When Kyle Wooten plays "The Choking Blues" it is not so much the sounds of silence but of strangulation, but then again there is no predicting what will happen sonically when a muscular pair of lips and a throat begin manipulating the flimsy reeds of a harmonica. Incorporating impressive vocal tricks as well as authentic animal imitations, Wooten is certainly in a class by himself on harmonica, matched in the audaciousness of his sound by only Freeman Stowers and Garley Foster. Wooten was one of a group of early American harmonica virtuosos that were anthologized on the Yazoo collection Harmonica Masters: Classic Recordings From the 1920s and 1930s. This set examines the use of the extremely portable instruments in a variety of musical genres developing in America during this era, including country blues, backwoods country old-time music, jazz, and ragtime. Wooten is strictly from the backwoods scene, which in terms of documentation even has an album all its own, this one from County, a label that specializes in old-time Appalachian music and bluegrass. "There's something about them backwoods that breeds good harp players. These dudes sure can play!" a fan enthuses on an Internet chat site for harmonica buffs. And of course there is no mystery as to why this instrument can fit into so many different styles of music, seeing as whoever happens to play it has a flexibility of movement not available to say, bass players or drummers. Other than blues, with which the instrument took on a major role via amplification, the harmonica remains something of a free agent stylistically. While classical virtuosos such as Larry Adler may have created the most technically intricate harmonica solos on record, it is old-time players such as Wooten and his ilk who have created the most outrageous, taking advantage of the instrument's ability to imitate all manner of natural and man-made phenomena and filling the air with imitations of chickens, birds, dogs, rifles, howling blasts of wind, and of course, trains. A snorting "Red Pig" is the subject of Wooten's track on the County collection. Other such vivid harmonica solos include "Take Your Foot Out of the Mud" by Dr. Humphrey Bate, in which a listener will practically be able to taste the mud in their mouth, and the lively "Hop About Ladies" by Oliver Sims. Wooten was recorded by talent scouts combing the Appalachians as the public's desire to build record collections first began to grow, but next to no information seems to have been collected about his life.
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