Fiddlin' John Carson

Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 4

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The fourth volume in Document's seven-part Fiddlin' John Carson chronology covers his recorded output from mid-March 1926 through early October 1927, beginning with the last side he ever cut as a solo act. A humorous ode to indolence, "Everybody Works But Father" would be revisited decades later by an elderly Groucho Marx in concert at Carnegie Hall. Carson's performance is anchored by his peculiar stage presence, a mysterious force that enabled him to make so many records without ever seeming even remotely leached out. Beginning with track two, everything else on this collection has him backed by his Virginia Reelers, including fiddler Earl Johnson and both T.M. Brewer and Moonshine Kate singing and playing banjos or guitars. Kate, who was actually 16-year-old Rosa Lee Carson, shows up throughout much of her father's discography. Keith Chandler's program notes point out that Fiddlin' John Carson, Gid Tanner, and Uncle Dave Macon worked for three competing labels (OKeh, Columbia, and Vocalion, respectively), much as Fats Waller, Putney Dandridge, and Bob Howard were engaged by Victor, Vocalion, and Decca to compete in the same small-group-swing-with-humorous-vocal market during the 1930s. Tanner's Skillet Lickers, Chandler points out, were closely modeled after Carson's Reelers, and truth be told both groups could fiddle and pick like fiends in human form. The group vocal on "Swanee River" is downright bizarre and feels like an old-timey premonition of the Holy Modal Rounders. This volume contains its share of chestnuts ("Old Joe Clark," "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down," and a plucky "Long Way to Tipperary") in addition to a rousing "If You Can't Get the Stopper Out Break Off the Neck" and the nasty gospel send-up "It's a Shame to Whip Your Wife on Sunday."

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