Have any of you ever wondered what the deal is with those albums for sale on Amazon that are described in the following manner: "CD-R Note: This product is manufactured on demand when ordered from Amazon.com." Well, wonder no more since the subject of this review is one of those albums. According to Amazon,
CD-Rs and DVD-Rs (the "R" stands for "recordable") look like the discs you're used to and offer the same audio and image quality. The recordable media is used to manufacture titles on demand, as fully authorized by the content provider.I'm not going to complain too much about this particular item since I knew about the medium on which it was recorded prior to ordering the product. However, the biggest disappointment is the fact that the booklet notes were not reproduced in this facsimile of the genuine article. For anyone who is as obsessed as I am with prewar blues and its various roots and branches, you know how important such information is and what a good job the Yazoo and Document labels usually do in presenting it. To further complicate matters, the track listing includes the titles of the songs but not the names of the musicians. Seriously, Amazon, if you're going to sell these CDRs for the same price as new CDs, you really need to include such minutiae in order to justify how much they cost. Such shortcomings don't make my job as a reviewer any easier, either, since I often rely on such information as research material for my write-ups. So, caveat emptor to those thinking about purchasing these CreateSpace CDRs. Does anybody out there have the original CD version of this album? If so, would you be willing to scan the complete booklet notes and e-mail them to me?
Through manufacturing on demand, CreateSpace, part of the Amazon.com group of companies, enables Amazon.com to offer music and video content that might not otherwise be available. Each disc comes fully packaged, with artwork, in a standard jewel case for audio and an Amaray case for video, although for reissued products the artwork may differ from the original.
CreateSpace works with many of the leading music labels, television networks, film studios, and other distributors to make these titles available to Amazon.com customers. All products are manufactured from original source materials (e.g., for audio products, uncompressed CD-quality audio).
Document's superb Field Recordings series gets off to a great start with this excellent collection of material collected in Virginia shortly before the United States' entry into World War II. Most, if not all, of these tracks were recorded by Harold Spivacke, who was head of the Library of Congress's Music Division from 1937 until 1972, and the better-known John Lomax, whose efforts for the Archive of American Folk Song should be familiar to the majority of Record Fiend readers. In a fashion consistent with the latter's frequently utilized modus operandi, the bulk of these sessions took place in correctional institutions - in this particular case, the State Penitentiary in Richmond and the Virginia State Farm in Lynn.
In many respects, Field Recordings Volume 1: Virginia 1936-1941 can be appreciated as a companion piece to Red River Blues 1934-1943 since four of the featured musicians appear on both discs. Steve Leggett's writings that are posted throughout the Internet have helped provide me with what little information is available about this CD and the music that it contains. My educated guess is that the first 13 tracks - consisting of spirituals, songster material, and track-lining songs - were recorded at the State Penitentiary in Richmond in 1936. John Williams's "'Twas on a Monday," Willie Williams's "(The) New Burying Ground," and "Bitin' Spider" (a variant of "Take This Hammer"), and J. (James) Wilson's "Can't You Line 'Em" and "Laying Rail (1 & 2)" are the type of spellbinding a cappella group performances that sadly seemed to be collected only when blacks were incarcerated in the hellhole prisons of the South. Simply put, the unaccompanied solo pieces - Willie Williams's "Oh Lawd, Don't 'Low Me to Beat 'Em," Wilson's "Have Children of My Own," "Po' Boy," and "Frankie and Johnny," and Lemuel Jones's "Po' Farmer (Poor Farmers)" and "Shake It, Mama" - are no less affecting. Jimmie Owens supplies some excellent slide guitar work on his interpretation of "John Henry," while the six-string instrumental accompaniment on "Freight Train Blues" by James Henry Diggs (who might or might not be backed by another musician) suffers in comparison solely because it seems to have been improperly recorded. Tracks 14 through 31 almost definitely come from Lomax and Spivacke's visit to the Virginia State Farm in Lynn in 1936, which resulted in a discovery who arguably ranks behind only Lead Belly in terms of significance for incarcerated performers documented by the Library of Congress. According to Leggett, Jimmie Strothers worked the medicine show circuit before doing a stint as a miner. An underground explosion left him blind and necessitated a return to playing music (as a street singer) in a professional capacity. Strothers found himself at the State Farm after being tried and convicted for murdering his wife with a hatchet. His criminality aside, he was a proto-bluesman with a repertory that does much to give us an idea of what kind of material was commonly performed by musicians of his ilk. His booming stentorian voice and rudimentary yet forceful approach on banjo and guitar indicate that he was a songster of the highest caliber. One can only wonder if Strothers could have been successful as a commercial recording artist had he not run afoul of the law. His proficiency with a variety of material is nothing short of astonishing, whether its gospel ("Keep Away from the Bloodstained Banners," "Run Down, Eli," "We Are Almost Down to the Shore"), minstrel-medicine show tunes ("Tennessee Dog," "Jaybird," "Daddy, Where You Been So Long?," "Though I Heard My Banjo Say") work songs ("Corn-Shucking Time," "I Used to Work on the Tractor," "Dis Ol' Hammer"), or a bawdy ditty ("Poontang Little, Poontang Small"). (As a side note, Leggett incorrectly identifies these tracks as being Strothers' complete recorded works since he does not take into account the blues masterpiece "Goin' to Richmond" included on the aforementioned Red River Blues.) On another religious number, "Do, Lord, Remember Me," the blind songster is joined by Joe Lee, who are both pictured (from left to right) on the CD booklet's cover at the top of this post. The latter's solo a cappella versions of the spirituals "House Done Built Without Hands," "Shines Like a Star in the Morning," "Oh the Lamb of God Done Sanctified Me," "I'll Go On," and "Rise, Run Along, Mourner" are impressive on their own merits. I'm going to bet that the last three tracks were recorded after 1936 with the strong possibility that all of them date from 1941. Exactly where the sessions took place is another matter. The Emmons Baptist Church group offers more sanctified pleasures on "Oh Jesus, Let Me Ride" and "I'm Strivin'," which are marred somewhat by lousy sound quality. In spite of its nondescript title, "Blues" is a fascinating patchwork of different songs ("Nearer My God to Thee," "Alabama Bound," "Trouble, I've It All My Days," "Matchbox Blues," among others) strung together in stream-of-consciousness fashion by the mysterious slide guitar-playing "Big Boy." To my ears, it sounds like the Virginia equivalent to Tom Bradford's "Going North" featured on Alabama: Black Secular & Religious Music 1927-1934.
1. 'Twas on a Monday - John Williams
2. Oh Lawd, Don't 'Low Me to Beat 'Em - Willie Williams
3. (The) New Buryin' Ground - Willie Williams
4. Bitin' Spider - Willie Williams
5. Can't You Line 'Em - J. Wilson
6. Laying Rail Chant (1 & 2) - J. Wilson
7. Have Children of My Own - J. Wilson
8. Po' Boy - J. Wilson
9. Frankie and Johnny - J. Wilson
10. Po' Farmer (Po' Farmers) - Lemuel Jones
11. Shake It, Mama - Lemuel Jones
12. John Henry - Jimmie Owens
13. Freight Train Blues - James Henry Diggs
14. Keep Away from the Bloodstained Banners - Jimmie Strothers
15. Tennessee Dog - Jimmie Strothers
16. Run Down, Eli - Jimmie Strothers
17. We Are Almost Down to the Shore - Jimmie Strothers
18. Jaybird (take 1) - Jimmie Strothers
19. Jaybird (take 2) - Jimmie Strothers
20. Corn-Shucking Time - Jimmie Strothers
21. Daddy, Where You Been So Long? - Jimmie Strothers
22. I Used to Work on the Tractor - Jimmie Strothers
23. Though I Heard My Banjo Say - Jimmie Strothers
24. House Done Built Without Hands - Joe Lee
25. Dis Ol' Hammer - Jimmie Strothers
26. Shines Like a Star in the Morning - Joe Lee
27. Do, Lord, Remember Me - Jimmie Strothers & Joe Lee
28. Poontang Little, Poontang Small - Jimmie Strothers
29. Oh the Lamb of God Done Sanctified Me - Joe Lee
30. I'll Go On - Joe Lee
31. Rise, Run Along, Mourner - Joe Lee
32. Oh Jesus, Let Me Ride - Group (Emmons Baptist Church)
33. I'm Strivin' - Group (Emmons Baptist Church)
34. Blues - "Big Boy"