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Smithsonian Folkways (SFWCD40198)

Sticks McGhee, Big Chief Ellis with Cephas & Wiggins, Doc Watson, John Jackson, Bill Williams, Pink Anderson, JC Burris, Reverend Gary Davis, Brownie McGhee, Archie Edwards, Martin, Bogan & Armstrong, Lesley Riddle, Peg Leg Sam, Etta Baker, Roscoe Holcomb, Josh White, Baby Tate, Marvin & Johnny Foddrell, John Tinsley, EC Ball.

I love these Smithsonian Folkways compilations. They're just filled with wonderful traditional  American music from a better time and this one is no different - jam-packed with rarities from hard-to-find Folkways vinyl albums, old Asch 78s, obscure CD tracks and performances unearthed from the tapes of the Smithsonian Festival Of American Life concerts held in the 70s and early ‘80s and, guess what? There ain't a clunker among ‘em.

As you'll see from the artist list above, almost every musician of merit from Appalachia is included and the performances start with a bang when Sticks McGhee slides in with a thundering rock'n'roll railroad blues My Baby's Gone which is cranked up on a knocked out guitar with some frantic harp playing from both Sonny Terry and JC Burris. John Jackson's vocals sound a bit more forceful than usual on his beautiful version of the murder ballad Railroad Bill with his guitar still sparkling and sizzling like it always did.

Pink Anderson's version of Joe Callicot's You Don't Know My Mind comes from the old Folkways LP Carolina Medicine Show and here Pink demonstrates how to turn a rambling Mississippi moan into a hot stepping piece of Appalachian dance music. Archie Edwards's The Road is Rough And Rocky is a guitar playing tour-de-force with Archie skipping along, rattling out complicated guitar lines while hollering out his energy filled tribute to John Hurt.

If you want some top-notch string band music, let Martin, Bogan And Armstrong's brilliant Hoodoo Blues wash over you. Here, Ted Bogan lays down a strong backbeat of mighty guitar chords that allow Carl Martin to dart all over the melody with his stinging, snappy mandolin notes. Then the tune just meanders along with each musician stepping in to add a few delicate touches and flashy runs but Howard Armstrong wins the cigar with his wonderfully soulful violin solos.

Lesley Riddle spent ten years travelling the hills with AP Carter discovering traditional tunes for Carter Family recordings and more importantly, he was the guitarist who inspired Maybelle Carter to invent her famous flat-picking style. It's great to hear him on stage in 1976 playing Red River Blues; a rhythmically inventive, fluid version of Blind Boy Fuller's Bye Bye Baby. Riddle's guitar fairly rings and his vocals are surprisingly solid and confident for a man the wrong side of seventy. Mind you Etta Baker was eighty when she made One Dime Blues in 1992. This one's a beautifully paced instrumental guitar piece filled with complex finger-picking on the treble strings and rock steady runs on the bass. Her performance is as playful and fluent as in her younger days when she was inspiring future stars like Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder with her songs like Freight Train, Railroad Bill and Bully of The Town.

Roscoe Holcomb was a hill country farmer/miner/lumber mill worker and national treasure from Daisy, Kentucky whose output was a combination of mountain songs, religious music and blues which he performed with a steely conviction. Witness his energetic guitar attack and stark lonesome vocals on this version of Mississippi Heavy Water Blues which he learned first hand from a Barbecue Bob 78 in 1927 - a stunning performance. Another white artist with a complete understanding and love for the blues is the great EC Ball who's Blues In The Morning delivers a mess of clean picking and startling ideas inspired by the playing of his heroes Jimmie Rodgers and Sam McGee.

There's much more great music on this fantastic CD but space is running out. Do yourself a big favour and treat yourself to this brilliantly compiled CD. Not only is the music top class, the 40 page booklet with copious notes by Barry Lee Pearson and Jeff Place is great too!!

Ask for SFWCD40198

Nice price-only £12.55 plus p&p here at Red Lick

Review Date: March 2010

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