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Shanachie (SHANDV621)

You get two for one on this great DVD from Shanachie: John Cohen's classic 1962 film The High Lonesome Sound and his new film, Roscoe Holcomb from Daisy Kentucky, along with other performances throughout the years.

As a long-time admirer of Roscoe Holcombe, I'm thrilled by this release but it should also be of great interest to anyone with an attraction to mountain music in general and the culture of the Appalachians.

John Cohen's first film The High Lonesome Sound, concentrates on the coal mining communities around Hazard, their tough working lives, their church and their love of old time music. The central character, of course, is Roscoe Holcomb - one of the iconic figures in American traditional music and the film offers a fascinating insight into his life, musical knowledge, his virtuosity on banjo and guitar and his significance in his environment. It features a fifty year old Roscoe, banging out archaic songs like Little Birdie, and has scenes of him looking on in bemusement as his kids do the twist to the latest rock and roll hit, settling down on the back porch to wail out an ancient hymn from his battered Baptist song book, and then taking part in a gloriously raucous service at the Holiness Church Of God where the congregation is speaking in tongues and writhing in the aisles. The film was hailed as a classic back in the sixties by Bob Dylan, John Hartford, Mike Seeger and Ralph Stanley and time hasn't diminished the great moments like, for instance, Roscoe's dynamic guitar picking on Across The Rocky Mountain.

The brand new film Roscoe Holcomb From Daisy, Kentucky opens with a journey through mountain villages like Happy, Defiance and Viper to the holler in Daisy where Holcomb honed and polished his music, following the old traditional line of playing with a backwoods purity that was sustained by his isolation. It's fascinating to see Roscoe at home singing Single Girl, Omie Wise, Wayfaring Stranger and Little Birdie in that haunting, taut tenor that moved Carter Stanley to comment "you could feel the smell of wood smoke in that voice".

Roscoe talks freely and, at times, surprisingly frankly about his hard working life, his distress at how asthma and emphysema are affecting his singing, how he loved the old ways of living and, most importantly, his music. The film utilises unused clips from the The High Lonesome Sound interspersed with footage from a fiddlers convention, a snippet from an open air Bill Monroe appearance in Hazard and contributions from neighbours Esker Hutchins, The Shepherd Family and Odabe Halcomb.

The rest of the DVD has additional performances from his appearances in films, TV shows and visits, including startling footage from the 1961 Alan Lomax film Ballads, Blues & Bluegrass and Pete Seeger's 1966 Rainbow Quest TV shows, as well as other items filmed by John Ullman and George Pickow.

The Legacy of Roscoe Holcomb is one of the most brilliant DVDs on American traditional music I've ever seen. With its new footage and information about Roscoe Holcombe and John Cohen's extensive notes - it's an award winner if I ever saw one. Definitely one to treasure.


Review Date: January 2011

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