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Classic old-time country blues,
This review is from: Country Blues (Audio CD)
This release was almost willed into existence, firstly by the attention given to the singer by Greil Marcus in 'Invisible Republic', his 1997 study of Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes and their dependence on the 1952 Folkways Anthology, and secondly by the re-release of that Anthology on CD and the subsequent singling out for special praise of the two Boggs songs it included. Although Boggs's original twelve recordings have been available on a Folkways album for some time, this CD, with all known alternate takes as well as contributions from associated musicians, contains much more.
Moran Lee 'Dock' Boggs was a coal miner from Virginia who played banjo and sang with a strong nasal twang some of the most intensely haunting white blues of the 1920s, rivalling many a black blues singer in fervour and pain. There is a strong sense of more ancient traditions, both white and black, in his performances. He listened to the recordings of black singers, such as Rosa Henderson and Sara Martin, and adapted some of their songs, including 'Down South Blues', 'Sugar Blues' and 'Mistreated Mama Blues', into his own repertoire. Others, like 'Pretty Polly', 'Danville Girl', and 'Sammie, Where Have You Been So Long?', come from the white tradition.
Boggs recorded the first eight tracks on this album for Brunswick in 1927, accompanied on most songs by Hub Mahaffey on guitar. The following four songs, and the alternate takes, were recorded for the small Virginia label Lonesome Ace in 1929. Both 'Old Rub Alcohol Blues' and 'False Hearted Lover's Blues' from this date use the same tune as the more successful 'Country Blues'. Boggs was backed on this session by the guitar of Emry Arthur, who composed and recorded 'Man Of Constant Sorrow' for Paramount in 1929, a song covered by Dylan on his first album. Dock Boggs was not to record again until after his rediscovery in the 1960s when three new albums were issued by Folkways, and these are also now available on CD.
The final four tracks of this album feature the brothers Bill and Hayes Shepherd from Kentucky, singing in the typical 'high-lonesome' style associated with that state. Hayes, in particular, exhibits an intense delivery similar to that of Dock Boggs on his outstanding pair of performances included here.
Sound quality is pretty good, but surface noise is intrusive on certain tracks, and I can't help feeling that someone such as John R T Davies could have achieved a better standard of remastering. There is a certain quirkiness in the programming, since two-minute periods of silence are provided, to separate the alternate takes from the original releases, and the Shepherd brothers from Dock Boggs. An unnecessary measure, which proves to be quite irritating on repeated playings of the disc.
The CD comes inside a 64-page hardback booklet, cunningly designed to be just too tall to fit onto conventional CD shelving. The external sleeve notes and track listing detach themselves when the cellophane outer wrapper is removed, and are then presumably intended for disposal, since there is no way of re-securing them to the package. It is also difficult to remove and re-insert the CD into its rough cardboard sleeve, attached inside the rear cover. The booklet includes detailed notes by Greil Marcus, adapted from 'Invisible Republic', and also by Jon Pankake, and lyrics are provided to all twelve of Boggs's songs. Photographs are included, but their reproduction is faint. Given the attention that has been lavished in other areas, a discography is almost conspicuous by its absence, and would have been a useful addition. The music itself is superb, and this CD is an essential acquisition for all lovers of old-time music. But beware of the eccentric packaging.