COUNTRY MUSIC PIONEER - SELECTED SIDES 1927-1935 (4CD)
This set collects a fantastic array of early old-timey country recordings from some of the true giants of the era.
Top billing is given to Clarence Ashley and many of his influential early sides, released either as a solo artist under his own name or in conjunction with other artists and groups - including here Ashley & Green, Blue Ridge Entertainers, Ashley & Foster, Carolina Tar Heels, Byrd Moore And His Hot Shots and Ashley & Abernathy. Like many black blues contemporaries, Clarence Ashley found what little wider fame that came his way in the early 1960s, when the folk boom led to his re-discovery and re-emergence as a recording and performing artist. But, as these sides show, his talents were fully formed in this earlier era as a singer, banjo player and song-writer/song-interpreter. Included here are songs that would soon become standards that many blues, folk and country artists would go on to cover, including The Coo Coo Bird, John Hardy, Corinna, Corinna, Careless Love and There’s A Man Going Around Taking Names. He may not have written all of these (or even recorded them first) but his recorded versions were significant in their day in popularising the songs and they (and his other included tracks) remain pretty hard to beat.
Of the other artists featured in this exemplary set, only Dock Boggs similarly benefitted from a re-discovery in the early 1960s. Boggs was a near contemporary of Clarence Ashley and likewise also played banjo and made popular a number of songs that would later become standards. But it is on these late 1920s recordings that he was probably at his best and these 15 sides are well worth checking out.
The other featured artists here were unable to maintain much of an on-going recording career after the recording sessions of the late 1920s included here. As these sides demonstrate however, their talents and qualities were equally as impressive as the more revered Ashley and Boggs. As Pat Harrison reflects in his informative notes to this set, Emyr Arthur may well have been the author of the classic I’m A Man Of Constant Sorrow. While this remains an issue of some doubt, the magnificence of his two recorded versions here is beyond question. Equally splendid are his takes on The Little Black Train Is Coming and The Broken Wedding. These tracks, like all his 32 sides herein, present a charm that is both winning and attractive.
Less known again is the final act featured in this set, the Dykes Magic City Trio. Believed to have only ever cut 14 tracks across three recordings sessions, six are included here - including Cotton Eye Joe and Shortening Bread - and they provide an interesting and enjoyable addendum to what is a fine collection from start to finish.
A must for all fans of old-timey country music, early period blues (black or white) and, frankly, music lovers of any persuasion!
Review Date: August 2015