PEOPLE TAKE WARNING! MURDER BALLADS & DISASTER SONGS 1913-1938 (3 CD & BOOKLET SPECIAL)
TOMPKINS SQUARE (TSQ1875)
Hi Henry Brown & Charlie Jordan, The Skillet Lickers, Birmingham Jug Band, Bob Miller, Cliff Carlisle, Fred Pendleton, William & Versey Smith, Fiddlin' John Carson, Andrew Jenkins, Charley Patton, Green Bailey, JH Howell's Carolina Hillbillys, Hayes Shepherd, Kelly Harrell, Bill Cox, Floyd County Ramblers, Wilmer Watts, Dykes Magic City Trio, Willie Walker, Furry Lewis, Grayson & Whitter, Will Bennett, Earl Johnson, Son House, Kentucky Ramblers, Martin & Roberts, Carver Boys, Robert Hicks, Clarence Ashley, Red Fox Chasers, Fiddlin' John Carson, Dixon Brothers, Carver Boys, Ernest Stoneman, Uncle Dave Macon, Carolina Buddies, Dennis McGee & Ernest Fruge, BF Shelton, Roy Harvey & The North Carolina Ramblers, Ashley & Foster, Rabbit Brown and many more
This three CD set is just bustin' out the barrel with seventy songs about floods, fires, explosions, droughts, tornadoes, earthquakes, highway wrecks, ship wrecks, plane crashes, heroic engineers, unfortunate brakemen, train robbers, moonshiners, murder in the mountains, kidnappers, Betty and Dupree, Billy Lyons and Stack O'Lee, Pretty Polly and Darlin' Corey.
They're stashed in this long book style package wrapped around a 50 page booklet that gives you a history of the chronicles within and describes each song and it's singer in the same vein as Harry Smith did in his famous 1952 "Anthology of American Folk Music". Great effort has gone into the production with Hank Sapoznik writing the authoritative notes, Grammy award winner Chris King managing audio direction and transfers, and Tom Waits doing the over-folksy intro. According to Tom, the songs are "a cut above graffiti, broken shovels mended with bailing wire, the warning on a medicine bottle"...
Well, it's the music that counts and there's plenty great material here. Of the seventy songs, some are familiar old friends - Furry Lewis with "Kassie Jones", Rabbit Brown with "Sinking of The Titanic", Clarence Ashley with "Naomi Wise" and Son House with "Dry Spell Blues". Others are compelling little secrets. Have you ever heard the Floyd County Ramblers' "Story of Freda Bolt" or Andrew Jenkins' "Alabama Flood" or Wilmer Watts' "Fate Of Rhoda Sweeten" or "The Wreck of The Westbound Airliner" by Fred Pendleton? I hadn't till I got this set.
In the twenties and thirties, these tunes conveyed the news in the same way that older traditional songs of tragedy like "Pretty Polly" and "George Collins" had circulated in the British Isles. Those songs were brought over by early settlers and set a template for later, local songs of disaster and murder. At first they were performed locally but eventually they came to be recorded and sold surprisingly well, considering the gruesome subject matter.
The more macabre, the better - and the quicker the news spread! On April 21,1930, three convicts set fire to the State Pen in Ohio killing 322 prisoners. Only three days later Charlotte & Bob Miller recorded the "Ohio Prison Fire" with its lilting arrangement that segues into a tear stained dialogue between a distressed mother and the wardens. On Christmas Day 1929, Henry Lawson killed his wife and eight children, then took his own life. Four weeks later, local musician Kid Smith of the Carolina Buddies, wrote and recorded "Murder Of The Lawson Family". An instant success around Lawsonville, NC, the band not only performed the song at the family gravesite but also at the exhibition in the Lawson's house!
Other songs come from older events. Clarence Ashley's 1929 classic "Naomi Wise" documents a murder committed in North Carolina in 1808. Will Bennett's locomotive guitar careers along wildly on "Railroad Bill" as he recounts the story of Morris Slater, a black vinegar worker turned train robber who was shot by detectives at a general store in Atmore, Alabama in 1897.
Speaking of trains, many disaster songs were centred on the railroad and this anthology has its fair share of "wreck" songs. Ernest Stoneman tells the story of "Fate Of Talmadge Osborne" - a hobo who died while trying to board a freight train. The Skillet Lickers, utilising an orgy of sound effects and falsetto warbling, seem to positively enjoy the "Wreck of The Old Southern 97", while Blind Alfred Reed, with his atmospheric fiddle work, brings a bit of decorum to the subject on "Wreck Of The Virginian". There are wrecks on the highway too of course and JE Mainer's Mountaineer's "Fatal Wreck Of The Bus" is a close harmony report on that tragedy but The Red Fox Chasers "Wreck On The Mountain Road" has the distinction of being one of the pioneering country car crash songs as well as the first truck driving song!
As producer Hank Sapoznik says in his excellent sleeve notes - "while the moments these records memorialize are inexorably bound to their own place and time - they are audio messages in a bottle from a lost world - their straight ahead, powerful performances and simple, palpable humanity makes them timeless".
Browse through the booklet and feast your eyes upon the rare photos of the iceberg that took down the Titanic, the 1927 Mississippi floods, the Lawson family funeral, the storm that struck Miami, the Baltimore Fire and Railroad Bill lying on the coolin' board. There's so much good stuff here, I could go on and on. This 3 CD set is damn near in the same league as Harry Smith's legendary "Anthology" and the special presentation makes it one to treasure.
A historic release currently available at a bargain price of £19.95 (about half its normal price!!) plus p&p. Get it at this crazy low price while the offer lasts.
(This 3CD box set includes a beautiful hardback book presentation with 50 page booklet. P&P on this special pack is £3.00)
Review Date: November 2008