The Dust-to-Digital label has compiled several exquisitely packaged anthologies of rare early- to mid-20th century roots and ethnic music, the two-CD Victrola Favorites being no exception. What exactly the theme of this compilation is, however, is a little hard to ascertain, other than having been drawn from the collections of Robert Millis and Jeffery Taylor. The 48 songs could hardly be more geographically and stylistically widespread, ranging from early American jazz, blues, and folk to indigenous and ritual music from China, India, Turkey, Korea, Japan, Egypt, and the Republic of Congo. There's chanting from Chinese Buddhist nuns, spoken word, oud and bamboo flute solos, West Indian jazz-calypso, a Thai costume drama, and even an "actual recording of Big Ben and traffic noises" from London. Though the images of Victrolas and ancient recording labels and ads in the liner notes might prep you for tracks originating from the 1920s and 1930s, actually the chronological span it covers is wider than that, running from about 1910 to the early '50s (with some of the dates being estimated). There are occasional cuts of U.S. origin that are clearly ancestors of strains of American pop, and even one fairly well-known performer, Blind Boy Fuller, whose rhythmic 1938 blues "Step It Up and Go" isn't far removed from R&B and rock & roll. But these are considerably outnumbered by less conventionally accessible world music recordings. So you'll need to have wide tastes to get the most out of this, though that's something that can be said of several other Dust-to-Digital releases. If you are an adventurous listener with a general liking for world music and vintage folk/ethnic sounds, it's a thoughtfully assembled banquet of material that provides windows into cultures now vanished or nearly vanished, or at least rarely exposed to most 21st century Western listeners. The handsome book within which the CDs are packaged is actually rather light on traditional liner notes, but the vintage illustrations of record-related memorabilia will entertain many collectors of this sort of music.
Victrola Favorites: Artifacts From Bygone Days Review
by Richie Unterberger