Agony Shorthand

Monday, October 27, 2003
V/A : “FLOWERS IN THE WILDWOOD – WOMEN IN EARLY COUNTRY MUSIC 1923-1939”….You have to hand it to German archive label Trikont – they are doing the best job of pretty much anyone in the 21st Century at pulling together disparate, mostly unheard and rare pre-WWII 78rpm sides from around the globe, & packaging them in fun, illuminating, well-researched compilations. "Flowers In The Wildwood" shines a light on female-sung (and in a handful of cases, female-played) country music from the Deep South of the US, from what is usually considered the genre’s earliest days. Most of these West Virginians and Tenneseeans traveled to studios in Chicago to record these numbers, usually at the urging of barnstorming talent scouts.

It might be said to stretch the definition a bit to call all 25 tracks here “country”; to my ears at least a quarter of the numbers are run-of-the-mill mainstream, tin pan alley novelty songs, which pretty much could have been written in Seattle or Great Neck for their complete lack of southern je ne sais quoi. But most of the rest is outstanding. Top marks go to the until-now known but never heard COON CREEK GIRLS, an honest-to-goodness all-girl band 35 years before the Carrie Nations. Their “Flowers Blooming in the Wildwood” and “Little Birdie” are achingly raw and beautiful, and of a par with their similarly-inspired contemporaries the CARTER FAMILY. Speaking of country’s first family, they make two appearances here, clocking in with the great and mournful “Just Another Broken Heart” and “Walking In The King’s Highway”. Man, did Sara Carter's voice make a depressing transition through the 1930s! The buoyant and sing-songy lead vocalist of the late 20s “Keep On The Sunny Side”-era Carter Family gives way here to world-weary, life’s-been-hard vocals that were her forte throughout the group’s waning years (these recordings are from 1936 and 1938). Another winner here is the frantic leadoff track “Wish I Was a Single Girl Again” from LULU BELLE & SCOTTY -- you honky tonk punkers may remember a cover of this song by BLOOD ON THE SADDLE on the “Hell Comes To Your House, Part Two” comp. You also get two tracks from experimental yodelers the DEZURIK SISTERS, a pack of acapella gospel numbers, some wacky comedy for the church folk target market, and finally, the so-bad-it’s-good, semi-unlistenable “On The Banks of the Old Tennessee” from the sadistic MR. & MRS. J.W. BAKER. I’m going to give an unqualified thumbs-up on this collection – and so far, pretty much everything I’ve heard from the Trikont label thus far.