14.5.15

VA - (1992) 50 Years Of Bluegrass Vol 1-4

CHM raids the vaults yet again, drawing on tried and true bluegrass classics by the likes of the Osborne Brothers, Mac Wiseman, Jim & Jesse, and Rose Lee Maphis. There's nothing here that bluegrass aficionados haven't heard before or have elsewhere, but with over an hour's worth of music and solid musicianship all the way through, 50 Years of Bluegrass Hits isn't a bad place for a newcomer or casual fan to start. Standards like "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" and "Muleskinner Blues" share space with virtuosic almost-novelties such as Benny Martin's "Dueling Fiddles," as well as a few gospel-tinged numbers.  

 Vol One

 Vol Two

 Vol Three

Vol Four

VA - (2003) Goodbye, Babylon 6xCD


By any standard, this six-CD (One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six) box set of old-time gospel music is a stupendous release, both in terms of musical significance, and elaborate packaging. The discs include no less than 135 songs, virtually all of them from the mid-1920s to the mid-1950s, save a couple that fall outside of that time frame in either direction. That's not even counting the bonus disc of 25 sermons, taken from actual African-American sermons released on record between 1926 and 1941, mostly from the earlier years of that stretch. It amounts to the largest, and certainly the most diverse, compilation of American gospel music from the early days of the phonograph record, encompassing both the White and African-American strands of the form. And it's not exclusively of interest to gospel specialists, as much of the music is squarely in the early American country, blues, and/or folk tradition, and heavily impacted the growth of those forms.

Such is the breadth of the anthology that it defies summarization in one review, but there are a few especially important features worth emphasizing. The sheer breadth of performers represented is amazing, and not just those recognizable to collectors, the lineup including such American musical giants as Hank Williams, the Carter Family, Rev. Gary Davis, Blind Lemon Jefferson, the Louvin Brothers, Skip James, Mahalia Jackson, the Stanley Brothers, Uncle Dave Macon, Thomas A. Dorsey, the Maddox Brothers & Rose, Josh White, and Bill Monroe (as part of the Monroe Brothers). There's just as much if not more attention given, however, to less celebrated names, down to performers about whom little or nothing is known, leaving behind just one or two incredibly rare 78s. Even some of the selections by major artists might be unknown to fans of the singers, as some are taken from rare sources like radio transcriptions (as the Louvin Brothers' "I'll Never Go Back" and Williams' "I'll Have a New Body" are). There are almost as many styles covered as there are songs, including not just the group singing and solo-with-keyboard accompaniment that some might think of as standard gospel. There's also close harmony early country music, tough country guitar blues, jug bands, string bands, group and solo a cappella singing, prisoner woodchoppers, and unclassifiable weird items in which the backup's supplied by unclassifiable novelty instruments, amplified steel guitar, slide banjo, or a solitary harmonica. There's even some early jazz, calypso (by Roaring Lion), and, in Sister Rosetta Tharpe's 1944 hit "Strange Things Happening Every Day," even some primordial full-band R&B.

More than an impressive effort of scholarship, however, this is something than can be enjoyed even by non-converts either to gospel music, or to the religious beliefs that serve as its lyrical foundation. For the blues, country, Appalachian folk, and other indigenous American musical forms are ground so deeply into gospel's fabric, that sometimes you might forget you're listening to music that's been classified as gospel. The performances have an unselfconscious swing and grit, and if some of the songs don't particularly grab you, such is the eclecticism that it won't be long before something does. Some of the highlights, indeed, are not by celebrated performers, but off-the-wall entries, like Blind Willie Johnson's amazingly guttural vocals on "Take Your Burden to the Lord and Leave It There." If you're so inclined, you can find ancestors to rock and soul here and there, as in Johnson's "Lord I Just Can't Keep From Crying," eventually adapted by the Blues Project; Eddie Head and His Family's "Down on Me," sung by Janis Joplin when it was covered by Big Brother & the Holding Company; James' "Jesus Is a Mighty Good Leader," covered more than 60 years later by Beck; the Gospel Keys' shake-'em-on-down 1946 version of "You've Got to Move," which precedes the more famous versions by both Mississippi Fred McDowell and the Rolling Stones; and even, in a sermon by Rev. Isaiah Shelton, a snatch of a song that resurfaced in Ray Charles' hit "Leave My Woman Alone." The sixth disc of sermons, incidentally, isn't necessarily dispensable if you think you don't have the patience for that kind of thing; the fervent deliveries and call-and-response vocals can be surprisingly musical, to the point where much of it sounds like actual singing.

The packaging of this set is also exceptionally noteworthy, encased in a cedar box with a slide-off top, and padded with actual fragrant cotton. Also inside is a 200-page book -- it's too large to be called a booklet, really -- with expert commentaries on each track, original personnel and recording dates, lyrical transcriptions, relevant Biblical quotes, and plenty of cool illustrations, old photos, and record label reproductions. The remastering from old rare discs is also fine. With such attentive layers of detail, in fact, it's puzzling that the liner notes don't include the original label of release for the recordings, a small but important detail which is of undoubted interest to many people willing to invest in such an anthology. It's a very small quibble, though, for a production that could absorb your interest for days or months if you want to dive into the bottom and catch all of its nuances and interconnections.

VA - (2004) Spreading The Word: Early Gospel Recordings 4xCD

Yet another of JSP's exhaustive budget-priced box sets of public domain recordings, Spreading the Word: Early Gospel Recordings provides just what the title promises, 105 tracks' worth of traditional African-American gospel recordings from 1926 to 1950. Listeners who know their history will already be familiar with some of the material here, such as the complete 16-song oeuvre of the Dallas-based blind mestiza singer/pianist Arizona Dranes that opens the first of these four discs, but much of this material will be new to all but the most devoted collectors of the style. Rarities like Luther Magby's strangely jaunty organ showcase "Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit," the Holy Ghost Sanctified Singers' "Jesus Throwed Up a Highway for Me" (a song that '70s AM radio enthusiasts will note sounds startlingly similar to Mungo Jerry's "In the Summertime"), and Sister Mary M. Nelson's scarifying "The Royal Telephone" sound great next to more familiar songs like Washington Phillips' idiosyncratic country blues-derived two-part single "Denomination Blues." The liner notes are sketchy, understandably so given the casual circumstances under which many of these songs were no doubt recorded, and it must be said that even a decent remastering job can't do much when your source material is coming from rapidly deteriorating 78s, but Spreading the Word: Early Gospel Recordings is of interest to musical and spiritual historians alike. Disc One, Two, Three & Four.

VA - (2005) American Primitive Vol. II: Pre-War Revenants (1897-1939) 2xCD

Revenants. Phantoms. Biographical ciphers who emerged from their anonymous dark, made 78 rpm recordings, and were promptly swallowed up by darkness again. Yet their recordings have made an indelible place for themselves in our world by dint of their capacity to inspire wonder.
At once a collection of secret blueprints for a raw musics revolution and a testament to the enduring power of great art to shock, confound, inspire and sustain. John Fahey’s final curated work for Revenant. CD One & Two

VA - (2005) Mountain Blues: Blues, Ballads & String Bands 1927-1938 4xCD

Country has been called the white man's blues, but the phrase has probably only been truly accurate when applied to the so-called hillbilly records from the 1920s and 1930s, the period and genre covered by this four-disc, 100-track anthology from JSP. Not that everything here is actually blues (the string band selections in particular are really dance reels that happened to have the word "blues" in the title), and a fair portion of these cuts don't have any real geographical association with the Southern mountains, either, but you have to give a box set a title, so Mountain Blues it is. With hindsight, a lot of these performances seem a bit generic, but there is a lot here, as well, that is startling in its freshness, even at a 75-year distance. Disc 1 gives us "Blue Grass Twist" (which isn't bluegrass, mind you) by the South Georgia Highballers, featuring some amazing guitar work from Vander Everidge and some stylish, almost pop guitar from Riley Puckett (best known for his work in the Skillet Lickers string band) on "I Get the Blues When It Rains." Disc 2 presents Slim Smith's jaunty "Bread Line Blues," Clarence Ashley's spooky modal banjo classic "Dark Hollow Blues," and Samantha Bumgarner's fragile singing and strong banjo on "The Worried Blues," a version of "Going Down the Road Feeling Bad." Highlights of the disc 3 include the steel guitar work of Lemuel Turner on "Way Down Yonder Blues" and "Jake Bottle Blues," and the zither playing of Nonnie Smith (who would enjoy a bit of a musical revival 40 years later in the 1970s) on the Perry County Music Makers' "I'm Sad and Blue." The final disc 4 features the amazing sound of Texas fiddle master Prince Albert Hunt on "Blues in a Bottle" (which the Lovin' Spoonful -- minus the fiddle -- would cover successfully in the 1960s) and closes with the venerable guitar-and-fiddle team of Richard Burnett and Leonard Rutherford on "All Night Long Blues." Perhaps a bit too extensive for the casual listener, Mountain Blues will certainly please collectors and historians interested in the era covered, and it's difficult to imagine a more comprehensive set of white blues 78s. The liner notes are a bit on the brief side, but they cover the basics, although the track notes that list the players and instruments aren't always accurate. Still, there's so much music here, it's hard to quibble.

VA - (2006) Friends Of Old Time Music (The Folk Arrival 1961-1965) 3xCD

At the height of the folk revival in the early '60s, three movers and shakers -- Ralph Rinzler (a member of the Greenbriar Boys folk group), John Cohen (of the New Lost City Ramblers) and Israel "Izzy" Young (owner of the Folklore Center in Greenwich Village) -- presented a number of traditional folk concerts in New York City under the umbrella of the Friends of Old Time Music. Among the now-legendary artists they brought to the city, some for the first time, others for the first time in decades, were Doc Watson, Maybelle Carter, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Bill Monroe & His Bluegrass Boys, Roscoe Holcomb, Dock Boggs and Mississippi John Hurt, whose song "Coffee Blues," including the phrase "lovin' spoonful" and performed here, provided a future New York rock band with their name. The 14 concerts in the series, which took place between 1961 and 1965, were recorded by Peter K. Siegel, who produced and annotated this three-CD (One/ Two/ Three) boxed distillation of highlights from the events. For fans of the kind of pure, unadulterated folk music that flourished on campuses and at folk festivals during those years before Bob Dylan discovered electricity, the set is a rejoice-worthy find. Folk music at that time encompassed not just the stereotypical guitar-strumming troubadour carrying a message, but also raw blues, Appalachian ballads, kickin' bluegrass, gospel and other strains of roots Americana, and the performances heard by the fortunate big city audiences were honest, moving and, most importantly, devoid of outside intervention or corrupting influence -- most of these artists were shell-shocked to be playing to appreciative audiences in a place like New York City after decades of toiling for the locals down south. The songs proffered by these musicians, of poverty and jail time, hard drinking and mining disasters, were not contrived but, true to the folk process, familiar tales handed down via the oral tradition, or written anew to add to it -- many, like Jesse Fuller's "San Francisco Bay Blues," Maybelle Carter's "Foggy Mountain Top," Monroe's "Shady Grove" and Roscoe Holcomb's "Rising Sun Blues" (aka "House of the Rising Sun"), have long been accepted as staples of the American folk repertoire, but were relatively new to mainstream audiences at the time, regardless of their vintage and their familiarity in the rural regions that birthed these performers. Friends of Old Time Music is, of course, a valuable historical document but, better than that, it's a rewarding listening experience. This is the real item, the sound -- in excellent fidelity, incidentally -- of America's treasured heritage peeking out from its longtime hiding places -- 53 of the 55 recordings have never before been released -- and fanning out across the land and into the permanent cultural fabric.

VA - (2006) The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of 2xCD

For anyone who's collected 78-rpm records, enjoyed Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, or expressed interest in the great missing old-time and blues records of yesteryear, The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of will be the Holy Grail. Whereas it isn't unusual for Yazoo to place a rarity on a new collection by Blind Blake or Blind Lemon Jefferson, this two-disc collection (One/ Two) -- all 46 cuts -- is a testament to rarities. Perhaps the best-known (to a general old-time/blues audience) performer here is Son House, and the collection includes recordings of "Mississippi County Farm Blues" and "Clarksdale Moan." Others might be familiar with Dock Boggs ("Old Rub Alcohol Blues"), Ken Maynard ("Sweet Betsey from Pike"), and the Memphis Jug Band ("Jim Strainer Blues"). Incredibly, several of these tracks were recorded as test pressings and never officially released, meaning that as far as the recording industry is concerned, they don't exist. It's probable that all of the fuss made over this collection of rarities will make little sense to folks who don't spend all of their spare money and time hunting down 78-rpm records, and there's a point here. If you don't know that a certain item is rare, you won't value it in the same way a collector might. In this sense, one CD filled with scratchy old recordings is as good as another. But even for those who might not understand why they should be excited by The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of, the collection nonetheless holds up as good old-time folk and blues, and expense-wise, Yazoo always offers lots of quality music for one's money. As an added bonus the cover art and inside cartoon has been put together by none other than Robert Crumb, a record collector and one-time string band performer himself.

VA - (2007) People Take Warning! (Murder Ballads and Disaster Songs 1913-1938) 3xCD


This three-disc (One/ Two/ Three), 70-track (30 of them new to the CD era) collection of murder ballads and disaster songs originally released on commercial 78s between 1913 and 1938 is, in spite of the archaic song structures and often crude sonic qualities on display, strangely contemporary in tone and feel, maybe because we've always been drawn to the scene of the accident, and even in this 21st century world of the Internet and all-day, all-night news channels, that's still as true as it ever was. We just don't write songs about such things so much anymore, and since one can just flip on the TV to get up to speed on the latest round of personal, local, and global tragedies, that's probably understandable. A quaint view of why these old songs were so popular back in the day is to say that's how the news traveled back then, but that wouldn't be true. The news media in the early 1900s in America was every bit as dogged and sensational as it is now, and these tragic songs didn't carry the news so much as give it a community focus, good or bad, functioning as street-corner sermons, cautionary tales, or just plain gossip given melody. Some of these songs are straight observational narratives, but some of them have definite agendas.

VA - (2007) The Art Of Field Recording: Vol 1 4xCD

A four disc set divided into Blues (CD3), Instrumental and Dance (CD4), Sacred (CD2), and a Survey (CD1) disc that has a little bit of everything.

Pitchfork Media: “Even when Art and Margo are, ostensibly, acting as silent observers, it is still possible to sense the Rosenbaums’ presence, and some of the interview-heavy cuts (see Mary Heekin’s rendition of “Lord Randolph,” from Disc 1) expose Art and Margo’s investment in their work. The narrations included here can be as telling as the songs themselves.”

USA Today: “Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music for a new generation…”

Wall Street Journal: “This four-disc set offers a sweeping survey of the American folk tradition, including blues, work songs, Mexican corridos, and more. Many of the recordings — which range from 94-year-old Sister Fleeta Mitchell’s “I Am on the Battlefield for My Lord” to 7-year-old Ray Rhodes’s true-crime ballad “Fred Adams” — appear on CD for the first time.”

Black Grooves: “Every tune in Art of Field Recording is a gem, and shine all the brighter because Rosenbaum’s love of music – and the people who do it – takes the listener on a journey into out-of-the-way American places where traditions are still created, re-created, and passed on down the line.”

VA - (2008) Victrola Favorites: Artifacts From Bygone Days 2xCD

The Dust-to-Digital label has compiled several exquisitely packaged anthologies of rare early- to mid-20th century roots and ethnic music, the two-CD (One/ Two) Victrola Favorites being no exception. What exactly the theme of this compilation is, however, is a little hard to ascertain, other than having been drawn from the collections of Robert Millis and Jeffery Taylor. The 48 songs could hardly be more geographically and stylistically widespread, ranging from early American jazz, blues, and folk to indigenous and ritual music from China, India, Turkey, Korea, Japan, Egypt, and the Republic of Congo. There's chanting from Chinese Buddhist nuns, spoken word, oud and bamboo flute solos, West Indian jazz-calypso, a Thai costume drama, and even an "actual recording of Big Ben and traffic noises" from London. Though the images of Victrolas and ancient recording labels and ads in the liner notes might prep you for tracks originating from the 1920s and 1930s, actually the chronological span it covers is wider than that, running from about 1910 to the early '50s (with some of the dates being estimated). There are occasional cuts of U.S. origin that are clearly ancestors of strains of American pop, and even one fairly well-known performer, Blind Boy Fuller, whose rhythmic 1938 blues "Step It Up and Go" isn't far removed from R&B and rock & roll. But these are considerably outnumbered by less conventionally accessible world music recordings. So you'll need to have wide tastes to get the most out of this, though that's something that can be said of several other Dust-to-Digital releases. If you are an adventurous listener with a general liking for world music and vintage folk/ethnic sounds, it's a thoughtfully assembled banquet of material that provides windows into cultures now vanished or nearly vanished, or at least rarely exposed to most 21st century Western listeners.

VA - (2012) Work Hard, Play Hard, Pray Hard: Hard Time, Good Time & End Time Music 1923-1936 3xCD


The story behind this box set is just interesting as the music on the rare 78s that were remastered to produce this beautiful three-LP set (One/ Two/ Three). In March of 2010, Nathan Salsburg, a record collector who had always dreamed of unearthing a crate full of rare records from the early days of the American record business, had his dreams come true. A friend that worked in the Louisville city dump called him up and told him that a hoarder named Don Wahle had just died. Wahle left behind a massive collection of LPs from the '50s, '60s, and '70s. Salsburg rescued part of the collection from the dump and discovered that along with the LPs, Wahle has also hoarded every 78-rpm disc that came his way. Salsburg made his was to Wahle's house, which was slated to be torn down in the next few weeks, and found a closet filled with hundreds of 78s. He loaded them into his pickup truck, cleaned them up, sorted them, and started to program this box set.

13.5.15

VA - (2006) Last Kind Words (1926-1953) LP

The first compilation released by collectors' label Mississippi Records (co-founded by Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and rock critic Byron Coley), LAST KIND WORDS was originally a limited-edition release, but was subsequently reissued. It brings together rare Delta blues/country blues tunes from the 1920s to the '50s, from Geechie Wiley's eerie title track to Edward Clayborn's gospel-tinged "Death is Only a Dream." These cuts, taken from rare 78s, easily make up in their intensity anything they lack in audio fidelity.

VA - (2007) I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore 1927-1948


Any record that opens with a vintage rebetika track is pretty much sold for me, and since this record does, the rest doesn't really matter, it's already awesome. Yep the first track on this killer re-issue is from Marika Papagika and sets the pace (and standard) for the rest of the album, which is a showcase of music recorded in the USA between 1927 and 1948 but rooted in other cultures. So from the initial blast of gorgeous Greek folk, we're thrown into Calypso, Appalachian folk, Cajun, Gospel and even Chinese influenced folk music and every moment is as breathtaking as the last. This is a truly shocking collection of American primitive music and concentrates on the oft-ignored section of American culture, the immigration which has made it what it is today. In this we hear what shaped American music at this time and we can hear clues as to how it has influenced the development of what we hear from America now. This selection is just so important, from the instrumentation down to the sentiment behind the lyrics, giving a real focus on how secluded and ignored these people must have been feeling in their new 'home', and mirroring the journeys we read about time and time again. If you had any interest in the American Primitive series of compilations, or more importantly in the Nonesuch Explorer compilations, this strikes in a place where the two meet and is breathtaking from start to finish.

VA - (2007) Black Mirror: Reflections in Global Musics 1918-1955

An enthused, superbly-curated collection of rare 78s. The set was compiled by Ian Nagoski, who runs the respected True Vine record shop in Baltimore, Md. Nagoski-- a righteous bliss-drone musician whose own recorded output is worth hearing-- was once an intern for La Monte Young's long-running "Dream House" installation in New York. He's written about music for The Wire, and in the 1990s he was a contributing editor for the exceptional and sorely-missed 'zine Halana. Nagoski's been collecting 78s since he was in high school, intrepidly and often blindly looking for stuff that sounds cool, even if the labels were all in Russian and he had no idea what it was going to sound like. As you can guess from the title, this assemblage of material comes from long ago and far away, all over the globe: Syria, Thailand, Laos, Yugoslavia, Scotland, Cameroon, China, Vietnam, England, Turkey, and a dozen more.

VA - (2006) Art of Field Recording Sampler

Prior to the planned release of a five-CD box set in 2007, this 24-track sampler CD was issued in late 2006, featuring field recordings made during the previous 50 years by Art Rosenbaum. Traveling in the Eastern part of the country (though most often in Georgia), Rosenbaum recorded folk musicians in numerous styles, from blues and old-timey music to fiddlers, blues, sacred harp singing, bluegrass, and performers who sang in languages other than English. The accompaniment is similarly varied, ranging from banjo, guitar, piano, autoharp, and mouth bow to none at all on a cappella pieces. It's hard to judge a sampler in isolation from the much larger box set it's previewing, though presumably this will serve the purpose of either arousing some folk enthusiasts' interest in buying the box set, or fulfilling the needs of less rabid collectors who will be content with just this one disc. Whether you stop with this or go on to the five-CD collection, it's a well-recorded collection of performers in informal circumstances -- sometimes there's chat and ambient noise, as well as music -- though the songs are usually not as striking, or polished, as the ones by musicians recording performances for the commercial market in the same genres (even back in the '20s or '30s). And none of these performers would be familiar as recording artists even to most folk fans, with the exception of Buell Kazee, here represented by a 1975 recording made the year before his death. Some of the tracks are primarily of documentary value, but there are some affecting recordings here with more of an individual personality, highlights including Cecil Barfield's strangely buzzing vocal style on "Georgia Blues"; a 1960 recording of Shirley Griffith's "Big Road Blues," a match for the better country-blues recordings of the folk revival with arresting ascending guitar lines; and the spooky spiritual of "Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down" (by Sister Fleeta Mitchell and Rev. Willie Mae Eberhard), the most recent recording (from 2006) on the disc.

VA - (2004) Inuit: 55 Historical Recordings

In order to appeal to both researchers and armchair travelers, ethnological records must present two traits: extensive (enough) documentation of the material presented, and a certain kind of romantic evocativeness. The first trait is the result of years of research. The second is more difficult to pin down and has to do with the variety in the material and how the recordings convey the geographical and historical nature of the performances -- if you prefer, call it the "exotic factor." Inuit: Fifty-Five Historical Recordings scores high on both counts, making it one of the (if not the) very essential sources of Inuit folklore. Overseen by the Danish ethnomusicologist Michael A. Hauser, himself an active field recordist, this album culls 52 traditional songs from the four corners of Greenland, plus three from Northern Canada (Pond Inlet and Cape Dorset). Recorded on-site between 1905 and 1987, these tracks capture an evolving culture in its own environment. The oldest recordings, preserved on wax cylinders, are difficult to listen to, but the melodies they salvage help put the more recent recordings in perspective. Men, women and children of all ages are singing of love, joy, sorrow, and daily life, sometimes a cappella or to the beating of a drum, solo, in duets (called duel-songs) or occasionally in groups. One recognizes elements from the hypnotic repetition of Native American tribes and the concept of melody found in Scandinavian folklore. Certain pieces also bear the influence of European music. The booklet provides descriptions of each song, the name, age and location of each singer, and indicates who recorded the song and when. Most of all, the listener is transported to another world, the authenticity of the recordings evoking grainy black and white footage of faraway times and faraway people.

VA - (2003) Hot Women: Women Singers From The Torrid Regions Of The World


This collection of lost 1920s-1940s 78rpm records was personally collected and arranged by R. CRUMB, and sets a pretty high bar with regard to who gets to participate. First, they have to be female. Next, they need to be from the 78rpm era. Then, they need to be “from the torrid regions of the world” -- we’re talking way balmy at the very least: Mexico, the Caribbean, Burma, Tunisia, Greece etc. Finally, they need to be good.

VA - (2003) Down In The Basement: Joe Bussard's Treasure Trove of Vintage 78s 1926-37

Joe Bussard is a veteran record collector (owning over 25,000 78s) and disc jockey who delights in sharing his recorded treasures with others. This CD allows one the opportunity to hear some of his favorite recordings, many of which are rarities. The 24 selections include country blues, 1920s good-time music, a few jazz performances (the most common of the recordings), early country music, string bands, and several unclassifiable numbers. Long "Cleve" Reed's "Original Stack O'Lee Blues" is heard from its only existing copy. Ranging from Big Bill Broonzy and Luis Russell's jazz band to Gene Autry and Gitfiddle Jim, this is a valuable set that is quite enjoyable from start to finish. Bussard's enthusiasm for early music is felt throughout the extensive liner notes, which tell tales of his life as a record collector. This single CD (hopefully there will be more) is highly recommended to those wondering what the excitement is to pre-swing music.

VA - (2002) Man Of Constant Sorrow And Other Timeless Mountain Ballads

Another classic collection of mountain ballads and old-timey heartbreakers from the '20s and '30s on Man of Constant Sorrow. Chestnuts like "Ommie Wise," "John Hardy," "Darling Cora," and the title track are interspersed with lesser-known recordings from B.F. Shelton, Grayson & Whitter, Charlie Poole, and Ernest Stoneman. The Blue Sky Boys' contribution, "In the Hills of Roane County," is a chillingly beautiful high lonesome murder ballad highlighting Earl and Bill Bolick's fraternal harmonies, and the youthful Cousin Emmy's stark "Pretty Little Miss Out in the Garden" is accompanied intimately by her own gentle banjo picking. Surprisingly, the only clunkers on the album come from the usually spectacular Eck Robertson, whose singing fiddle is unusually out of tune and he spends both of the tracks competing with a female vocalist who shouts over the top of him (pre-dating Audrey Williams' offenses by a couple of decades). These 20 tracks were taken directly from rare old 78s, so some pops and crackles are to be expected, but anyone with a worn-out copy of The Anthology of American Folk Music won't mind a bit.

VA - (2002) Classic Mountain Songs from Smithsonian Folkways


Riding the wave of the renewed interest in traditional American music, Classic Mountain Songs From Smithsonian Folkways Recordings showcases a handful of the greatest mountain ballads as performed by some of the most influential folk singers and songwriters of the 20th century. This collection features many classic performances from a wide variety of regional instrumental and song styles. These diverse styles and songs from the mountain communities of North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee include old-time fiddle and banjo pieces, early bluegrass, and traditional ballads, with a special emphasis on Appalachian vocal traditions. Doc and Merle Watson, Roscoe Holcomb, Clarence Ashley, and Dock Boggs are just a few of the revered roots artists who appear on this stellar compilation.

VA - (2000) Jazz The World Forgot Jazz Classics Of The 1920's Vol. 1

"Without endeavors like this, these magnificent recordings would evaporate from history ... full of warmth, excitement and joy, no other recent re-issue is as important, or as much pure fun." - L.A. Weekly
"'Jazz The World Forgot' may come to be regarded as one of the most important collections of early jazz available." - Artvoice

VA - (2000) Gay Life In Dikanka: R. Crumb's Old-Time Favorites


Absolutely delightful,eccentric and definitely off-the-wall collection of pre-WW2 "world music" - on closer look this is actually not so crazy as it appears,because it's simply a happy compilation of music that used to be popular in different parts of the world. Where others had Noel Coward and Cole Porter,in Scotland they had "Cardiff Banjo, Mandolin & Guitar Band" that played deliriously happy "Scotch Broth" (where one can hear "Loch Lommond" between other things) or in Romania they had "Zigeuner Orchestra Tanasse Codolban" with their local gypsy sounds.

Of course, the fact that this happy music is recorded decades ago and it has "old sound" (surprisingly well cleaned) makes the whole thing even better as it gives the collection special magic - its almost as discovering somebody's treasure chest and it actually is since Robert Crumb (famous cartoon artist) is music collector and these are hand-picked jewels from his collection. I recently saw Crumb playing Scott Joplin music on piano (it's on youtube) with such feeling and finesse that I instantly liked the guy,after this he is definitely one of my heroes.

This makes clear case for ageless power of music - listener is transported to another worlds and dimensions - no matter how long ago these musicians worked (and many of them are completely forgotten now) music still sounds great,which is more than we can say about today's current hits. After all,who in the world would like to re-search Britney Spears recordings a hundred years from now and look at any of these artists,it's pure joy and pleasure (I was actually dancing around the room last night with this; well,hopping around would be better expression since I have no idea how is one supposed to dance to this).
There is something for everyone here: its a virtual journey through different types of music popular at the time - polka,gypsy,waltz,even some strange attempts at jazz,war songs and so on - its absolutely recommended alternative listening for everybody fed up top 40 and instant hits.
To me,this is like God has been cleaning his attic and discovered some forgotten goodies. "Hey" he chuckles at himself "I completely forgot about Kornienko's Ukrainska Orchestra,what a nice guys they were,my happy little sweethearts" and he decided to remind the world about them.
Long live Robert Crumb and his collections, I only wish this sells in millions and gets sequels.

VA - (2000) Prayers From Hell (1927-40) White Gospel & Sinner's Blues

This compilation of hillbilly gospel music and twisted Southern white blues could have been taken from one of the discs in Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music -- there's even an essay included by Greil Marcus, a reprinted chapter from his Invisible Republic book. Normally, this would reek of copycat-ism and a cheap way to make a buck. Given that this is the Trikont label from Germany, you can be assured this isn't the case. Their notes and packages are superb, they make their records primarily for a European audience, where the Smith Anthology may not be available, and there is a different focus, one that is perversely curious in its approach to this very foreign -- to them -- music. Besides, they put some gems on here Smith didn't include because his anthology was based on only six years of recorded material. As for the music, it's stellar. This is solid, primitive, hillbilly gospel music and blues. The remastering is excellent and the material choice is wonderful. From the Carolina Ramblers Stringband's "That Lonesome Valley" to the Dixon Brothers' "Didn't Hear Nobody Pray" (covered recently by the Fairfield Four) and "When Gabriel Blows His Trumpet for Me" to Byron Parker and his mountaineer group, the Carter Family, and Bill Carlisle, we hear the sound of the hopeful pilgrims, assured of their place in the heavens with God. Some of these songs also plead for the one who is lost to turn from sin (the Carter Family's "Better Farther On"). The praise is definite but reserved, plaintively sung with the fear of God in their approach. There is a loneliness in these songs that speaks of everything from poverty to a sense of continual loss -- it's whistling in the graveyard music. However, the coin flips on this disc several time when we hear Frank Hutchison's "Hell Bound Train" and "Stackalee," or the mad-dog glass-chewing howl of Dock Boggs' wailing through "Country Blues," "New Prisoner's Song," "Sugar Baby," and "Pretty Polly." Boggs and Hutchison even the score -- they show the dark as death side of culturally enforced Christianity and refuse to be tamed or comforted. Joining them are Ledford and Daniel Nicholson's fiddle and banjo blues ballad "Ninety Nine Years" from 1932. It's a tale of love, betrayal. Gambling, love, and murder. All of these songs appear in the mirror of redemption, past it, out of its dimension and scope. But even here, rebellious as they are, Jesus wins. Just after Boggs' "Pretty Polly" sends chills down the spine for the coldness of its tale, its unrepentant bitterness and anger, we are led out of the entire compilation by Edith and Sherman Collins' "I Can't Feel at Home in This World Anymore." Something becomes obvious in the tune and both gospel and sinner's tunes turn back on themselves and meet the bridge where the title of this song is literally true in both cases, and the pitfalls of earthly existence is, too; it's just the attitude regarding departure from that place that's different.

VA - (1999) The Cornshucker's Frolic Vol. 1

This lively collection of celebratory music by rural musicians from the 1920s and '30s is a dream for fans of vintage country music. With fiddling reels by the likes of Fiddlin' Powers, blues by Pigmeat Pete & Catjuice Charlie, and a host of other long lost greats. While not for every taste, this is a fun collection of rare recordings.

VA - (1998) Hard Times Come Again No More Vol. 1&2

The theme here of first-hand hardship experience makes for some amazing music, whether by white or black artists. The buoyant "Down on Penny's Farm" is beautifully offset by Blind Alfred Reed's baleful complaint "How Can a Poor Man Stand," complete with fragile fiddle work and loping guitar work. And that's just the first two tracks. It's amazing stuff: part oral history, part entertainment and all priceless, though both volumes together may make for more hard times than you want to experience.



With the unlikely sound of a kazoo, the Allen Brothers kick off this fine volume of hard-time blues collected from the '20s and '30s. More tongue-in-cheek than its predecessor, this volume is not all moaning and weeping. Uncle Dave Macon & Sam McGhee create a joyful sound with dueling banjos on "Wreck of the Tennessee Gravey Train" and Earl Johnson & his Dixie Entertainers are hilarious on "I'm Satisfied." The disc proves some things never change: you have to laugh sometimes to keep from crying.  

VA - (1998) Black Banjo Songsters of North Carolina and Virginia


Thirty-two tracks of African-American banjo players from North Carolina and Virginia playing in the old-time folk style, recorded between 1974 and 1997. This is one of numerous releases illustrating that the roots of American music have more of a commonality than is often supposed. Many of the standards covered by the musicians on this record were (and are) in the repertoire of white folk artists, and it seems almost arbitrary to try to determine whether this is more of a country or a blues collection. Several of the players use odd tunings, and their instrumental skills outshine the vocals, which often sound like off-the-cuff afterthoughts. Although this is well-produced (with a booklet giving background on black banjo playing and the history behind the songs), it's really more of academic interest than something to play for entertainment; historical importance aside, it sounds like just another banjo collection. And "Coo Coo" is a classic song, but how many more versions do you want to hear?

VA - (1998) American Yodeling 1911-1946

Once again the music maniacs at Trikont have issued a collection as strange, spooky, and wonderful as only old weird American music can be. This time up it's yodeling from the 20th century. The Trikont wizards have assembled 26 tracks of all forms of American hillbilly yodeling, and given this collection, even Harry Smith would have been proud. Some of the artists assembled here are well known to fans of yodeling, others will be familiar to blues and country fans, but it's the selections themselves that set this apart from virtually any other yodeling collection available -- including those from the Smithsonian.

VA - (1997) Times Ain't Like They Used To Be Vol. 1

These are 23 rare 78s from the 1920s and 1930s, chosen to illustrate the wide range of "early American rural music" that made its way onto disc in the early days of the recording industry. This will not get nearly as much press as Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music box, yet it's on par with that ballyhooed re-release as an overview of the roots of American roots music, so to speak. Styles vary from country blues and fiddle hoedowns to banjo music and jug bands. The Memphis Jug Band is the only name here that might be familiar to more than the most well-versed folk historians. Highlights include J.P. Nestor and Norman Edmonds' "Train on the Island," a frenetic string band gallop; the Four Wanderers' eerie gospel tune, "The Fault's in Me"; and Ken Maynard's "Fannie Moore," a direct predecessor of country music in its vocal phrasing.

VA - (1997) The Secret Museum Of Mankind: Music Of North Africa


"Passionate music from Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and, yes, Timbuktu, recorded in the 1920s." -Jazz Times. "A fabulous range of sounds with dozens of marvelous singers from throughout the region." -Boston Globe.

VA - (1997) Close to Home [Old Time Music from Mike Seeger's Collection 1952-1967]

In the 1950's and sixties musician-collector Mike Seeger, inspired by the great folksong collectors of the 1930's, visited traditional musicians of the rural South. This is his handpicked selection of the recordings made during those visits. Included in the 38 selections are previously unreleased recordings by the well-known Sara & Maybelle Carter, Arthur Smith, Elizabeth Cotten, and Dock Boggs, as well as treasures by lesser-known artists. The enclosed booklet contains photographs and notes on the performance, which include virtuoso fiddle, banjo, and guitar music, unaccompanied ballad singing, and a story-teller entertaining his buddies in a fiddler's convention parking lot.

VA - (1996) How Can I Keep From Singing, Early American Religious Music And Song Vol. 1&2


A powerful and deeply moving overview of Early American religious music and song from both the white and black communities. Highlighted here are the fascinating panorama of American religious music styles from archaic fundamentalist modal hymns, to gospel quartets, to Pentecostal bands, to songsters accompanying themselves on guitars, banjos, and fiddles, to snippets of church services including some preaching, and much, much more. These albums provide an expansive overview of early American religious music.

VA - (1995) Secret Museum Of Mankind Vol.1: Ethnic Music Classics 1925-48

Compiled here are many of the greatest performances of world and ethnic music ever recorded. This volume represents a trip around the world, stopping at each port to sample one of that country's finest recordings of its indigenous music. Each of these recordings was captured at a period during the golden age of recording when traditional styles were at their peak of power and emotion. Included inside are extensive notes a beautiful period photographs that work together with the music to communicate an exciting sense of discovery.

VA - (1995) Polish Village Music


Recordings from the early Polish - American communities in New York and Chicago, from 1927 -1933. At the turn of the century the Polish-speaking population in Chicago drew music makers and music lovers from the villages and mountains of southeastern Poland, an area with a rich and distinctive tradition of music and song that continued to sustain immigrants in their new urban environment. The elegant violin/ flute dominated sounds reflect the dominant Chicago Polish ensemble sound of the period.

VA - (1994) Ukrainian Village Music


Одне з лічених закордонних видань української музики. Всі виконавці є самонавченими сільськими музиками, записи 1928-1933 років, втім звук прекрасно відновлений. Резонансний диск – в неті вистачає і рецензій, і схвальних відгуків світових аматорів етнічної музики, що відкрили для себе український її різновид.

VA - (1993) Mississippi Delta Blues Jam in Memphis, Vol. II

The more satisfying of the pair, cut in 1967-68. Some of R.L. Burnside's best solo work, impressive country blues by Joe Callicott (along with sides of his 1930 78) and four items by guitarist Houston Stockhouse and his combo.

VA - (1993) Mississippi Delta Blues Jam in Memphis, Vol. I

Capturing this marvelous set of studio performances from artists appearing at the 1969 Memphis Blues Festival. Kicking off with spirited fife and drum work from Napoleon Strickland with the Como Drum Band, the set also includes turns from Fred McDowell (both solo and with harmonica man Johnny Woods), Memphis Piano Red, Otha Turner, Furry Lewis, and the mysterious deaf-mute guitar team of R.L. Watson and Josiah Jones. There are some really great performances here, all well-recorded. A marvelous document.

VA - (1992) Please Warm My Weiner: Old Time Hokum Blues - Classic Recordings from the 1920s and '30s

Bawdy and vaudeville inspired light hearted songs and routines make up the thrust of the fine performances found in this compilation. Despite the tongue-in-cheek attitude of these selections, there is no sacrifice of musical quality as both country and urban artists contribute such tunes as Banana Man, You Put It In I'll Take It Out, Adam And Eve and The Coldest Stuff In Town.

VA - (1928) I Belong To This Band: Eighty-Five Years Of Sacred Harp Recording

Compiled by Matt Hinton and Lance Ledbetter. this CD features 30 recordings as varied as the earliest recordings of the genre form the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, home recordings made by small groups of singers in the 1950s and contemporary recordings of all day singings.

Rolling Stone: “To quote Leonard Cohen, ‘God is alive, magic is afoot’ in the soaring magnificence of Southern sacred-harp choirs, a robust, harmonically intricate blend of country joy and unearthly drone. It is living worship, too.”