Sound recordings didn't start in the 1890s -- Frank Lambert recorded his "talking clock" in 1878 -- but it was during the "Gay Nineties" (as opposed to the "Go-Go '90s" 100 years later) that the recording industry really took off. A wide variety of music was recorded during the 1890s, and that diversity is illustrated by The 1890s, Vol. 1: Wipe Him Off the Land. Not everything on this 30-track, 67-minute compilation (which spans 1893-1902) was recorded during the final decade of the 19th century; a handful of tracks are from the early years between 1900 and 1910. But the 1890s dominate the disc, which ranges from marching bands (the U.S. Marine Band, the Edison Grand Concert Band) to American folk (Vess Ossman) to early examples of what we now call traditional pop (Ada Jones). Wipe Him Off the Land also contains a few examples of the infamously racist "coon song" genre; J.W. Myers' "The New Bully" from 1896 is especially offensive. So why even include such material? Archeophone's disclaimer says it best: "Some selections on this CD contain racially derogatory material. These tracks are included here for their historical significance, and their content does not reflect the views held by Archeophone Records." Also, part of advancement and progress is learning from mistakes of the past; better to study, analyze, and learn from the ugly parts of history than to repeat them. But actually, racist material accounts for only a small fraction of this release; most of these tunes are not racist, and many of them are downright quaint by modern standards. Of course, a collection of recordings from the 1890s is not going to have 21st century audiophile sound, and the amount of scratchiness varies from track to track. But Archeophone, through digital remastering, has obviously done a good job cleaning the recordings up as much as possible. Bottom line: serious music historians will find Wipe Him Off the Land to be an intriguing, if uneven, look at a time when the recording industry was in its infancy.
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