Various Artists

Mississippi String Bands, Vol. 1

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In 1998, the County label reissued two LPs' worth of vintage recordings by white Mississippi string bands on two CDs with bonus tracks added to fill out the discs. Both volumes present an excellent overview and each contains examples by the Leake County Revelers and the fiddle and guitar duo of William Thomas Narmour and Shellie Walton Smith. Volume one, which focuses upon the years 1927-1930, also features the Mississippi Possum Hunters, Floyd Ming's Pep Steppers, the Carter Brothers & Son, and the Ray Brothers, Will & Vardman, who hailed from the town of Winona. The Ray Brothers' "Jake Leg Wobble" imitates the uneven gait of a person who became disabled after consuming Prohibition liquor that was flavored with Jamaican ginger root extract but had also been "fortified" with triorthocresyl phosphate, a highly toxic substance used in the production of lacquers and varnishes. In 1930, approximately 50,000 individuals sustained permanent damage to the spinal cord by swallowing a portion of an adulterated batch of Jake which was concocted somewhere between Brooklyn and Boston and shipped out to Cincinnati, Kansas City, Wichita, and Oklahoma City to be distributed throughout the heartland and the south. The Ray Brothers recorded more than one song inspired by this horrible malady, as did a multiracial range of artists including Narmour & Smith, Ishman Bracey, Willie Lofton, and the Mississippi Sheiks. Gene Autry included a reference to Jake in his "Bear Cat Papa Blues" and John Steinbeck described a Jake-afflicted paralytic in his novel The Grapes of Wrath. "Indian War Whoop" was revisited during the '60s by the Holy Modal Rounders, who used it as the title of one of their most creatively inspired albums. More recently, it cropped up in the soundtrack of the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? County's two volumes devoted to Mississippi String Bands of the ‘20s and ‘30s share many titles with Document's two identically titled compilations. The main difference is that Document presents all of the recordings by a given band in one segment rather than "shuffling the deck" as County does in order to vary the listening experience. Both approaches have merit, but the Document discs do contain a little more material and include some artists who are absent from the County collections.

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