Burnett & Rutherford

Complete Recorded Works (1926-1930)

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Richard Burnett and Leonard Rutherford were a well-known string band duo in south central Kentucky in the 1920s and 1930s, and they actually stayed active as performers into the 1950s, leaving behind a small and revered body of work, most of which is contained on this disc from Document Records (there are actually a handful of additional tracks on Rounder's Ramblin' Reckless Hobo release). Although much of what the duo tackles here falls into the standard string band songbook of the era, Rutherford's smooth and rolling unison fiddle style rescues nearly everything from cliché, and when Burnett gets to cut loose on banjo (as he does on "Going Across the Sea"), he shows an impressive and rapid flailing style. The bizarre murder ballad "Pearl Bryan" certainly sticks out, given its improbable plot line (apparently based on a true event) which tells the story of two dentists who behead a woman after a botched abortion in order to escape detection, only to be caught in the end because she has webbed feet. The most enduring track here, though, is the elegant and archaic-sounding ballad called "Willie Moore," which is as timeless as it is beautiful. In the why you should know these guys department: Burnett composed a sad tune in 1913 called "Farewell Song" which, after a few small moderations, morphed into the Appalachian standard "A Man of Constant Sorrow."

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