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Mountain Journey: Stars of Old Time Music

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  • Posted October 14, 2012

    Songs resonating with authenticity of our deepest musical traditions

    At first glance, one has to chuckle at the subtitle of this album, "Stars of Old Time Music." Perhaps with a few more "O, Brother Where Art Thou" and "Cold Mountain" movies, old-time music will have its stars, but I think that's still a long ways off. Twenty-one cuts pulled from Rounder Record releases spanning from 1972-2005 comprise this sampler. The "stars" featured are among the best purveyors of this genre of music - Ola Belle Reed, Bascom Lamar Lunsford, Mike Seeger, Doc Watson, Hazel Dickens, Etta Baker, Ginny Hawker, Blue Sky Boys, and others. Similar to another Rounder old-time music sampler "Come to the Mountain: Old-Time Music for Modern Times," this album provides thoughtful liner notes (by Scott Alarik), artist descriptions, and credits for each song.

    This old-time mountain music is performed by ordinary folk, with plenty of emotional electricity and without any grandstanding. The vocals particularly impart an intensity that is emotionally-charged. Most tracks feature solo vocals, although it's nice to hear a few cuts with harmonies, such as "If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again" (Blue Sky Boys) and "Time Are Not What They Used to Be"( Ginny Hawker and Hazel Dickens). There is even a one-minute song, "The Traveller" featuring sacred harp singers of Georgia and Alabama.

    "Cripple Creek" (Mike Seeger & Etta Baker), "Sweet Sunny South" (fiddled by Buddy Thomas), "Midnight on the Water" (Ralph Blizzard and the New Southern Ramblers), "Cruel Willie" (Connie & Babe and the Backwoods Boys) and "Bully of the Town" (guitar by Etta Baker) are the instrumentals among the cuts. Major record label samplers like this one are welcome entries in their catalog of offerings. The multitude of songs resonates with authenticity of our deepest musical traditions.

    As producer Ken Irwin once said, "In thinking about how to sell the music, I came up with the idea of ‘Stars of Old Time Music,' and we all liked it. For those who don't know the old-time music scene, they might actually buy it thinking it was what it sounded like and for those who knew the scene, they'd see it as being tongue in cheek….When I was growing up, we used to collect trading cards, and the matched sets were highly valued. You tried to collect all of those with the same frame or the same look or whatever. With some of the reissues, we have been successful reaching some of the newer fans to the music by putting together compilations of quality music with a similar look to them hoping that people who had enjoyed the earlier ones would take a chance on the newer ones."

    The compilations from this record label are a great way to showcase many singularly impressive talents. Find your favorites among the sampled artists, and then buy their complete albums to explore them further. (Joe Ross)

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