Charlie Poole

You Ain't Talkin' to Me: Charlie Poole and the Roots of Country Music

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First, a word about what You Ain't Talkin' to Me is not: it is not a box set of Charlie Poole's complete recorded work. He recorded some 110 songs for the Columbia, Paramount, and Brunswick labels between 1925 and 1931, and 43 of those tracks are collected here, with the balance of this three-disc set given over to sides by Poole's stylistic predecessors and contemporaries. Creating a feel for Poole's life and milieu is the goal here, and presenting musical evidence to place him as the clear grandfather of both bluegrass and modern country is the not-so-hidden agenda. Poole was never an overwhelming banjo player, but his three-finger picking style certainly carries trace elements of what would become bluegrass some 20 years later (when a banjo whiz named Earl Scruggs joined Bill Monroe's band in 1946). Poole wasn't a particularly strong singer, either, but his rambling, gambling persona and flamboyant stage antics (and frequent multi-week alcoholic benders) provide convincing evidence that Poole was outlaw country five decades before the term was even born. Poole's real genius -- since he didn't write songs -- was his ability to take folk tunes, pop songs, fiddle reels, blues fragments, and church hymns and reconfigure them into autobiographical statements by dropping or importing a verse, adding a stray line here and there, changing the title, and eventually delivering fresh, stripped-down versions of familiar songs that now seemed entirely Poole's. What You Ain't Talkin' to Me does best is document how this process worked, and after a first disc of acknowledged Poole classics ("Don't Let Your Deal Go Down Blues," "White House Blues," "If the River Was Whiskey," "Ramblin' Blues"), the second and third discs present Poole songs alongside their antecedents in what is essentially a workshop in how pop folk is created in a mechanized age. On disc three, for example, you hear Arthur Collins' 1902 version of "Oh! Didn't He Ramble" as a heavily stylized and orchestrated bit of vaudeville. In Poole's hands, stripped down and shaped into a sinewy, sexy, and bluesy ensemble piece for banjo, guitar, and fiddle, it became the self-referential "He Rambled" in 1929. Similarly, Eddie Morton's civil and orchestrated "You Ain't Talking to Me" from 1909 becomes an ominous barroom boast in Poole's version, released as "You Ain't Talkin' to Me" in 1927. This ability to create new possibilities from old choices is what has driven American music from the very beginning, and Poole's talent for making it all seem like personal autobiography makes him very much a modernist, only a short leap away from an artist like Hank Williams. Doubters need only listen to Poole's "If I Lose, I Don't Care," which leads off the third disc, to clearly see the kind of DNA that went into modern country. As a glimpse of Poole's life and times, and a look behind the curtains at the adaptive nature of his creative process, this attractive set (it comes in a small cigar box with a R. Crumb illustration of Poole on the lid and includes a 60-page book insert) does a super job, but listeners should be aware that it is hardly comprehensive. Those interested in a more extensive sampling of Poole's work should check out JSP's four-disc box, Charlie Poole With the North Carolina Ramblers and the Highlanders, which features 96 of his 110 known recordings.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Title/Composer Performer Time
1
3:26
2
3:13
3
3:11
4 3:31
5 3:31
6
3:20
7
3:25
8
2:51
9
3:17
10
2:52
11 3:07
12
2:48
13
3:29
14 2:53
15
3:01
16
3:10
17
feat: Highlanders
3:00
18
3:06
19
2:54
20
3:03
21
3:10
22 3:05
23
3:18
24
3:09

Track Listing - Disc 2

Title/Composer Performer Time
1
3:21
2
3:18
3
feat: Doc Walsh
2:40
4
3:14
5 3:28
6
2:34
7
3:04
8 2:56
9
feat: Highlanders
3:02
10
3:10
11
3:05
12
feat: Cal Stewart
2:33
13
3:09
14
3:13
15
2:54
16
feat: Byron Parker
2:41
17
feat: Fred Van Eps
4:22
18
2:41
19
2:59
20
1:39
21
3:06
22
3:17
23
2:51
24
feat: Eddie Morton
2:56
25 2:57

Track Listing - Disc 3

Title/Composer Performer Time
1
3:09
2
3:18
3
3:04
4
3:17
5 3:06
6
feat: Billy Murray
2:11
7 3:08
8
2:43
9
3:18
10
2:56
11
feat: Billy Murray
4:14
12
3:27
13
2:40
14
3:13
15
3:06
16
3:08
17
feat: Fred Van Eps
4:10
18 3:06
19
3:14
20
2:55
21
2:46
22 2:11
23
3:00
blue highlight denotes track pick