This one is another nominated for Best Album Notes as well as Best Historical Album. And, oh boy, it's 5 CDs long. But it's only in a range from July 1927 through August 1928. For a little over a year, and at 20+ songs per album, that's at least 2-3 songs a week - impressive at the time for so much to get done so quickly, and by a variety of artists. That's dedication.
Not sure who's going to be dedicated and stick with me for the whole thing, but we'll keep it as condensed yet interesting as possible, promise.
I wasn't able to find these notes online to copy and paste into here for y'all. Some info though, that will at least let us know if it's something worth reading:
These were written by Ted Olson (an ETSU professor) and Tony Russell. While some call the notes to have a lingering sound of academia, they are still deemed very impressive. The two essentially wrote a short book on the sessions and background of the musicians and engineers involved. As far as the recordings themselves go, “Johnny Cash once said that the Bristol Sessions are the single most important event in the history of country music,” said BCMA Board President John Rainero. “It’s amazing that those recordings are still having an impact, even today.”
You'll remember some of these artists, and you'll never have heard of some of the others. Jimmie Rogers and The Carter Family are the two biggest names known when talking abou these sessions, but there are many, many more to hear from tonight.
Ever been to Bristol? I have. It's both in Tennessee and Virginia, and I confused the hell out of my GPS driving around looking for a GPA, because I went between the states about 5 times. It's actually a pretty cute little town - definitely more modern now, but one that always is my welcoming point back home to Tennessee.
Let's get on into it, as this is probably going to be one of those all-day projects. Let's hope Mr. Cash doesn't disappoint with his opinions. :)
Brewer, Mooney, and Stoneman bring us the first two tracks to get going. "The Dying Girl's Farewell" is a very raw recording, I believe telling of the times we're about to listen to. It's harmonized though, with very simple musical accompaniment. The do add a few more instruments to "Tell Mother I Will Meet Her," and we're still welcomed with the boys singing all together. The harmonies aren't polished, but I think that only adds to the down-home feel.
"The Mountaineer's Courtship" is the next one up, with Dunford and Stoneman. I've been trying to figure out if these were songwriters or the artists, but the site swears they're the performers - probably both though. Anywhos, eastern TN is actually pretty mountainy (my aunt was amazed by this the first time we drove through when I started college). The song is a cute back and forth on courtship and love. It's quite adorable really.
Stoneman takes on the next 9 songs, two of which are two separate takes of the same thing. He starts with "Midnight on the Stormy Deep" maintaining that same mountain feel. I think a lot of banjo is what we're dealing with here. "Sweeping Through The Gates" seems to be in the same vein, but with more singers accompanying him, and definitely more strings. The words are a little harder to decipher with so many involved though. The same goes for "I Know My Name Is There," a religious ditty, but this time with an echo of the choir. You can tell we're in the bible belt though, again, with another Jesus song next in "Are You Washed In The Blood?" Not complaining - these are the things that were the basis of so much of today.
"No More Good-Byes" is actually much more upbeat than I expected, but if I hear this out-of-tune choir one more time, I may scream. ...and I'm screaming. "The Resurrection [Take 1]" is just very hard to listen to, along with "The Resurrection [Take 2]" which sounds nearly identical. Just trying to remember that these were people with a passion for music who just wanted to sing. The continue to do so for "I Am Resolved [Take 1]" where there is definitely some kind of leader to the group, but he gets lost. It keeps happening in "I Am Resolved [Take 2]" and my final note is that, while my heart appreciates the past, my ears love technological innovations.
Taking over for the next 6 tracks is Phipps. We're in for more bible belt music, but sometimes there can be the best early-music gems among these. "I Want To Go Where Jesus Is" finally gives us a little different sound, and the mixing is a lot more polished. It was probably the arrangement in the room at this point in the history of recording - singers are arranged for a better balance of leads and backgrounds, since individually recorded tracks weren't happening yet. A familiar old gospel song "Do, Lord, Remember Me" shows it with some really great trade offs of solo lines and BGVs coming in for support. "Old Ship of Zion" brings the same thing in, allowing a lead without loosing him. "Jesus Getting Us Ready for That Great Day" sounds almost exactly the same melodically, but... sure, it's a different song!
In a funny little twist, we get a praise song in "Happy In Prison." I can only access clips of this album, so I don't know what the whole song is about, but it is oddly optimistic. I guess when your faith's that strong, you can find happiness anywhere. Phipps closes out his portion with "Don't Grieve After Me." I can't believe how similar a lot of these songs are. But I guess that's the reasoning for calling it sessions and not an album - this was a lot of experimenting and getting the sounds they liked.
Dunford and Stoneman hang out again for "What Will I Do, For My Money's All Gone," one of the first truly solo voices on a verse we've heard yet. It's kind of cool to be able to hear the record hiss as well throughout this. Oddly, like most people will probably tell you when they give it some thought, this is a comforting sound.
Dunford's alone for the next two, starting with another upbeat, strangely familiar sounding "The Whip-Poor-Will's Song." Someone's singing with him (the response if you hear it). He follows that up with something I never thought I'd hear recorded, "Skip To Ma Lou, My Darling." Whoa! Hahaha, I just love that this is coming from my speakers right now.
Again we get Dunford and Stoneman for "Barney McCoy." Same general sound, right? Don't tell me that music's different, because I hate lieers. It fits, for sure, but everything's been doing that.
Blue Ridge Corn Shuckers close us out with the last two songs, "Old Time Corn Shuckin', Pt. 1" and "Old Time Corn Shuckin', Pt. 2." The first finally brings a little different sound, as we are introduced to the band and what we're about to hear. The fiddle starts in on this awesome solo spot. Into part two, we've got more instruments going, and little to no vocals throughout either. It's a great old time jam session.
The Johnson Brothers kick off this next portion with four songs, the first of which are "The Jealous Sweetheart [Take 1]" and "The Jealous Sweetheart [Take 2]." We actually kind of slow things down a little bit! There's not much of a different between the two takes, to my ears, other than maybe a little more drag in the second one. "A Passing Policeman," I'm almost willing to bet, is a continuation of one of these takes. It sounds like another verse to the same story just based on melody alone. We only slightly depart from the same sounds for "Just A Message From Carolina" by a few little strums.
Reed takes on the next 6 songs. "The Wreck of the Virginian [Take 1]" and "The Wreck of the Virginian [Take 2]" are pretty simply done songs with a violin as the main, and seemingly only, instrument, completely following the singer as he sings along. "I Mean to Live for Jesus" is just a simple man's song of praise through everything, no matter what temptations are abound. It must have been so interesting to be a person of faith in the 20's.
"You Must Unload" continues to be string dominant, which I'll go ahead and say is Reed's typical sound. He also keeps up these early gospel/hymn songs as we move along. "Walking in the Way with Jesus [Take 1]" and "Walking in the Way with Jesus [Take 2]" keep that sentiment up. Ah, simpler times and simpler music.
We reunite with the Johnson Brothers for the next three tracks, starting with "Two Brothers Are We" (awwww). But holy cow, I am not a fan of that hallow, whine of a voice. "The Soldier's Poor Little Boy" continues the voice and the banjo dominance (which is easier to handle than the voice). But then, it all makes sense with "I Want to See My Mother (Ten Thousand Miles Away)." Honestly, they sound very much like Civil War songs, but who knows.
Watson does the next two. Looks like we're heading into blues territory, give the next three have it in the title. "Pot Licker Blues" makes me giggle a little every time I say it. Seriously, say it out loud and tell me you don't laugh a little. No? This is totally one of those few times I'm okay that no one actually reads this (though I'd love you to prove me wrong on that by commenting!). The song's not nearly as funny. Neither is "Narrow Gauge Blues" though there's a sweet harmonica part in it that I haven't heard yet in this collection.
Shelton starts us off in their 4 song set with "Cold Penitentiary Blues." There's lyrics to this one this time, yet the music sounds familiar of everything else we've been hearing. The voice sings of the blues aspect though. "Oh Molly Dear" picks it up with the banjo with this incredibly familiar style of old folk music that you can tell has to have been an influence on later artists. "Pretty Polly" sort of has the same feel for me actually. I'd be interested to see how many folk artists name Shelton as an influence, though they're more likely to say the Sessions in general. Shelton closes out with "Darlin Cobra," another pretty classic folk sounding number.
Karnes has the next 5 songs. He brings in this much deeper voice with more power behind it, and a clearer sound, right off the bat with his first one, "Called to the Foreign Field." This is much more of a soul turn than the rest so far. It continues into "I Am Bound for the Promised Land," which includes banjos. Normally, something like that sound, along with the next one, "Where We'll Never Grow Old," which is this sweet song, and would be even more so if it weren't religious (nothing against it, I just wanted a romantic one for a sec). His voice works for these themes though, and continues to do so with "When They Ring the Golden Bells." His voice goes a little funky as he tries to hit the higher notes, but I'll deal. We close out our time with Karnes on "To the Work," and thus ends our clear voice of song.
Nester joins in for the next two songs, starting with "Train on the Island." Not loving this... at all. Not the vocals at least. The fiddle work is really great though. "Black-Eyed Susie" kind of rolls on in the same manner, which is respectable from one perspective, and terribly annoying from another.
We end this CD with Moonshiners and "Johnny Goodwin." It's a much lighter fiddle backing and the voices are clearer. Sounds like a cleaned up version of a lot of the harder-to-listen-to music from earlier. Overall, a nice way to end this part out with a single artist.
If you're still with me, you're awesome. I may fall in love with you by CD 5 if you remain through the whole way. We've reached the point of the Carter Family for the next 6 track, beginning with "Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow." It's definitely a much more light-hearted theme than I expected, given the title. "Little Log Cabin by the Sea" sounds slightly almost exactly the same as the first song, but I guess when you get on a kick that works, you stick with it, if these albums have been an evidence. Even "The Poor Orphan Child" has a similar sound. It is interesting to hear female and male mixes again though, as we haven't heard it in some time. "The Storms Are on the Ocean" allows the girl to sing a little more out instead of as a backup to the male. They keep up cute songs with "Single Girl, Married Girl," but at least change the pacing a little and allow soloists to make a sound. It's the most different so far. We end out set with the Carter Family with "The Wandering Boy," another roughly similar sounding song as the others, but I'm still happy to hear a female taking center stage.
The Alcoa Quartet comes in for the next two songs. "Remember Me, O Mighty One" gives this pretty great blend of voices together, a cappella. It's not polished, but not awful. Same goes, in a different way, for "I'm Redeemed." Singers step out for small solo lines throughout, and the dynamic variances here make it a great piece overall.
"Henry Whitter's Fox Chase" is the start of Whitter's two songs, and it's got to be the most intriguing song yet in this set. There's a harmonica, and then there some other noises in there providing the beat of sorts. The harmonica in this, "Rain Crow Bill" is the song, and I believe there's more than one at place. Pretty interesting piece as a whole.
The Shelor Family takes on the next 5 songs, beginning with "Big Bend Gal." It's actually an interesting recording use of reverb and ambiance. It's only slight, and probably has to do with the actual recording set up more than anything, but I totally get the feel of a barn dance. That feeling continues into "Suzanna Gal." I don't mean it in any negative way at all - the instrumentation is very impressive - it's just the sounds and how they're hitting that makes me thing that. "Sandy River Belle [Take 1]" and "Sandy River Belle [Take 2]" have the same sort of party quality to them as well. Almost like we're live. They're final number, "Billy Grimes, the Rover" keeps it up, even with a simpler sound, like it's toward the end of the dance.
Mr. & Mrs. J. W. Baker (which I think is adorable to name your act as) bring us "The Newmarket Wreck." Not completely sure what to make of these two in the small snippet I got, but they're telling a story. "On the Banks of the Sunny Tennessee" sounds very similar, but you can tell there's another story being told here as well. This is definitely part of the roots of country music.
Rodgers does the next two songs, starting with "The Soldier's Sweetheart." Very simple with a guitar and a man, very reminiscent of early, easy-going country. "Sleep Baby Sleep" is the same way (actually incredibly similar). He lets his voice float a little that provides comfort.
The Tenneva Ramblers have the next three songs. "The Longest Train I Ever Saw" makes me remember why I hate vibrato. Okay, not totally, but the way peoples' voices shake sometimes is just hard to deal with. This is true when any note gets held out and played with too much. Anywhos, it's like a funny band on the porch for "Sweet Heaven When Die," and yes, I'm totally thinking of that scene from Family Guy. Then, to end, there's this just really funny sounding song, "Miss 'Liza, Poor Gal." Seriously, there's just something a little hilarious about it.
"Greasy String" is the first of the West Virginia Coonhunters' 2-song set. And now that I'm thinking about it, I can't get it out of my head - the violins in this completely sound like what a greasy string would probably sound like. Their second song, "Your Blue Eyes Run Me Crazy" is really just a funny little story about a southern girl. It's cute.
The Tennessee Mountaineers polish off this disc with two last songs. "Standing on the Promises" is first, and it's a choir basically, only slightly better than the early ones we heard. It's an old spiritual/gospel-ish song of sorts, almost in a march formation. Their song "At the River" is much of the same, and that's how we end out disc 3.
We've passed the halfway point! The Smyth County Ramblers kick off this set with two songs. Now, with a song name like "My Name Is Ticklish Reuben," I'm not sure what to expect. But, it sounds like your pretty classic fun fiddlin' song. "Way Down in Alabama" is much of the same. The voices here are quite good and blend well.
"Do Not Wait 'Till I'm Laid 'Neath the Clay" is the first of three songs from Karnes. His voice has much more of that down home quality to it, and his guitar is much clearer than previous ones we've been hearing. This continues into "The Days of My Childhood Plays," a reminiscent songs of days gone with good times and pleasant thoughts. Finally, he does "We Shall All Be Reunited" which keeps up an upbeat feel, yet his voice does give the sadness and hope that are needed for a song titled as such.
Phipps has the next 6 songs, beginning with clapping for the beat in "If the Light Has Gone Out in Your Soul." I mean, there's a banjo, but the people are into it as well. "Went Up in the Clouds of Heaven" has those same slaps in it, from here to there. It's going to bug me that I don't remember the term for that sound, especially when "I Know That Jesus Set Me Free" uses it in a different way (not just 1-2, 1-2, 1-2; there's rhythm here!). "Shine on Me" is a much slower song, and I have to say, the voices are not all that great. It's tough. We're back with "Bright Tomorrow" though, singing our little hearts out in a seemingly party in the studio. We end with the girl's taking over a lot of the prominent vocals for "A Little Talk with Jesus."
"I Cannot Be Your Sweetheart" is the first one from Howard & Peak, and it's just so sad and heartbreaking. Poor guy. Now, musically, it's pretty happy, but the story is a sad one. The same kind of sadness is actually very evident in "Three Black Sheep." The voices tell it this time, instead of the lyrics.
Greene's got the next two, starting with "Good-Night Darling." Just a sweet little goodnight song, almost like a cowboy's song before he leaves on his adventure. Oh damn it, now I'm just going to think of Westerns the rest of this time. "Little Bunch of Roses" is like his song around the campfire that night when they've parted and he's on his own.
The Stoneman Family's next on is "The Broken-Hearted Lover." This one doesn't come across as sad at all musically, but then again, the emotions of these are not screamed through their music, or lyrics, or sometimes even titles.
Dunford does the next two songs. "Angeline, The Baker" has a similar sound of what we've been hearing musically with harmonicas, but he voice is much older and worn, which makes it a much more interesting listen. He has the same manner in "Old Shoes and Leggins," using a very old familiar melody, and it's a nice little song altogether.
The Stoneman Family is next with "We Parted by the River Side." It's actually interesting to hear more than one instrument for a minute here, with guitar and harmonic, and maybe some fiddle. The voice is clear, and the use of mics is getting better.
Stoneman looses the family for the next two. (No one laughed at that joke other than me, I'm guessing.) "Down to Jordan and Be Saved" doesn't have quite the clear voice anymore. It's almost that sound of someone having cotton in their mouths. "There's a Light Lit Up in Galilee" is better though, with that clear familiar voice again, until the chorus comes in, and I have a feeling the family is back.
Oh, yes, they are, for the last four songs on the album. "Going Up the Mountain After Liquor, Pt. 1" brings on this little story, I think. It's kind of hard to understand. "Going Up the Mountain After Liquor, Pt 2" seems to continue it, though I'm still sort of confused as to what the hell is going on. We move on to "The Spanish Merchant's Daughter" in a totally different tone, and an interesting take on a Spanish girl. We finish out the disc with "Too Late," a song about being over it, from the sound. Nicely done.
Anyone out there still with me? This is the home stretch! The first six songs on this one are done by the Stamps Quartet, beginning with "I'll Be Happy." Pretty standard to what we've been hearing, but quartet implies harmonies throughout voices. The do so with "Like The Rainbow," giving the bass (extreme bass, by the way) a chance to shine in this main solo. I was waiting for a female voice (dumb, it's a male quartet) in "Because I Love Him" but it's a song for Jesus, not an earthly man. They continue with praises together for "Come to the Savior." "Do Your Best, Then Wear a Smile" is probably my favorite title of the entire set honestly. It's also got this Charlie Chaplin sound to it that is cool to hear. We end our time with the Quartet on "We Shall Reach Home." It's got a piano backing (I didn't even notice that with the rest of the songs - so awesome to finally hear piano going on) and is a much more slowed down, solemn number.
The Smith Brothers do the next two songs. "My Mother Is Waiting for Me in Heaven Above" does keep up the tone you'd expect, as hard as it is to hear these voices. It's at least got that's right. Their second and final number is "She Has Climbed the Golden Stair," and it's a lot more of the same from the sound of it.
Moving on to the Palmer Sisters, who give us the next four songs, starting with "We'll Sing on That Shore." These ladies have a great sound altogether. It's not quite beautiful, but they're solid, and continue that into "Singing the Story of Grace." "Help Me to Find the Way" keeps it simple. They only really use one small stringed instrument to accompany their otherwise a cappella harmonies. "He'll Be With Me" is their final song, and the lower harmonies help bring a richer sound to their close out number.
Tarter & Gray sing the blues, starting with "Brownie Blues" (which reminds me how much I need to finish this and eat lunch). It's most definitely got that nice folk blues feel to it; the guitar is fantastic. "Unknown Blues" has nearly the exact same sound, but there's different lyrics and just works as a general 'I've got the blues' song, even without good reason.
Carolina Twins take on the next 6 songs. "Where Is My Mamma?" still has the blues sound we've been experiencing, though this one sounds like it's from a couple of kids' perspectives. Frogie doesn't go this time, but "When You Go a' Courtin'" has a little harmonica lead in and instructions for what you're to do without him there. "I Sat Upon the River Bank" sounds almost exactly the same, no lie. I think I'm too used to variety to properly appreciate this. However, the Twins give a yodel and change it up a bit with "New Orleans Is the Town I Like Best." "She Tells Me That I Am Sweet" and "Mr. Brown, Here I Come" really do maintain the same sound, complete with yodeling, and close out this set.
We are on our final two songs! Shortbuckle Roark & Family are here to close us out, starting with "I Truly Understand, You Love Another Man." It's a mountain folk song, and, well, works for the title. It's understanding and not sad in the least bit. Just ready yo move on. And the final song for this 5-disc box set is... "My Mother's Hands" to close us out with the down home feeling.
Whew. We made it. Maybe - anyone still there?
Yes, this is clearly an academically compiled set, meant to teach of the times and the people who made it. These were the roots of so much folk and country that we've heard ever since, and it's a great set of music of the times.