Still playing catch up. . .
Roy Acuff — Greatest Hits (1940's/1950's)
Trying to get more of a knowledge of country music as I get older. As a kid coming to music nerd maturity in the 90's, the only thing of "old" country music I knew was Johnny Cash, because he is the perennial cool kid favorite. Otherwise, it was all the contemporary overproduced country pop that was coming to prominence at the time. So, when trying to get into it properly, why not go with the guy that was nicknamed "the King of Country Music"? This fifteen track hits collection serves as a darn fine introduction. It's pretty much a classic country sound. Polite, acoustic twangs, occasional harmonies and some spirituals thrown in for good measure. 'Night Train to Memphis' is a good, representative number. 'Great Speckled Bird' is one of the earliest recordings included and it's a nice one, as well. For someone whose catalogue is downright intimidating (spanning roughly six decades), this does a good job of appetizing me until I can tackle his albums properly.
George Winston — Ballads and Blues 1972 (1972)
This is Windham Hill's reissue of George Winston's first album. The album was originally released on John Fahey's Takoma label in 1973 and was originally titled just Piano Solos. It's kind of weird to see an album on Windham Hill with John Fahey's name in the credits (but it sure does make a heck of a lot of sense). It also makes sense that Fahey would have been interested in what George Winston was playing, as he's basically doing what Fahey was doing on his calmer more meditative pieces, but on piano. The opening, four part, 'Deland, Florida Medley' is easily the album's highlight. It finds George starting off with a kind of bluesy, boogie woogie riff, which he squeezes a searching, introspective theme out of and explores for the next eight minutes. Really pretty impressive stuff. The rest of the album, save for two tracks ('Theme For a Futuristic Movie' and an untitled piece), relies more heavily on traditional boogie woogie and ragtime styles. But he always finds little ways of tossing in these (seemingly) completely out of place melodic runs that are almost like listening to the history of piano playing in real time. Really an interesting album, especially when you consider he didn't record again for eight years, and when he did, it was with a drastically different approach.
Mike Auldridge — Dobro (1972)
Speaking of Takoma! I had never heard of the guy, but I saw this cover and couldn't resist after I saw that it was a Takoma release. As the title implies, Mike plays this steel-stringed guitar-like instrument. It's got a really unique tone and he approaches it from a perspective that respects tradition, but wants to branch out. Most of the album is bluegrass instrumentals, but there's vocal numbers on 'Rollin' Fog' (a pleasant folk rocker) and 'Take Me' (a George Jones cover) and twanged-up, bluegrass-ified versions of 'Greensleeves' and a killer 'House of the Rising Sun' at the end. Really an entertaining album and plenty of good pickin' going on.
The Stanley Brothers — The Columbia Sessions, Volume One (late 1940's/early 1950's)
First things first: the harmonies on this thing are just downright amazing. The whole thing is just filled with these heavenly blasts of pure sound. Excellent. This is another one, carefully compiled and reissued by Rounder in the late 1970's. From what I understand, this gathers up all of the 78rpm recordings Ralph, Carter and the Clinch Mountain Boys recorded for Columbia in the years 1949 and 1950. A pretty strong document, especially considering these are original tunes. Songs like 'The White Dove', 'Too Late to Cry,' and 'Gathering Flowers for the Master's Bouquet' just have an undeniable warmth to them. I've played it quite a bit since I picked it up and I just can't imagine it being anything except the start of a (hopefully) large collection.
Peter Finger — Acoustic Rock Guitar (1979)
Exactly as the title advertises, I picked this one up because it's on the mighty Kicking Mule label. The cover is rather hilarious, but completely unrepresentative of the music. While it is a solo acoustic guitar album, it's not like any other album I've heard by more familiar folks like John Fahey, Leo Kottke or William Ackerman. It's more technical than anything, as Pete seems to be doing his best to play in any tuning other than standard (the tunings for each song are actually listed on the liner notes) and showing off these strange strummed chords he's presumably made up himself. It's not just technical noodling, as there are plenty of great, thoughtful moods conjured up. In any case, the two E strings are tuned down to D on all but one of the songs, so the textures in the tunes have a really deep bottom end. Check out 'Hope and Memory' for an idea of what I'm getting at. Really nice find, if I might say so.
The Carter Family — More Golden Gems from the Original Carter Family (1920's/1930's)
Just incredible music. Warm and human, it's an illustration of American life at a time when the country was in the middle of the Great Depression. It's interesting to point out that all of the songs of unrequited love, hard times and estranged friends and family that comprise this collection turn to religion for solace. But, even then, the conclusion is suicide, eternal loneliness or damnation. Pretty bleak outlook most of the time, but the songs are so good, so catchy, you'd swear that they'd just existed forever when Alvin, Sara and Maybelle recorded them. But no, these are all original tunes. It begins with 'Little Log Cabin By the Sea' and never lets up. Granted, it's only ten tracks, but as a first taste album, it's done its job and then some. I have some homework to do, it seems.
Flatt and Scruggs — The World of Flatt and Scruggs (1940's-1960's)
Really strong, two record, twenty song overview. It's got the duo's two biggest hits with 'The Ballad of Jed Clampett' (a/k/a the Theme from the Beverley Hillbillies) and 'The Story of Bonnie and Clyde' and those tunes are just fine, but I prefer the instrumental and lesser known stuff. 'Foggy Mountain Breakdown' is a catchy one, while 'Flint Hill Special' is so technically impressive that it's hard to believe it's a hummable tune at the same time. There's even a version of Roy Acuff's 'Wabash Cannonball' (to bring this post full circle). A lot of the stuff on this collection is recorded live, so these are not the original recordings. Still darn good in any case.