Agony Shorthand

Thursday, August 07, 2003
VARIOUS ARTISTS : “THE MUSIC OF KENTUCKY – EARLY AMERICAN RURAL CLASSICS 1927-37, VOL. 1”….Another one of those tremendous Yazoo Records excavations of US heartland treasures from the dawn of recorded musical history. This set has now reached two volumes of 25+ tracks each, superceded in small part by Yazoo’s own brand new leviathan 7-CD box set called “Kentucky Mountain Music”. As one curmudgeonly reviewer puts it: “….who in the world would want to listen to this old, scratchy, terribly played and terribly sung material…..if you like Grandpa Jones, Alison Krauss, Bela Flek, or anyone that plays bluegrass like them, then do yourself a favor and do not buy this CD”. Hear hear! If, on the other hand, you don’t, and you love old, scratchy, “terribly played” bluegrass and fiddle breakdowns, you’re going to be all over this like stink on a pig.

Volume One of “MUSIC OF KENTUCKY” presents a rotating handful of all-time great traditional musicians/masters of early country fiddling, banjo & guitar playing, and singing. You get the glorious ALFRED KARNES, who sounds like he’s about 85 and just dying to give you a stern lecture of the evils of booze & wimmin – his opening “Called To The Foreign Field” is a terrific evocation of how terribly exciting it must have been for these true believers to ship overseas and do the Lord’s work. Certainly a great bulk of this collection is religious in nature, never too annoying until you get to ERNEST PHIPPS AND HIS HOLINESS SINGERS and their deadpan Sunday church psalms. B.F. SHELTON is absolutely top notch as well – he’s only slightly less frightening and lonesome than his peer DOCK BOGGS, and they even play a great deal of similar material (e.g. “Pretty Polly”). There are also a ton of instrumentals chock full of sped-up, crazy rhythm, with great titles like “The Old Hen She Cackled”, “Ruffles and Bustles” and “Ned Went A Fishin”. I’m no expert on the genre but have been buying it up piecemeal for years now, and this volume’s easily of a par with my other roots-n-fiddlin' favorites, “Folks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow” and “Music From The Lost Provinces”.