various artists,
When the Sun Goes Down,
Vol. 10: East Virginia Blues

When the Sun Goes Down,
Vol. 11: Sacred Roots of the Blues

(Bluebird/BMG, 2004)

The series of early reissues known as both When the Sun Goes Down and The Secret History of Rock & Roll has presented an extremely valuable treasure trove for lovers of early blues and roots music. Five splendid CDs of works by various artists were followed by single artist collections by Leadbelly, Blind Willie McTell, Sonny Boy Williamson and Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup. These single-artist discs, though well done, were less exciting than the scarcer material, since most of Leadbelly, Williamson and McTell's work is already available from a variety of labels. With the 10th and 11th volumes, however, the series is back to doing what it does best -- offering a fascinating collection of artists from all over the spectrum of secular and gospel blues and roots music.

East Virginia Blues presents 25 classic white-country recordings. The unifying thread seems to be that these are songs that later artists would do cover versions of, but they stand well on their own, with no need for later (and often lesser) interpretations. There are two tracks by the Carter Family, the first family of country music, and two by Jimmie Rodgers, the first true country music star. Brother groups are represented by the Monroe Brothers, the Blue Sky Boys, the Rouse Brothers, the Hall Brothers and the Delmore Brothers, while other country duos like Wade Mainer & Zeke Morris, Grayson & Whittier, and Bud Billings & Carson Robison also make appearances. Solo artists include Vernon Dalhart and his version of "The Prisoner's Song," the first country million-seller, Riley Puckett, Cliff Carlisle, Roy Shaffer, Ernest Tubb (a 1937 Jimmie Rodgers tribute), Bill Monroe and two somewhat salty and suggestive early recordings by later paragons of virtue, Gene Autry and Governor Jimmie Davis. The booklet provides complete background information on each song, and puts each in a context that shows how these early recordings led to the development of modern country and honky-tonk. Long-time collectors of early country will have much of this material, but some may come as a surprise.

Sacred Roots of the Blues is less for the casual listener and more for those who want a deeper perspective on Southern black gospel music's effect on blues, R&B and soul music. This is the real thing, often raw, sometimes more studied, but always soul-stirring. The recordings span a 50-year period, beginning with the Dinwiddie Colored Quartette of 1902 and ending with Mme. Ernestine Washington and the Milleraires in 1954. In between there's a vast assortment of spirituals, hymns and sermons with musical back-up, performed by such well-known singers and groups as the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet, Marian Anderson, Paul Robeson, the Hall Johnson Negro Choir and the Tuskegee Institute Singers. More obscure names are also well represented, such as the Taskiana Four, Blind Mamie Forehand, Southern Sons and Connie Rosemond, to name just a few of the 25 soloists and groups on this disc. Instead of a track-by-track commentary, there's discographical data and a richly detailed essay by David Evans that does a fine job of presenting the music from both an historical and a musicological perspective.

If you're a collector of American roots music, these are two discs you'll have to add to your library. The selection of tracks is exemplary, the documentation comprehensive, and the sound is crisp and clear for such old recordings. And did I mention that the discs are 77 and 78 minutes long, respectively? It's great, and there's a lot of it. Highly recommended.

- Rambles
written by Chet Williamson
published 20 August 2005

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