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.