Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Down on the Farm #2

It’s Wednesday, & that means it’s time for more Down on the Farm songs. I really was gratified by last week’s response—thanks as always for all your support.

This week’s selection is a bit more eclectic—while last week’s selections all fell under the large rubric of “Americana” music (old-time & blues), here we have a mixed bag—from Fred Astaire to Charley Patton! Quite a line-up of good tunes, tho, with videos. Hope you enjoy.

  • Farmer’s Lament: “It’s hard, hard on my hardworking farm.” This is an obscure track—it wasn’t released until the late 80s when Cisco Houston’s recordings were re-released on cd. The song was written by Lee Rice, who is probably best known for “The Banks Were Made of Marble.” There’s more than a touch of humor mixed with a genuine concern for the small farmer’s difficult life as he faces challenges ranging from mold to hernias. Cisco Houston: The Folkways Years 1944-1961 (Smithsonian-Folkways)
  • Go Long Mule: Some rhyming words in a song alert you to what’s coming—that is, if you hear “June,” you can be pretty sure you’ll soon hear “moon,” & if you hear “self” you can be sure you’ll hear “shelf” (good friend Bernie Jungle created a whole web page for self/shelf rhymes!). So if you hear “mule,” you just know there’s going to be a “fool.” So Uncle Dave Macon let’s us know “You can change a fool, but a doggone mule is a mule until he dies.” For those who aren’t familiar with his work, Uncle Dave Macon was simply a great old-time banjoist. On “Go Long Mule” we don’t get any banjo pyrotechnics (tho there’s some nice backing fiddle), but we do get Uncle Dave at his boisterous singing (& braying & laughing) best. Uncle Dave Macon: Go Long Mule (Smithsonian-Folkways)
  • Got the Farm Land Blues: A litany of farm laments from the seminal Carolina Tar Heels String Band—which counted the great banjoist & guitar player Clarence Ashley among its members, tho he doesn’t appear on this particular track. In his notes for The Anthology of American Folk Music, Harry Smith wryly & aptly summarized this as: “Discouraging Acts of God & Man convince farmer of positive benefits in urban life.” This is Garley Foster singing & playing harmonica, & the great banjoist Doc Walsh giving him some superb backing. Give ‘em a listen below! The Carolina Tar Heels: Anthology of American Folk Music, vol. 1, Ballads (Smithsonian-Folkways)
  • Green Corn: Last week we considered two excellent contemporary clawhammer banjo players, Mary Z Cox & Dwight Diller, & this week we have a third—RD Lunceford. Mr Lunceford does a beautiful version of “Green Corn” as a lead in to “Sandy Boy” on his Cotton Blossom: 19th Century Banjo Tunes in the Clawhammer Style. Mr Lunceford is a first-rate player, & he also elicits an unfamiliar sound, playing a Bowlin fretless banjo that’s pitched lower than contemporary tuning (as was the case with 19th century banjos). As a result, this instrument has a real boom. Mary Z Cox also plays a Bowlin fretless sometimes. As with Diller & Cox, I’d strongly recommend Lunceford to anyone interested in the clawhammer style or old-time music in general. RD Lunceford: Cotton Blossom (Ceilidh Brothers Music)
  • Hen Cackle: This is an instrumental with Woody Guthrie wielding a pretty hot fiddle, & Cisco Houston providing the guitar back-up! The point is that the fiddle is supposed to sound like a cackling hen. It’s interesting that there’s a syncopation such as occurs in “Chicken Reel.” Woody also recorded a vocal version, but this album has the instrumental only. Woody Guthrie: Muleskinner Blues – The Asch Recordings, vol. 2 (Smithsonian Folkways)
  • Homestead on the Farm: Flatt & Scruggs give a bit of their bluegrass treatment to this old Carter Family classic—tho interestingly, they don’t shift into high gear, but stay at a moderate pace more true to the original. Mother Maybelle Carter played with the Foggy Mountain Boys on this album, & while she doesn’t solo on the autoharp on this particular track, you can hear its lovely jangle in the mix. Flatt’s vocal is exceptional (as usual). Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs: Songs of the Famous Carter Family (Columbia)
  • I Wish I Was Back on the Farm: This is vintage Formby—both the exciting banjo uke playing & the naughty lyrics. Here we have the British lad who’s has gone to the city & longs for the simple life of the farm—“where there’s fun & plenty of it & it isn’t done for profit.” What isn’t done for profit? Check out the great George Formby below! George Formby: The Ultimate Collection (Pulse)
  • I’m Putting All My Eggs in One Basket: Here we’ve wandered quite far from the old-time feel of most of our “farm songs.” But I love Irving Berlin’s music & I love Fred Astaire’s singing. The Irving Berlin Songbook album is top-notch, too, as Astaire is backed by Oscar Peterson on piano, Barney Kessel on guitar, Ray Brown on bass, Charlie Shavers on trumpet, Flip Phillips on tenor sax & Alvin Stoller on drums. What a line-up. The vidclip below is a different version of course, from Follow the Fleet, in which Fred Astaire shows off some very nice stride piano chops (yes, that’s Astaire playing). Fred Astaire: The Irving Berlin Songbook (Verve) *
  • Jersey Bull Blues: OK, so this is pretty much the same song as “Bull Cow Blues,” which we heard Big Bill Broozny play last week. But Charley Patton just sums up the old-time blues to me, so do yourself a big favor & give his version a listen—very powerful vocal & absolutely mind-boggling guitar. Charley Patton: Roots & Blues, Disc 3 (1925-1950) (Columbia); that album is a compilation of several fairly disparate artists. The song is also available on Snapper Music’s The Definitive Charley Patton.

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  1. Even though my ancestral roots are deep in the farms of the midwest, I'm not familiar with these great songs. The clip of Fred Astaire is fabulous. Is there anything that man couldn't do? Fun, fun post, John.

  2. Hi Willow: There are some pretty obscure titles on these lists! Yes, I love that Astaire clip, & yes, his musical talent was pretty spectacular. Thanks!

  3. Are the album covers you've been showing from vinyl or CD releases? The have that vinyl feel...

  4. happy to report I can now listen to the clips that you post on your blog. I feel so connected now. I had to download Adobe Flash...something or other

    No longer in the panic mode over your possibly move(rather selfish of me). Good for you and Eberly for dreaming and living fully!!

    See you tomorrow...even though my spirits are rather down on playing these days. I will push forward and onward.

  5. I just love these musical retrospectives. You bring to mind music I heard forty years ago, and in some cases haven't heard since. It's wonderful.

    btw, your security word is detboide, which I think is something Jimmy Durante said long ago: "Hey! Lookit det boide!"

  6. What a wonderful collection : the kind of collection the word eclectic was invented for. I really look forward to these Wednesday selections now - keep them coming.

  7. Hi folks!

    K: I know what you mean about this images, but they're from cds.

    Heather: That's great! Right, the ubiquitous Adobde Flash. Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow!

    Sandra: That puts me in mind of Jimmy Durante singing "Hi Lili, Hi Hili, Hi Lo"--"in every tree der sits a boide singhin a songh of luf."

    Alan: Thanks! They'll be coming all month!

  8. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  9. I've been awake with insomnia and am now heading back to bed, but I will be back later in the day to really watch and read this.


  10. That George Formby brought a tear to my eye. I don't think I've ever heard that song - always with the risque bits, eh? He was great!

    I didn't know Astaire could play the piano. He looks quite happy, doesn't he? He always tackled everything with great gusto, I believe.

    Thanks for some great clips.



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