Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sounds Of The South (1) : country

Neil Morris & Charley Everidge - Banks of The Arkansas/Wave The Ocean (buy) (1959)

I told you in a previous post that you'd soon hear again about Sounds Of The South, a 4-CD box set of field recordings made by Alan Lomax during his journeys in 1959 with Shirley Collins. The material on this compilation already appeared on 7 lps that were published in 1960.

I've heard the first 2 cds so far, and they are a goldmine, as I expected. I'll focus on the first one today (called Sounds Of The South & Blue Ridge Mountain Music), and especially on the country tunes, that stand for 17 of the Cd's 28 tracks.

The first song (above) is a traditional medley played by two musicians from Mountain View area in Arkansas, Neil Morris & Charley Everidge. The latter is the one on the mouthbow, an instrument of possible African origin with that incredible sound (especially when it's played by White musicians)

There's another great recording of Neil Morris alone, giving his very own interpretation of the murder of Jesse James. The spoken introduction is great, the song, a little less.

Neil Morris- Jesse James (buy) (1959)

Now, an interesting version of "The Farmer's Curst Wife", a song that you can find in Harry Smith anthology as "The Old Lady And The Devil". It is hung here by Estil C. Ball (see picture above), a folk and gospel singer from Rugby, VA.
Lomax had recorded him as early as 1941. Ball was a bus driver by trade, and recorded a couple of lps for County and Rounder, often singing with his wife, mostly gospel songs, but also ballads like this one. I'll probably come back to him in a future gospel post.

Estil C. Ball – The Farmer's Curst Wife (1959)

Let's stay in the Old Dominion with a bluegrass group called The Mountain Ramblers from Galax, VA. If, like me, you've never heard of them before, please read their AMG bio.

First a "straight" electric country band, they went bluegrass and acoustic after a few shifts of musicians. The Mountain Ramblers are a cult band, which never recorded "commercialy" but had a tremendous influence through the Lomax records. Or at least that's what Eugene Chadbourne at AMG says. I suspect him of exageration, especially when he says they "are considered as important to the early beginnings of bluegrass as the first records by mandolinist Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys", but maybe I'm wrong..

The Mountain Ramblers - Big Tilda (1958)

Lomax was as enthousiastic, writing that "In my opinion they stand for a new wave of American music, far more important than the city folkniks, the Paris-oriented longhairs, the selfconscious 'cool' men and the weary technicians of Tin Pan alley. They have a new orchestral form to play with and a mature singing style, and they are enjoying themselves."

I'm not (yet ?) a specialist of bluegrass history, but I know that Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs had started to record bluegrass in the late 1940s, so more than 10 years before. But Chadbourne says that the Lomax Lp was the first bluegrass record imported in Australia, for instance.

Anyway, the Mountain ramblers didn't seem to be aware of that. According to the AMG bio, "The band was recorded in 1958 by Alan Lomax, out on one of his many music gathering and recording explorations. He was fortunately able to record tracks featuring the group with its prime lineup of players. Well, almost. Bluegrass or folk music enthusiasts would invariably nod their heads knowingly at the mention of Lomax, but to some members of this group he meant nothing and in fact, guitarist Herb Lowe said he would rather go to a dance than waste time hanging around a recording session. As a result, these recordings feature a substitute guitarist, the young Eldridge Montgomery. It was his first performance with a group of any kind, so the praise that normally is bestowed on these Mountain Ramblers tracks should be doubled to count for this obvious handicap."

The Mountain Ramblers - John Henry (1958)

Hobart Smith has already appeared here in the fife and quills post . A "sadly overlooked master of Appalachian folk music" (AMG), he was a multi-instrumentist playing banjo, guitar, piano and the fiddle, as here. I usually find solo fiddle pieces a bit boring, but this one is fantastic. You can't help stamping your feet in unison.

Hobart smith - John Brown (1958)

That's all folks for today. There are still 2 records to explore (and maybe the 13 volumes of the "Southern Journey" collection at Rounder, not to mention the rest of the Lomax collection there).

DOWNLOAD HERE the full Disc 1 of Sounds Of The South (97MB)


gadaya said...

thanks for sharing this tracks, i've been looking for a copy of the "Sounds of the South" box set for a long time now and it's out-of-print...

Nicolas said...


Drop me a line if you want the whole box set I can set up a link

nathan said...

Hi Nicolas - I'd definitely like a link to the whole box if it's still on offer... many thanks.

Nicolas said...


just go to this post and you'll find links to the 4 cds (one by one)