Martin, Bogan & the Armstrongs

Martin, Bogan & the Armstrongs

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When this ensemble first burst onto the traditional acoustic music scene in the '70s, the effect was like some kind of revelation, and many new possibilities seemed imminent. Looking over the unfortunately too-small collected discography of the band, it now seems clear that this first effort was the biggest winner of all, and the full potential of the ensemble was never really exploited on recordings. Perhaps the band only gave off the illusion of a vast repertoire and couldn't deliver in the studio, or maybe it was the handling by the record companies. At one point, Flying Fish turned the band over to Steve Goodman for genius production, and the results, although enjoyable, hardly have the impact of this album. There were four members in total, with father and son Howard and Tom Armstrong eventually honing the precision on the band's name by altering it to Martin, Bogan & the Armstrongs. The senior members of this project were all veterans of the string band scene from the the '30s and '40s, thus setting them several giant steps ahead of many of the young revival bands of the '70s. More important, this was a rare black string band, but one that seemed comfortable tossing in mountain music, country & western, or even a Hawaiian number. In the latter department, "You'll Never Find Another Kanaka Like Me" remains one of this group's favorite songs among its fans. Much of the repertoire also came from black music traditions, but it was a blend that one only heard from the most versatile artists: blues, swing jazz, and jive that bordered on rock & roll. The fiddle, mandolin, and guitar soloing is excellent throughout. Musically, this is the band's most solidly enjoyable set, and adding to the perfection is the packaging, including a good historical essay as well as three delightful cartoons by the elder Armstrong. No information is given about the composers of the titles, however. A few are traditional, but many come from the Tin Pan Alley mill of publishers who are still out watching for every penny they are owed, so the oversight is surprising. In the '90s, the label created a CD re-release that combined most of this album with the Goodman-produced material, but unfortunately left off some good tracks.

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