Various Artists

Virginia Roots: The 1929 Richmond Sessions

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From October 13 through October 19, 1929, OKeh Records recorded numerous roots musicians in various styles in Richmond, VA. This two-CD set presents 32 songs recorded during those sessions, as well as one cut in 1928 for the QRS label by the Richmond Starlight Quartet, who recorded four songs for OKeh at these 1929 sessions that were not issued. Just as a point of fact, this compilation does not include everything done at these sessions by any means; at least 93 songs by 30 groups were recorded, but only 36 songs by 13 groups came out. Four of those, on two singles by the Virginia Male Quartet, have never been discovered by collectors to the compiler's knowledge, so what we have here is about the most complete representation of these Richmond sessions that could be assembled. But on to the music, which is the real reason to be concerned about the contents. This is a sprawl of white and black southern styles of the late '20s, from old-time fiddle music and black gospel to harmonica country blues, jug band, and even pseudo-Hawaiian music (by the Tubize Royal Hawaiian Orchestra). You wouldn't say this is the most historic or astonishingly good such music cut during the era; a compilation of the best such performers and songs from similar sessions throughout the south would be much better. It's just an interesting and eclectic document of heartfelt, from-the-gut roots sounds of all sorts from the time and place, sometimes memorably so, as in the Monarch Jazz/Jubilee Quartet of Norfolk's gospel blues "Pleading Blues" or "Don't Let the Blues Get You Down" by the Buck Mountain Band, who included Wade Ward (who'd become better known during the 1960s folk revival). Occasionally the fidelity's so crackly as to seriously inhibit listening pleasure (particularly on two sides by the Monarch Jazz/Jubilee Quartet of Norfolk), but in general it's pretty good, or as good as could be expected for material taken from ancient singles. The package includes copious notes about the sessions, songs, and performers.

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