Agony Shorthand

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

This series appears to be yet another "catch all" for all the pre-WWII hillbilly, blues and backporch musics that Yazoo have collected over the years. It might just be the single best overview you're going to get of the breadth of American non-jazz sounds of the day, despite the appearance of most of the tracks on other Yazoo releases. It all depends on where you're coming from. For instance, if you've never heard SON HOUSE's "Dry Spell Blues", hearing its scratched genius for the first time near the end of this CD might just be one of the most revelatory things that'll ever happen to you. Then again, if you're a hardened 78rpm collector (or, like me, an accumulator of 78rpm tracks in digital form), you might just get mildly annoyed that you've now got it on a 4th or 5th CD. Yet it's hard not to reckon that Yazoo have never really packaged up the wealth of their bounty into a package this plentiful or consistently great. Now up to eight 75-minute volumes, that's roughly 200 classics, or at least moderately adequate slices of every sub-genre the 1920s and 30s had to offer -- excluding, as I said, any jazz or big band. There are more diamonds than dirtballs for sure.

What'll get the pulse racing for most folks on this one are these insane, light-speed Kentucky fiddle breakdowns that are sprinkled throughout Volume #7. Top picks are the leadoff "Bust Down Stomp" by DILLY AND HIS DILL PICKLES (I'm serious!), "Texas Quickstep" by the RED HEADED FIDDLERS and an only moderately breakneck "Horseshoe Bend" by the STRIPLING BROTHERS. There's also a super-rare and super-bleak blues 78 that I read about in "78 Quarterly" (so sue me!) by KING SOLOMON HILL called "Times Has Done Got Hard", apparently one of the most rare records of all time. It's really strong, if second tier sub-Skip James/Robert Wilkins broke-down blues, but with this trebly, ringing guitar sound that cuts through 75 hostile intervening years like butter. And who is ED BELL? His "Ham Bone Blues" has the same flavor of about 20 other similar blues, but something about his vocals and sad-eyed delivery gives him a big edge. I'm going to start dialing his digits into Google posthaste to see what I can find. This CD's awash with new discoveries and old pals, and the series is well worth building up, one jam-packed volume at a time.