Monday, May 7, 2012

REPOST: The Oxford American Southern Sampler 1997 Music Compilation

It's hard to believe that The Oxford American has been doing their annual music issue for 15 years now because it seems like I bought the first installment from 1997 only yesterday.  For those already familiar with this magazine, you know how great these editions are since they include the usual top-notch writing in addition to a CD that showcases the music of artists with varying degrees of Southern roots.  In situations where I don't care for particular tracks, I still find myself reading the corresponding articles because they are typically enlightening even if the performances are not.


This anthology dates from the time when the music issue first began, back when the magazine was actually published in Oxford, Mississippi and they were still calling these collections Southern Samplers instead of Southern Music CDs.  As with other discs that would follow, this compilation is a decidedly mixed bag but includes enough quality material to make it an enjoyable overall listening experience.  Not surprisingly, the more recent stuff generally holds less interest for me, whether we're talking about what modern-day critics call Americana (e.g. Steve Forbert's "It Sure Was Better Back Then," Lucinda Williams's "Pineola," and Kate Campbell's "When Panthers Roamed in Arkansas"), neo-blues (e.g. Ted Hawkins's "The Good and the Bad" and Corey Harris's "Fish Ain't Bitin'"), country music of more recent vintage (Rosanne Cash's "Price of Temptation" and Blue Mountain's "Bloody 98"), a painful reminder of the unfortunate swing revival from the 1990s (in this case, the Squirrel Nut Zippers trying to sound old timey on "St. Louis Cemetery Blues"), or postmodern zydeco (in the form of "Good Times" by Chris Ardoin & Double Clutchin').  Even so, selections such as these might be right up the alley for some of you readers - and if that's the case, more power to you.


Even though "Got It Made in the Shade," "Give Me Back My Job," and "I Take It on Home" might not respectively represent prime-period bluegrass legend Jimmy Martin and Sun Records veterans Carl Perkins and Charlie Rich, they still have much to recommend to them.  Gospel doesn't get much better than Sister Rosetta Tharpe's "Nobdody's Fault but Mine," and the more recently-recorded instrumental "Matthew 7:7" by the Graceland McCollugh Tigers is moving in its own way as well.  Not surprisingly, the prewar blues tracks, Skip James's influential tour de force "I'm So Glad" and Charley Jordan's superb "Keep It Clean," qualify as my favorite items on this collection, while cult musician Jim Dickinson demonstrates why he was held in such high regard by the Rolling Stones and many others on "Down in Mississippi."  His steady producer's hand graces a fine piece of Memphis R&B, "Sho' Do," performed by Ollie Nightingale & the Hodges Brothers.  Regarding the New Orleans funk nugget "Pungee," if you're not already acquainted with the Meters, don't come back here until you are.  On the other hand, I'll cut some slack for those not familiar with blackface minstrel Emmet Miller.  Granted, his voice is a bit of an acquired taste, but his interpretation of "St. Louis Blues" remains intriguing.  And finally, Phineas Newborn, Jr. demonstrates why he might be one of the most unfairly neglected jazz pianists in history on the ivory-tinkling workout "Abbers Song."


1. It Sure Was Better Back Then - Steve Forbert
2. Pineola - Lucinda Williams
3. Got It Made in the Shade - Jimmy Martin
4. Nobody's Fault but Mine - Sister Rosetta Tharpe
5. The Good and the Bad - Ted Hawkins
6. Give Me Back My Job - Carl Perkins
7. I'm So Glad - Skip James
8. Down in Mississippi - Jim Dickinson
9. When Panthers Roamed in Arkansas - Kate Campbell
10. I Take It on Home - Charlie Rich
11. St. Louis Cemetery Blues - Squirrel Nut Zippers
12. Fish Ain't Bitin' - Corey Harris
13. Pungee - The Meters
14. Sho' Do - Ollie Nightingale & the Hodges Bros.
15. Good Times - Chris Ardoin & Double Clutchin'
16. St. Louis Blues - Emmett Miller
17. Abbers Song - Phineas Newborn, Jr.
18. Price of Temptation - Rosanne Cash
19. Bloody 98 - Blue Mountain
20. Keep It Clean - Charley Jordan
21. Matthew 7:7 - Graceland McCollough Tigers

Thursday, May 3, 2012

REPOST: String Ragtime - To Do This You Got to Know How (Yazoo, 1974)

String Ragtime - To Do This You Got to Know How qualifies as one of the more unusual albums in Yazoo Records' original L-1000 series of LPs as the featured musicians come from various racial backgrounds, all of the tracks are instrumental, and it was never reissued on compact disc.  As one can surmise from the title, this collection focuses on ragtime, but not the piano variety (e.g. Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag"), which is what most people think of when discussing this variety of music.  The performances, recorded between the mid 1920s and mid 1950s, convincingly demonstrate that the genre lent itself well to all manner of stringed instruments, including guitar, banjo, violin, and many others.  The common thread that unites these performances is the breathtaking combination of speed and precision that nowadays is something of a lost art.


One of the things that makes this album so fascinating is the aforementioned diversity of the musicians who included ragtime pieces in their repertories, which demonstrates the wide-ranging appeal it had throughout the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Moreover, it is interesting to note the staying power this musical style possessed since these 14 tracks were all recorded anywhere from 15 to 45 years after its commercial peak.  Only on an anthology such as this would one find a recording by a couple of Hawaiian guitarists (Jim & Bob's interpretation of "Sweet Georgia Brown") compiled alongside material by a Jewish mandolinist from Kiev (Dave Apollon's "Mandolin Blues" and "Russian Rag").  Less surprising but no less enjoyable selections are those by Western swing groups and hillbilly string bands:  the East Texas Serenaders' "Arizona Stomp," John Dilleshaw & The String Marvel's "Cotton Patch Rag," Walker's Corbin Ramblers' "E Rag," and Harald Goodman and His Tennessee Valley Boys' "Banjo Rag."  That three of the tracks by black artists - "Somethin' Doin" by Nap Hayes & Matthew Prater, "State Street Rag" by Robert "Louie Bluie" Armstrong & Ted Bogan, and "Dallas Rag" by the Dallas String Band - sound as though they could have been done by whites provides further evidence that early American music resulted from a common heritage between the races.  Robert Maxwell's "Spaghetti Rag" and Bob Roberts' "Persian Lamb Rag" represent a pop music (or perhaps, more accurately, a novelty tune) take on ragtime.  The former was recorded circa 1956 (although the original sheet music dates from 1910) and features a harp-tenor banjo-tuba arrangement.  In similar fashion, the latter seems to have been first published in 1908 and, in this case, waxed in 1954 by a band that sounds like it included a tenor banjoist, pianist, drummer, and a small horn section.  "Banjo Rag" by Chauncey C. Lee (which is totally different from the like-titled track by Harald Goodman) and "To Do This You Got to Know How" by blues guitarist Lonnie Johnson are, quite simply, tours de force that will leave the listener awestruck.


1. Sweet Georgia Brown - Jim & Bob (The Genial Hawaiians)
2. Somethin' Doin' - Nap Hayes & Matthew Prater
3. Arizona Stomp - East Texas Serenaders
4. Banjo Rag - Chauncey C. Lee
5. Spaghetti Rag - Robert Maxwell
6. Cotton Patch Rag - John Dilleshaw & The String Marvel
7. To Do This You Got to Know How - Lonnie Johnson
8. Mandolin Blues - Dave Apollon
9. Russian Rag - Dave Apollon
10. E Rag - Walker's Corbin Ramblers
11. Banjo Rag - Harald Goodman and His Tennessee Valley Boys
12. Persian Lamb Rag - Bob Roberts
13. State Street Rag - Robert "Louie Bluie" Armstrong & Ted Bogan
14. Dallas Rag - Dallas String Band