various artists,
The Art of Old-Time Mountain Music
(Rounder, 2002)

Here's still another of Rounder's Heritage series that often prove to be of more historical than musical interest. This one, however, is as listenable as it is comprehensive. It focuses on, naturally, old-time music from the Appalachians, and does a worthy job of presenting an overall look at the different aspects of the music. There are a few that you might be tempted to skip, but most tracks are quite intriguing.

The first, in fact, is a piano version of an old-time fiddle tune, played with spirit and spark by Haywood Blevins. Glenn Ohrlin's "The High Toned Dance" is fun, but this cowboy song sticks out like a red-headed cousin among the actual old-time mountain selections, though it has one of the best lines ever about dancing together: "I could feel my neck a-burnin' from her nose's breathin' heat." There's a man with romance in his soul. We flirt heavily with true professionalism (no field recordings these) on Ola Belle Reed's "High on a Mountain," which has become a well deserved classic that defines the high lonesome sound.

Among the truly professional performances are Bruce Molsky and Big Hoedown's "Rocky Mountain," which has that old-time feel all over it, but is played brilliantly and cleanly, with not a trace of sloppiness. I hate to be heretical, but I'd much sooner hear this kind of music done this way than on the old original recordings. Art over authenticity for me any day, and when you can get both as you do here, so much the better.ĘThere's a dandy murder ballad sung by Asa Martin, and a tune by the Smokey Valley Boys that offers up a full, rich sound before the repetition sets in. Dorothy Rorick sings a stunning "House Carpenter," making some haunting octave jumps and accompanying herself well on banjo. Some listeners may cringe at the unaccompanied voice of Almeda Riddle, but there is a wealth of emotion and a purity and perfection of intonation that will raise the hair on your neck.

There are more pros on call with Bob Carlin and James Bryan's "Farewell Trion," with Norman Blake backing them up. A young Doc Watson joins fiddler Gaither Carlton, with Doc's accompaniment being far more listenable than the soloist. Ralph Blizard and The New Southern Ramblers play a sprightly "Blackberry Blossom," and one of the earliest professional mountain musicians, Uncle Dave Macon, spiritedly bellows "Go On, Nora Lee." The CD ends chillingly with Lloyd Chandler's 1965 reading of "A Conversation With Death," which has achieved worldwide fame due to Ralph Stanley's version, "O Death." Chandler's is equally powerful, and perhaps even more pure. It alone is worth the cost of the CD. There are also plenty of fiddle tunes (Mose Coffman's "Lost Indian" is primitive but interesting), African string band duets, banjo and guitar duets, and banjo solos (the best of which is Marvin Gaster's precise "The Boatman Song").

This CD is a much more musically rewarding disc than some of the others in this series, primarily because of the preponderance of professional musicians. The overall package is up to Rounder's usual high standard, with a booklet containing photographs and detailed commentary about each track. It's a superb introduction to this rich genre of music, and even long time fans and collectors will find worthwhile material here.

- Rambles
written by Chet Williamson
published 15 November 2003

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