Oh and the other "bonus" is that Hutchison recorded one of the great songs about the sinking of the Titanic-a rather unique song-but maybe you are sick of that by now. I think less than half of this material has been previously available on reissues. Probably the best things were on those reissues, but there's plenty of great music here that was previously quite hard to find. And if this full serving is too much for even the biggest old-time listeners to listen to this much intense craziness at one time, well-take a break and start in again!
All but one of the numbers on the classic County reissue Red Hot Breakdown are here on this first disc. Old-time fiddle band music doesn't get much more exciting than Johnson's soaring, sometimes screeching fiddle, not always quite finding the note he's after but always pushing to the limit. The percussive banjo of Emmet Bankston and the guitar of Byrd Moore on the earliest cuts and Red Henderson on the later ones provide a strong rhythmic foundation for Johnson's dynamic fiddling and singing. I don't know if you'd say that Earl Johnson's singing is an acquired taste; I've always found it appealing, but not everyone will.
He's no crooner, no copier of the smoother Riley Puckett style, even though Johnson's recordings reflect the influence of the earliest Skillet Licker releases, but his singing is authentic, often boisterous, and never maudlin even on the sentimental songs mentioned above. Falsetto vocals in the Gid Tanner manner are provided by one of the band members on many songs.
Fewer of the recordings on volume 2 will be familiar to most old-time fans. Included are the rest of Johnson's sessions for OKeh in , '28, '30, and '31 plus six sides made for Victor in Among the Victors are two duets by Earl and his wife Lula Bell, lovely rustic gospel music.
It's unfortunate that five numbers on volume 2 are marred by the laughter of some of the band in the tiresome manner of the "laughing records" that were popular in the early recording days, an annoyance so severe that I usually find myself skipping past these cuts and missing much fine fiddling; in fact, on these cuts it's double fiddle with the second fiddler unidentified.
I would like to see Document do a better job of cleaning up the scratchy sound from the 78s. That's a drawback to both discs, but more pronounced on the second which includes the later and rarer 78s. Tony Russell's notes are informative and entertaining though briefer than I'd like. For readers who have not sampled much of Earl Johnson's output, it's high time that you do.
He was a superb dance fiddler, the wildest of the Georgia Crazies, and evidently a wonderful entertainer. Volume 1 is the better of the two if you can only spring for one. If you have the old County LP, you might want the second disc instead to get more material you don't have. It's all "red hot. It's hard to overestimate the importance, the widespread influence, of fiddler Clark Kessinger's early recordings. He was a virtuoso of prodigious ability with an immaculate sense of timing and taste.
The noted violinist Joseph Szigeti, upon meeting Kessinger and hearing him play some of his showpieces, actually asked in amazement, "How do you do that? Clark Kessinger was a West Virginia native who learned the long bow technique from area fiddlers, most notably the legendary Ed Haley.
His repertoire reflects Haley too, such as the version of "Forked Deer" and "Portsmouth," a tune usually associated with Haley. Kessinger also borrowed numbers from the recordings of other hillbilly fiddlers of the time. But wherever the pieces came from, Clark Kessinger always put his own stamp on them.
The first recording session of Clark and Luches Kessinger Luches was Clark's nephew included a square-dance caller on 8 of the 14 sides. These proved to be successful sellers because of Clark's exquisite fiddling and the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company wisely chose to record him thereafter without the distraction of dance calls. The company also encouraged the Kessingers to cut a bunch of familiar tunes that were always in demand. Luches' guitar accompaniment, never the extravagant Riley Puckett approach whose merits are still argued today, nor the dazzling Gene Meade style heard on Clark Kessinger's later records, was always appropriate and supportive.
So understated was his playing that few ever consider him when thinking about their favorite backup players, but he was consistently excellent. I must admit that for years I was ignorant of how much style and repertoire had been appropriated from Kessinger's early recordings by fiddlers everywhere. Midwesterners, too, have picked up tunes like "Johnny Bring the Jug Around the Hill" and passed them around.
Many fiddlers have said they don't like Clark Kessinger's slickness and questionable taste. Usually these folks have been listening to the later recordings made in the s and '70s with bluegrass backup. Whether you like these later records of Kessinger or not, do yourself a favor and try the vintage Kessinger. Only a handful of other early recorded fiddlers were as influential or could touch him in style and execution. Document Records has done us a tremendous service by offering all these recordings, complete and in order.
Unfortunately the sound quality leaves something to be desired on many of the cuts.
We have come to expect very clean remastering, especially on CDs, and admitting that some 78s are rare and clean copies not available, some of the ones that are so distorted on these CDs have been previously reissued with much better sound quality. Charles Wolfe did the notes; they're good as far as they go, but the limitations of the one-fold insert means they are sketchy and incomplete.
If you can only choose one volume to buy, go with whichever has the tunes you want or don't already have on other reissues. All are equally filled with excellent tunes, a mix of the familiar and the rare, and with top notch fiddling. I've been sitting and listening to this CD for hours now, over and over.
Partly because that's the only responsible way to review something, but with this one it's just that I can't turn it off. Walt Koken and I started out on the old-time music trail at about the same time, the late '60s. In fact, in his beautiful notes to this CD I not only find myself mentioned a couple of times-Walt and the other Highwoods folks came to visit us Fuzzies in Chapel Hill, NC back around and a good time was definitely had by all! It was a Dan Hicks concert, opened by Dr.
When I hear Aaron's time, it makes me laugh out loud, because Roosevelt can't lose him. This recording is irritating because it seems to condescend to its listeners, assuming they need constant provoking with cute little banjo-mandolin breaks to keep interested, and assuming that they are not capable of enjoying anything real and honest about the old railroad days. Dishoom dishoom drrr drrr. The quartet follows him down and punctuates the final two notes as it then fades away. The Boston Globe may earn a portion of sales from products that are purchased through our site as part of our Affiliate Partnerships with retailers. He even manages to scoop up one of his Spanish grammar books as he races out the unhinged door and into the golden sunlight of the October morning.
Right after Altamont. Walt has always been a great banjo player, but the Highwoods was more in need of a fiddler and he was that too, oh yes, so his banjo talents kind of sputtered under a bushel for the '70s while he traveled the world-what he calls in his notes "the ramble. The tunes offered herein cover a wide range within the basic clawhammer style. Some are barn burners-"Finger Lakes Ramble" is on fire, and so full of notes, a hard rain on a perfectly tuned tin roof.
Others, like "Turkey Trottin'" are mellow and easy-going, and Walt offers us tastes of his matured, rich voice, older, probably wiser, and still with that little hint of a smile that he always just kept from breaking into a grin when he sang with the Highwoods. It's easy to think of the banjo as an accompanying instrument-because it certainly is-but when you hear Walt on "Money Musk" or "Billy in the Lowland" or "Gray Eagle" you see possibilities for melody you just won't have thought of before.
And Walt understands that every tempo has a tune--it's not all breakneck hoedowns, his banjo mastery is up to everything, including "Hello Central, Give Me Dr. Jazz," and the gorgeous "Laughing Waltz," and a wonderful original Walt calls "Banjo Sprite," about which he comments: "can you envision the little thing bouncing up and down the banjo's fingerboard. Walt ends the album up with "Ground Hog," pretty much the Round Peak version, great singing, and he even has Marty Lebenson blowing the harp on this one-the only guest artist in evidence except for some distant laughing voices somewhere way off on "Turkey Trottin'": the CD was recorded direct to DAT in Walt's parlor, and is full of the warmth of a real "natural" room.
Although the music is of course the main thing with any CD, I can't say enough here about the sense this whole effort presents of Walt Koken, the whole person. We thought back then, in the late '60s, that there was something so pure and honest about a plucked string, a skin head, horse hair strung between the ends of a thin stick.
Acoustic music has decreased in scope over time, and 'unplugged' just means hide the wire. When the police stopped us and searched us on the highway as frequently happened in the '70s , we always thought it was another injustice that would be overcome in time, but currently there's a television show with videos of police stopping and searching people on the road!
Walt's music here, informed by these truths in these strange times, soars above them nonetheless. The notes are like beautiful raindrops, and perhaps a little like tears as well, for those fine old days that aren't honored as they ought to be. Thanks Walt. Let's have a tune one of these days! According to the notes accompanying this CD, Johnnie Lewis was born near Eufala, Alabama in , moved around a bit in Alabama and Georgia, supporting himself as a painter and day laborer, until the mids, at which time he relocated to Chicago.
Once in Chicago, he worked as a painter exclusively, maintaining a notebook listing over satisfied customers. He was still living there as of , which is the last time Chris Strachwitz, president of Arhoolie Records was in contact with him. Strachwitz concludes the CD notes by requesting that anyone knowing Lewis's whereabouts contact him.
The recordings included on this CD were made at two sessions in , at which time Lewis was, by the sound of it, a very vigorous years old. Despite the CD's title there does not appear to have been anything distinctly Alabaman about Lewis's approach to slide guitar, so perhaps his playing can be construed "Alabama slide guitar" simply by virtue of his having been born in Alabama. Of the 18 tunes on the CD, 12 are played in open E tuning, three are played in open G tuning, one is played in C, standard tuning, with kazoo accompaniment, one is played in G, standard tuning, and one is a harmonica solo.
Johnnie Lewis is, on this CD, a player with strong rhythm and phrasing, a powerful declamatory vocal delivery, and a sort of rough-hewn, "unfinished" quality to his music.