Various Artists

Early Rural String Bands

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Sure, the ugly album cover looks like an old greeting card that got stuck to a bathroom wallpaper sample. There is a strong possibility, however, that the cover of this album might not get much use, since the record itself is barely likely to leave the turntable. There isn't a bum cut on this collection of various types of American string band music, much of it recorded in the '20s and '30s, although there are a few later tracks tossed in near the end, perhaps to indicate that there is still hope. Recordings by early old-time music groups such as Bill Helms & His Upson County Band and Kelly Harrell & the Virginia String Band are simply phenomenal, the vintage recordings doing nothing to cover the hypnotic intensity of the music. Doc Walsh's performance of "Bring Me a Leaf From the Sea" is gorgeous, troubling, and unforgettable, a fine banjo performance with some lovely harmonica and vocal backing from Gwen Foster. The Appalachian tradition doesn't take over completely by any means. Awaiting the eager listener on the flip side is a Cajun number from the historic Leo Solieau, followed by an amazing "Medley of Reels" by the bizarre Henry Ford's Old Time Dance Orchestra, which features hammered dulcimer, tuba, and cimbalom. The Allen Brothers provide authentic jug band style with "A New Salty Dog." Then it is back to the mountains for a climactic set of numbers that includes the awesome Gid Tanner & the Skillet Lickers and the more up to date -- 1949, mind you -- sounds of Charlie Monroe & His Kentucky Pardners, a cool combination including both steel guitar and mandolin. "Up Jumped the Devil" with Snuffy Jenkins on banjo and Homer Sherill on violin is absolutely killer, the tempo beyond manic. This is a compilation that was put together perfectly, and somebody really "done good" with the choice of tracks.

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