Clarence Ashley became fairly well-known during the early '60s when his career was revitalized by the Folk Revival. But Ashley had an active career during the late '20s and early '30s, both as a solo performer and with a number of groups, including the Carolina Tar Heels. Now County has collected his important early work on Greenback Dollar. A spunky version of "Little Sadie" gets things started, a woeful tale of cold-blooded murder and swift justice. The steady rhythm of Ashley's banjo infuses the piece with an infectious energy. This is also true of the gambling classic "Coo Coo Bird" and the murder ballad "Naomi Wise." These pieces feature Ashley performing solo, his banjo perfectly underlining and highlighting his slightly nasal vocal. It is interesting to note that some of the lyrics of these ballads are starker than in contemporary versions. John Lewis kicks and chokes Naomi before he drowns her, and "Old John Hardy" wants to "shoot out another man's brains." There are several vivacious songs by the Blue Ridge Mountain Entertainers, including "Baby All Night Long," "Short Life of Trouble," and "Corrina Corrina." String-band lovers will appreciate these songs. The Carolina Tar Heels prove equally entertaining with "Rude and Rambling Man" and "You Are a Little Too Small," and Ashley performs several pieces with harmonica player Gwen Foster (who was also a member of the Blue Ridge Mountain Entertainers). Foster's expressive harp playing on the title cut and "Drunk Man Blues" is a real treat. Greenback Dollar is a fine collection, representative of all facets of Ashley's early career. It will be warmly welcomed by fans of old-time music.
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AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.