Various Artists

The Johnson City Sessions 1928-1929: Can You Sing or Play Old-Time Music?

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Recorded in the two years following The Bristol Sessions of 1927, The Johnson City Sessions are considered one of the founding documents of country music, and they've never been documented the way they are on this four-disc 2013 set from Bear Family. Like the label's exhaustive box chronicling The Bristol Sessions, this four-disc set is designed as a definitive document of these field recording sessions shepherded by Columbia Records. Indeed, a fair chunk of this material has never been reissued, either on disc or vinyl, but it has echoed over the years, with three of the cuts showing up on Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music and the entire collection of Appalachian folk, providing a foundation for the old, weird America that has been celebrated in the years since Smith. This, naturally, digs much deeper into this particular section of Appalachia, as discovered and recorded by Frank B. Walker. Some of the names are familiar -- Charlie Bowman, the Roane County Ramblers, Clarence (Tom) Ashley -- but this music is not about the singer so much as the song, songs that were often sung in the years before the Great Depression; songs that capture a wild, mythical America. By preserving every one of the surviving 100 recordings, The Johnson City Sessions provides an important historical document nearly the equal of The Bristol Sessions.

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