THE DIXON BROTHERS
with THE CALLAHAN BROTHERS (4CD Box Set)
Includes material recorded by Frank Gerald & Howard Dixon (who also recorded as The Rambling Duet), Dorsey & Beatrice Dixon.
In the early thirties Dorsey and Howard Dixon were still travelling workers toiling in the textile mills of North Carolina when they chanced to meet Jimmie Tarlton of Darby and Tarlton fame.
Tarlton's gritty steel guitar playing inspired Howard to seriously take up the steel bodied National and Dorsey to pen autobiographical songs about his tough life and the conditions of the mill workers. Tarlton was sufficiently impressed with Dorsey's song Weaver's Life that he recorded it and when it became a hit the two brothers were galvanised into action.
Dorsey forsake his strumming style for more advanced four finger picking while Howard adapted a hard hitting rhythmic approach on the National and both of them sang with an enthusiasm and vigour matched only by the hard vocalists of the previous decade. In 1936 they made their first recordings for RCA's Bluebird label mixing mountain blues and ballads with their own material. Their songs about school house fires, lonely prisoners, greenback dollars, girls in sunny Tennessee, intoxicated rats and spinning rooms were treasured by southern mountain audiences just as much as their reworking of other popular songs like the Blue Sky Boys I'm Here To Get My Baby Out Of Jail and the Hackberry Ramblers Bonnie Blue Eyes. They even sneaked in the infamous Two Little Boys - this is pure mountain music with a lilting melody that shouldn't be mentioned in the same breath as the version by Rolf Harris that ruined 1969 for most music lovers.
Their own compositions were sought after by other country musicians but they didn't profit much, especially when it came to dealing with hardcore weasels like Roy Acuff who took their song I Didn't Hear Anybody Pray and re-titled it Wreck On The Highway, took the royalty cheques and ran! The Dixon Brothers made some fabulous music in the few short years they recorded and this set contains some of their very best.
The Callahan Brothers, Walter and Homer, came from Madison County, North Carolina and were a two guitar outfit who howled and yodelled as they surged into their repertoire of railroad tunes, gospel, laments of mother and home, front parlour ditties and songs of longing and lost love with as much enthusiasm as they put into murder ballads like On The Banks Of The Ohio, the suicidal epic Katie Dear and risqué numbers like She's Killing Me which they learned from Tampa Red.
They didn't have the hard edge that the Dixons were blessed with, preferring to perform with a lilting swinging guitar style and concentrating instead on melodic harmonies that rang through on every song performed with a note perfect vocal. Although the odd one, like Don't You Remember The Time, is a bit maudlin they make up for it on the crackers like the maliciously Mansonic murder ballad Katy Dear, the raucous rambunctious Gonna Quit My Rowdy Ways and the solid yodelling blues Drive My Blues Away and Carolina Sweetheart. I hadn't heard the Callahan Brothers before I listened to this set but I'll be looking out for more of them in the future.
It's yet another great box set from the chaps at JSP. When it comes to this kind of music - nobody does it better.
Review Date: April 2011