Various Artists

My Rough and Rowdy Ways, Vol. 1

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A disc of classic recordings is a rarity, but that's exactly what this is. Some of the performers are well known people, like Clarence Ashley, Dock Boggs, Uncle Dave Macon, and Tommy Johnson. Others, like the Haywood County Ramblers, are far from household names, but that doesn't mean their songs are lesser creations. And these ballads of bad men, hell raisers, violence, and drinking are the stuff of legends, like "Frankie" by the Dykes Magic City Trio, a version of "Frankie and Johnny" by a group reminiscent of the Carter Family. It's interesting that the performers on these songs from the '20s and '30s are both black and white, and the music sounds remarkably similar -- a clear indication that prejudice didn't extend everywhere at the time, and that music was colorblind. From a time when American rural song was still a strong musical force -- before Tin Pan Alley and commercialization had changed everything -- "Little Sadie" and "Viola Lee Blues" come across the years with complete crispness, while the banjo style of Dock Boggs can be heard as an influence on so many who followed. But these pieces also come from the cusp, when urban culture was about to take over, and songs like the Allen Brothers' "Prisoner's Dream" would be replaced by other tunes. In fact, the one piece here that offers any kind of continuity is a version of "Stack-O-Lee" from the Fruit Jar Guzzlers, although their version seems hopelessly naïve and country compared to others that would come later. This is, as it's meant to be, a collection that's very much of its place and time. But since they both represent a crossroad, it's a great place and perfect time in the development of American music.

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