Daniel/Daniel in the Lion's Den/Little David/Eli, You Can't Stand/John/Sign of Judgment/One of These Days/O Day/Rock in the Weary Land/It Just Suits Me/I'm Gonna Lay Down My Life for My Lord/Before this Time Another Year/O Death/Goodbye Everybody.

Sea Island Singers - Southern Journey: Earliest Times-Georgia Sea Islands Songs for Everyday Living
The Alan Lomax Collection, Volume 13
Rounder 1713 CD (51:51)

Live Humble/The Buzzard Lope/Ain't I Right?/Row the Boat, Child/You Got My Letter/Riley/See Aunt Dinah/Pay Me/Carrie Belle/Reg'lar, Reg'lar Rollin' Under/You Better Mind/Everybody Talking About Heaven/Read 'Em, John/Union/Hop Along, Let's Get Her/Raggy Levee/Hard Times in Ol' Virginia/Knee Bone/The Old Tar River/East Coast Line/Buzzard Lope.

Running down the southeast coast of the United States are the Sea Islands; a series of low, sandy, marshy areas crisscrossed with rivers and streams. It is an area that, since well before the Civil War, harbored communities that were largely isolated from the mainland. This is an area Alan Lomax considered to be one of the most important sources of traditional music and it was here that he made these recordings in 1959 and 1960.

The music of The Sea Island culture has long been highly regarded both for its beauty and for its importance in the development of black music. As early as the turn of the century, W.E.B. Du Bois was writing about the contribution of the Sea Island spirituals to black American culture. In the 1930s, Lydia Parrish formed a society that was important in preserving and passing on the Sea Island singing tradition. A 1960s grant from the Newport Folk Festival funded a Georgia Sea Island Christmas Festival.

This is complex, sophisticated music with a very rich sound. Most of the selections in these recordings are a cappella examples of the call and response form. A leader draws out a line and is answered (sometimes very quickly) by a chorus of a half dozen or eight voices. As the songs progress, however, this deceptively simple structure is revealed to be the basis for what is often an enormously complex series of rhythmic, melodic and textual variations that interweave and blend with one another to produce an effect as imposing as that of the most elaborately woven tapestry. Simply transcribing the text of these songs must have given someone fits, for the vocal lines build upon and draw upon one another in patterns that sometimes vary greatly from one verse to the next. Nor are these songs all really "unaccompanied." Much of this music includes hand clapping, stick beating and/or foot stomping in very complex polyrhythms. This music, like a Bach fugue, grows upon you with repeated hearings.

Most of these songs will be new to those unacquainted with Sea Island music although a few of them will be recognized as early versions of well known songs. Volume 12 (as the title suggests) consists of sacred music. Volume 13, Songs for Everyday Living, is an album of party songs, work songs and rowing chanteys. Some of them are as strongly religious as anything on Volume 12, however. Everyday Living wasn't necessarily secular.

The half dozen accompanied selections in this collection represent Lomax's attempt to reconstruct colonial American music for a documentary film about Williamsburg. The music may or may not be authentic but it is interesting to hear Hobart Smith and others backing these usually unaccompanied singers.

The extensive notes to both albums draw much from Lomax's remarkably well written notes to the LPs on which some of this material was originally released. The new material written for the present release puts these recordings, and the field trips that produced them, into historical context. The format of the notes does not make it easy to distinguish the original Lomax writing from new material, however. Nor is the information particularly well organized, and both books could have benefited from closer editorial scrutiny. A casual reference to Lydia Parrish occurs several pages before she is actually introduced, and her role explained to the reader. It is also implied that the singers in these recordings were in some way connected with the Lydia Parrish's original Sea Island Music Society, but the nature of that relationship is not clear.

The notes also emphasize that the music of the Sea Island culture at the time of these recordings had direct links to pre-Civil War black music but it is uncertain whether we are expected to recognize this music as the descendent of or an example of this early music. The notes include an essay by Lomax that discusses how the largely black population of this area has been able to preserve its culture over a long period of time. "The customs, tales, and music of the Sea Island communities can probably be said to represent black American folklore in its earliest and purest forms," he says.

The operative word here is "probably," a word for which "possibly" might better be substituted. The problem is that we really do not have any means of establishing what black music sounded like in the antebellum South. We have no recordings of black music (or much of anything else) that predates the 20th century, and the earliest recordings we do have are sparse and can hardly be considered representative of black culture at large. In the Sea Island culture, we do have documentable links going back to the days of slavery, and it is extremely tempting to assume that an examination of the Sea Island music will give us some insight into early black music. But any assumption that we can extrapolate from the music on these albums to music of 150 or 200 years ago requires a good deal of faith in the persistence of musical identity and perhaps some wishful thinking as well. The songs that can be traced directly to people who had been born into slavery are indeed important in helping us learn more about our early music. But it is by no means clear how those people would recognize the music as it is now sung. Changes that gradually build up are often not recognized by those closest to them.

The face I shave in the morning is the same face that has looked back at me from the mirror for as long as I can remember. But my wife cannot identify me from my high school yearbook photos.

But it would be a mistake to value this music only for its cultural or historical significance. It is music that is a joy to hear and these recordings provide a new opportunity to do just that.

A.V. Shirk

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Various Artists - Wood That Sings: Indian Fiddle Music of the Americas
Smithsonian Folkways SF 40472

Listening to this CD is like taking a musical journey among the Indian peoples that reside throughout the Western Hemisphere, from the Chapaco in Argentina to Gwich'in Athapaskans in Alaska, with stops all along the way. Some folks may be a bit surprised by the fact that fiddling itself is so commonplace among such diverse Indian cultures, and at the same time, by how remarkably similar some of this music sounds to fiddling traditions in the U.S. and Canada which derive directly from Scottish, Irish, and French sources with which they may be familiar. In fact, some of the fiddlers included here play in a style that is virtually identical to their Anglo counterparts. Leo Creomo and his trio, for example, play straight-ahead dance tunes not unlike those heard played throughout their native Cape Breton Island. Metis fiddlers Lawrence "Teddy Boy" Houle and Jimmie LaRocque both exhibit traces of Scottish as well as other European-rooted traditions, including Irish and French-Canadian. Both, for instance, play the well-known tune "Big John McNeill." Houle plays a medley of tunes that suddenly careens into bluegrass territory with versions of "Orange Blossom Special," "Old Joe Clark," and "Boil Them Cabbage Down."

While some of the tunes and styles played by the fiddlers from the U.S. and Canada often seem to have some familiar quality about them, the music on this disc played by the South and Central American musicians definitely sounds like it comes from a different time and place. Alternately mesmerizing or high-spirited, down-to-earth or downright spooky, the music captured on this CD is some of the most captivating and beautiful that I have experienced in some time. It is next to impossible to pick out favorites among the pieces as I hear something completely new each time I give this disc a listen.

This CD is a joint project of the National Museum of the American Indian and the Smithsonian Institution. The music was for the most part, recorded "in the field" by ethnomusicologists and folklorists from all parts of the Americas. As one might expect, the accompanying notes are extensive and informative, scholarly yet comprehensible, and help to provide the listener with clear contextual background about the music, the various types of violins and other instruments played, and the people who play them. The notes, which include bibliographical references, a discography and videography help to promote the sense that this CD is an important document. Any way one approaches it, Wood That Sings contains some lovely and captivating listening. Highly recommended.

Jim Nelson

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To Order:
Arhoolie Records, 10341 San Pablo Ave., El Cerrito CA 94530. 510-525-7471/fax 510-525-1204; email;
County Records/County Sales, PO Box 191, Floyd VA 24091. 540-343-5476;fax 540-343-3240; email;
Copper Creek Records, PO Box 3161, Roanoke VA 24015;;
Document Records can be ordered through Arhoolie Records.
Heritage Records, Rt 3, Box 278, Galax, VA 24333.
Marimac Recordings, PO Box 447, Crown Point, IN 46307. 1-800-628-4507.
Revenant Records, PO Box 198732 Nashville TN 37219-8732; 615-251-1068;
Rounder Records/Roundup, One Camp St.,Cambridge MA 02140. (617)661-6308. Visa & Mastercard accepted; 1-800-44-DISCS; fax 617-868-8769;;
Shanachie Records/Entertainment/Yazoo,13 Laight St, 6th Fl NYC NY 10013; 212-334-0284; 212-334-5207.
Smithsonian/Folkways Records, Center for Folklife Programs & Cultural Studies, 955 L'Enfant Plaza, Ste. 2600, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC 20560. 1-800-410-9815 (orders only); 301-443-2314;;
Stefan Grossman's Guitar Workshop, Inc./Vestapol, PO Box 802, Sparta, NJ 07871; 201-729-5544; fax 201-726-0568;;
Voyager Recordings, 424 35th Avenue, Seattle, WA 98122; 206-323-1112.

Additional Releases Which May Be of Interest to Our Readers
American Beauty: Nashville Bluegrass Band
Sugar Hill SHCD 1882; PO Box 55300, Durham NC 27717-5300;
Bound to Ride: Jim Mills; Sugar Hill SHCD 3883
Dear Friends & Gentle Hearts: Suzanne Thomas; Rounder 0423
A Great Big Western Howdy: Riders in the Sky;
Rounder 0430
From the Vale: Music and Songs from the Vale of White Horse; Chris Bartram & Keith Holloway;
Wild Goose, WGS 285 CD; Granway House, 3 Coldharbour, Uffculme, Cullompton, Devon, EX15 3EE;
Crooked Steep & Rocky: Steve Hartz (bluegrass); Mystery Ridge Rec. Co. MRRC 001 CD
216 E. Pillar, Nacodoches, TX 409-564-8692
The Harry Smith Connection: A Live Tribute to the Anthology of American Folk Music: Various Artists; Smithsonian Folkways CD 40085
Finding the Way: Lonesome River Band
Sugar Hill SHCD-3884; PO Box 55300 Durham NC 27717-5300;
Big Red Sun: Mollie O'Brien; Sugar Hill CD 3885; PO Box 55300 Durham NC 27717-5300;
Cajun and Zydeco: Rough Guide; Various Artists; RGNET 1028 CD; World Music Network, 6 Abbeville Mews, 88 Clapham Park Rd., London SW4 7BX, England;;
Grand Texas: Chuck Guillory; Arhoolie 473 CD
Galvanized!: Ken Hamm; North Track Music NTCD9801; Box 285 Cedar, BC V0R 1J0; 1-800-633-8282
Doc & Merle Watson: Home Sweet Home
Sugar Hill Records SHCD 3889; PO Box 55300 Durham NC 27717-5300;
Industry and Thrift: Bad Livers
Sugar Hill Records SHCD-3887; PO Box 55300 Durham NC 27717-5300;
Polk City Ramble: Roy Book Binder; Rounder CD 3153
African Folk Rhythms: Ella Jenkins; Smithsonian Folkways CD 45003
Call-and-Response: Ella Jenkins ; Smithsonian Folkways CD 45030
Confessions of a Blues Singer: Rory Block; Rounder CD 11661-3154-2
Ledward Kaapana & Bob Brozman In Concert; Vestapol video 13074
The Older I Get the Better I Was: Art Thieme; Waterbug, Box 6605, Evanston IL 60204; 773-761-8141;;

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