2 Oct 2022

Global Music


A trip around the globe in music.

'The music is at times ethereal, achingly beautiful, moving, virtuosic, and just plain strange. The tracks have been sequenced well, and flow very nicely into each other; no small achievement with a collection as diverse as this.'

'Fantastic CD of recordings made between 1918 and 1955 assembled and annotated by Ian Nagoski. This compilation contains 24 tracks from Bali, Burma, Cameroon, China, England, Germany, Greece, India, Japan, Java, Laos, Poland, Portugal, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, Vietnam, and Yugoslavia all newly transferred and mastered from 78 rpm discs. At least 18 tracks appear on compact disc for the first time with all but one never having been previously reissued in the U.S.'

"Overcome with delight or overcome with grief, a person howls. A child listens to the modulations and textures in her parent’s voice. Life is so good that one person is unable to keep from dancing, and another is unable to keep from joining them with clapping and stomping. Is music-making the enactment of a desire to return to those moments?" — Ian Nagoski from the liner notes 

'In the 21st century world of the Internet and digital downloads, the notion that recorded music can be an actual object as well as an auditory moment in time is rapidly becoming a quaint concept, and it changes to some extent the way recorded music travels through this world. These days, of course, it's stored on servers and portable handheld devices, gazillions of bytes of ones and zeros that are transferred mysteriously and sight unseen from one digital realm to another. But it wasn't always so. This wonderful, quirky, and fascinating anthology was compiled by Baltimore record shop owner Ian Nagoski from his personal collection of old 78s, brittle black discs made of ground stone, shellac and carbon that he found stacked and tucked away in countless thrift shops and attics. The 78s collected here were recorded all over the planet, from Bali to Scotland, and had somehow found their way into a stack of records in some dusty corner of a darkened attic, black mirrors, if you will, of their time in the world. That glorious feel of random and wondrous discovery is all over this set, and the music here is strange, beautiful, and rare in a way that will soon be impossible to replicate. Nagoski presents Syrian violinists, Balinese gamelan players and Chinese opera singers side by side, all of whom made recordings that then entered the world as actual objects and consequently traveled in simple and mysterious ways through that world until they came to rest in Nagoski's line of vision as he sifted through stacks of such objects, all of which also made their own journeys, touching lives at every leap in time and space. There's so much to marvel at here. Gong Belaloewana Bali's gamelan piece "Kebyar Ding, Pt. 1" sounds like a living and breathing music box fed through a giant bellows. Scottish Pipe Major Henry Forsyth's "Mallorca" is full of all the elegant sadness the human spirit can hold. The Paul Pendja Ensemble's zippy West African rhumba "Ngo Mebou Melane" is an explosion of joyous sound. Uilleann piper Patrick J. Touhey's "Drowsy Maggie" is nervous and vigorous, belying the tune's title. M. Nguyen makes his monochord dan bau sound like a gloriously demented slide guitar straight out of some Delta dream on "Nam Nhi-Tu," which was recorded in Saigon in the 1930s. Track after track on Black Mirror startles and delights, and the accumulation of all of it makes one wonder what other lost treasures, what other black mirrors of times and places and distant lives are stacked in the back of that old junk shop on the corner, for these pieces, in addition to being pleasures to listen to, are objects that have traveled and touched people along the way. That concept, that one can actually hand another a piece of music, a living, breathing piece of music created and captured in another time and place, and that that music can move from hand to hand and place to place until it is all but lost and half forgotten until someone like Nagoski rediscovers it, is fast slipping from our lives. Oh yeah, you can get on the web and do a virtual search, but this collection is for those who understand that virtual isn't exactly real. It is, by definition, only almost real. The selections on Black Mirror are real. They've traveled. They've been lost. They've been found. They live again and still as very real objects in this very real world.' -Steve Leggett

An enthused, superbly-curated collection of rare 78s gathers folk songs, religious chants, classical pieces, and more from places including Syria, Thailand, Laos, Yugoslavia, Scotland, Cameroon, China, Vietnam, England, and Turkey.

'Black Mirror: Reflections in Global Music (1918-1955) is an enthused, superbly-curated collection of rare 78s. The set was compiled by Ian Nagoski, who runs the respected True Vine record shop in Baltimore, Md. Nagoski-- a righteous bliss-drone musician whose own recorded output is worth hearing-- was once an intern for La Monte Young's long-running "Dream House" installation in New York. He's written about music for The Wire, and in the 1990s he was a contributing editor for the exceptional and sorely-missed 'zine Halana. Nagoski's been collecting 78s since he was in high school, intrepidly and often blindly looking for stuff that sounds cool, even if the labels were all in Russian and he had no idea what it was going to sound like. As you can guess from the title, this assemblage of material comes from long ago and far away, all over the globe: Syria, Thailand, Laos, Yugoslavia, Scotland, Cameroon, China, Vietnam, England, Turkey, and a dozen more.

It's always a treat to be reminded of how much amazing music there is in the world that you've never heard. Seventy-five percent of this material has never been issued on CD, so both bushy-eyed world music newcomers and intrepid crate-combers will find an awful lot to dig in these 24 songs. In fact, only one track's ever been released on a CD in the States before. Black Mirror stacks performers of great renown (at the time) next to uncredited musicians performing folk musics that stretch back for centuries. All of them are obscure today, of course.

Most people associate 78s with inferior sound quality. The word "scratchy" seems quite nearly wedded to the numbers "78," in fact. However, nary a scratch, pop, or crackle is to be heard here. Great care has gone into transferring and mastering these tracks. And unlike a lot of digital processing done in the 90s (when this kind of technology first became affordable), it hasn't heavy-handedly lopped off entire frequencies in the process. Sure, there's a little background hiss in the back of Nino de Priego's gorgeous, flamenco-y "Envidia Yo No Tengo A Nadie", but whatever. There's far more hiss on a Sebadoh record.

It's tough to say what unites these recordings, aside from the fact that they weren't made for export and most represent a tradition in danger of extinction. Highly mannered female vocals flutter on top of string orchestras on a few tracks, while there's a delightful Cameroonian rumba and "Songs in Grief" from Japan (which lives up to its name). A monk rhythmically and effortlessly recites a prayer for what might be the millionth time; he's devoted his life to this particular chant. But some other kind of glue holds all these pieces together: the sequencing, the way the songs unfold, is a large part of the pleasure here. A woozy, melted-sounding "horizontal monochord" recording from Vietnam in 1930 segues perfectly into a passionate recording of Handel performed on a piano in Germany in 1931.

When a thing is done with absolute love, it tends to show. I'm not a huge fan of CDs myself; I have a lot of vinyl and more mp3s than I can count. But it's awfully hard to imagine these songs without the lovely 24-page booklet that comes with the set. The liner notes are lush with information about each track, as much as Nagoski could find anyway. He also brings the listener back to the very dawn of recorded sound by reproducing some of the earliest reactions to Edison's great invention, the phonograph. Nagoski writes with awe himself about finding a special, strange record in a dusty corner, and about how amazing it is that these round, brittle discs can transfer such absolute magic from one generation to another.

There are indeed magical possibilities when it comes to assembling and editing a collection such as this; it's no accident that alchemical symbols dot Harry Smith's liner notes to his celebrated urtext, the three-volume Anthology of American Folk Music. Nagoski also quotes from his own translation of the spiritual-minded, avant-garde poet Roger Gilbert-Lecomte, even borrowing the album's title from one of his works. All that places the material in a different context than one usually finds in globetrotting collections of ye olde records, which often suffer the post-colonial hangover of exoticism. Here's to hoping that Nagoski compiles at least a dozen more records like it. Black Mirror just might be the most remarkable collection of its sort since Pat Conte ceased his CD reissue series Secret Museum of Mankind in 1998.' -Mike McGonigal

Black Mirror: Reflections in Global Musics is a unique and wonderful CD collection of old, obscure recordings of musical performances from dif-ferent parts of Asia and Europe, plus one recording from Cameroon. These recordings were originally released on 78 rpm disks between 1918 and 1955 (with the exception of the final track, a Burmese recording taken from an acetate that may or may not have ever been released commercially). The result, painstakingly remastered so that music taken from ancient record grooves sounds bright and lively (but not distractingly over-enhanced), is nothing less than an ethnomusicological treasure trove, especially for those specialists with research interests in Europe (from which ten of the album’s 24 cuts are taken) and Southeast Asia (seven tracks total). Included in the collection are “Aayega Aanewaala,” Lata Mangeshkar’s first hit film song (1949) and a performance of “Kebyar Ding, I” from Walter Spies’s historic 1928 commercial recording session of Balinese gamelan (the earliest recording ses-sion of its kind known to have occurred), along with a performance by Pipe Major Forsyth, the English bagpipe virtuoso (ca. 1930s); a tune by Christer Falkenstrom, a ten-year-old Swedish singer of art-song accompanying himself on zither (1954); a prayer recitation by Sathoukhru Lukkhamkeow, a Laotian Buddhist monk (1928), and 19 other recordings equally rare and outstand-ing from Burma, Cameroon, China, Germany, Greece, India, Indonesia, Japan, Poland, Portugal, Scotland, Serbia, Spain, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, and Vietnam.  

The extensive liner notes reveal a valiant effort by compiler and co-producer Ian Nagoski to locate information about performances that, until their inclusion in this collection, were identified only by the limited (and sometimes misspelled and inaccurate) information printed on their dusty record labels. A collector and record store owner, Nagoski’s prose has the Romantic excesses and breathless quality of the nonprofessional enthusiast, but his writing is not without substance, nor I would argue is it devoid of genuine insight. He writes:

''Groaning masses of records, the sediment and detritus of the record industry’s attempts to sell music to people almost everywhere on earth, sit stacked all over the world, black, inert, inscribed sound-stones, just as they did 50 or 100 years ago. A possessed listener, someone addicted to the wonder of exploring the sounds of elsewhere, thinks of them as containing galaxies and miasmas of beauty, each one potentially magically charged with the possibility for inward transportation and contact with humanity in extraordinarily elevated form.''

Incredibly, Nagoski claims that acquiring the records for the compilation did not involve more than a half-hour drive from his home in Baltimore or cost more than $125. “Possessed” ethnomusicologists will likely find their own favorite recordings in this compilation. I myself became fascinated by “Djanger,” an eerie a cappella song from Bali attributed to “The Representa-tives of the Democratic Youth of Indonesia,” and originally released around the time of Indonesian independence. This strange vocal genre, which uses gamelan tunings and percussive, kecak-style vocalizations, emerged in the early twentieth century and has undergone several revivals on the island since (p.c., David Harnish, 1 September 2008).  

Given the challenges of finding out about long-forgotten 78s, the pro-ducers do an admirable job of presenting anywhere from a few sentences to a whole page of relevant information about each track. This amount of documentation is impressive for a commercial CD with a limited audience, as such projects tend to have very little explanatory text at all. Particularly unusual for a nonacademic collector’s labor of love like this one (Nagoski’s aesthetic preferences were the sole criterion for song selection), the album’s researchers even draw upon the work of ethnomusicologists. Deborah Wong is consulted in the discussion of “Phleeng Khuk Phaat, Part 2” a Thai classi-cal pi phat ensemble piece (though unfortunately her name is misspelled in the text). The liner notes also quote from Sean Williams’s The Sound of the Ancestral Ship (2001) in reference to an old recording of tembang Sunda, fortunately getting her gender wrong, an error for which Nagoski later apologized profusely (p. c., Sean Williams, 24 January 2008). T. Viswanathan and Matthew Allen’s 2004 volume Music in South India is also quoted in a discussion of a recording of Tamil periya melam ritual music from the 1930s (unfortunately Viswanathan’s name is also misspelled).  

While the above errors are irksome, The Black Mirror remains a valuable collection for at least two reasons. First, despite insistent calls for research-ers to historicize traditional non-Western musics, old recordings of Balinese gamelan, pi phat, and so on, are rarely discussed in detail by ethnomusicolo-gists. The Black Mirror’s contents hint at the unexpected continuities and ruptures that such an undertaking might reveal. For instance, the enigmatic recording of Burmese dance music dating from the 1930s included as the final song on the album sounds remarkably similar to recent recordings of possession ritual music on the album Music of Nat Pwe (2007) except that the former recording lacks vocals.  

Second, while one might object that the 78 rpm disks from which these tracks were taken (not to mention the CD itself) are nothing more than radi-cally decontexualized commodity fetishes, I would counter that it is precisely the processes of objectification and commodification and the fate of musical artifacts (as non-ephemeral things in the world) long after their initial release that need to be better understood when analyzing world music in our own or any time. Therefore we need to take seriously this collection of record-ings, not only because it contains beautiful and rarely heard performances in diverse musical traditions, but because of what it can tell us about exoticism, collecting, and the sonic artifact in the period of emergence and initial expan-sion of the recording industry—a time when “[o]ld modes of apprehending Others and representing them . . . found themselves reused, recycled, and updated”. (Taylor 2007:211). --Jeremy Wallach  Bowling Green State University

Taylor, Timothy D. 2007. Beyond Exoticism: Western Music  and the World. Durham: Duke University Press.

Music of Nat Pwe. 2007. Folk and Pop Music of Myanmar (Burma), vol. 3. Sublime Frequencies SF035.

Viswanathan, T., and Matthew Harp Allen. 2004. Music in South India: The Karnatak Con-cert Tradition and Beyond: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture. New York: Oxford University Press.

Williams, Sean. 2001. The Sound of the Ancestral Ship: Highland Music of West Java. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ian Nagoski

Various – Black Mirror: Reflections In Global Musics (1918-1955)

Label: Dust-to-Digital – DTD-10
Format: CD, Compilation
Country: US
Released: 2007
Style: Traditional Folk Music

1. Naim Karakand - Kamanagah (Syria) 3:21
2. Thewaprasit Ensemble - Phleeng Khuk Phaat, Part 2 (Thailand) 3:12
3. Gong Belaloewana Bali - Kebyar Ding, I (Bali) 3:06
4. Pipe Major Forsyth - Mallorca (Northumbria-England) 2:44
5. Thiruvazhimilalai Subramanian Bros. & Needamangalam Meenakshisundaram Pillai - Manasa Sri Ramachandra (India) 2:58
6. Paul Pendja Ensemble - Ngo Mebou Melane (Cameroun) 3:55
7. Cyganska Orchestra Stefana - Cyganske Vesilia, Part 4 (Lekmo-Poland) 3:29
8. Zhehongyi With Nendi Zhaoguan - Mother's Uproar (Fouzhou-China) 3:18
9. Patrick J. Touhey - Drowsy Maggie (Ireland) 3:07
10. Hutzl Ukrainian Ensemble - Welsisni Melodyi (Hutsul-Ukraine) 2:17
11. Neriman Altindag - Soyledi Yok Yok (Turkey) 3:05
12. Lata Mangeshkar - Aayega Aanewaala (India) 3:16
13. M. Nguyen Van Minh-Con - Nam Nhi-Tu (Vietnam) 3:08
14. Edwin Fischer - Handel's Chaconne, Teil I (Switzerland / Germany) 2:50
15. Marika Papagika - Smyrneiko Minore (Greece) 3:29
16. Petar Perunovic-Perun - Narodne Saljive Pjesme (Serbia) 2:59
17. Nji R. Hadji Djoeaehn - Tjimploengan (Sunda-Java) 3:10
18. Niño De Priego - Envidia Yo No Tengo A Nadie (Spain) 3:18
19. Prof. Lucas Junot - Fado De Passarinhos (Portugal) 2:51
20. Sathoukhru Lukkhamkeow - Nakhone Prayer (Laos) 3:21
21. Christer Falkenstrom - Baklandets Vackra Maja (Sweden) 2:44
22. Representatives Of The Democratic Youth Of Indonesia - Djanger (Bali) 2:17
23. Sinkou Son & Kouran Kin - Songs In Grief (Japan) 2:40
24. Burmese Musicians - Yein pwe (Myanmar) 3:05


RIP Joe Bussard, an American treasure.

This CD features 19 prime cuts from Joe Bussard's shelves of 25,000 78s.

'Wonderful introduction to American Culture. This is an incredible collection, put together by obsessive collector (Joe) Bussard. It includes the record that won Uncle Bunt Stephen the Henry Ford Fiddling Contest, 'Sail Away Lady', Clarence Ashley with his claw hammer banjo, and possible the rarest record in the world, Cleve Reed and Harvey Hull's 'Original Stack 'O Lee Blues.' -- Everett True, Planb, March 2007

'This soundtrack from the documentary film about record collector Joe Bussard, which was also entitled "Desperate Man Blues", is a terrific addition to the CD collection "Down In The Basement: Joe Bussard's Treasure Trove of Vintage 78s 1926-1937" (featuring the likes of Uncle Dave Macon, Rev. Gary Davis, Big Bill Broonzy, and the Stripling Brothers). If you are even a thousandth as interested in classic country, blues, and folk music recordings as that notorious old curmudgeon Bussard, you will delight in these songs from the 20s through the 50s (after which, of course, no music worth recording has ever been produced, at least according to Bussard, the old coot). Macon and the Striplings also make an appearance on this album, along with Robert, Lonnie, and Willie Johnson, as well as Charlie Patton, Son House, the Carter Family, and many other more obscure artists. Bussard is heard making parenthetical (and typically irascible) comments between songs, and his opinionated remarks also serve as liner notes.' -J. Davis

Joe speaking with Lance Ledbetter in 2012

Presenting Beauty to the World
Remembering Joe Bussard, July 11, 1936 - September 26, 2022.

By Dust-to-Digital and Lance Ledbetter, founder and co-director of Dust-to-Digital, Sep 28, 2022

'In an issue of Down Beat Magazine from 1957, Duke Ellington was quoted saying that he was not interested in educating people. This statement inspired Sun Ra to write the following response:

“It is really incredible that Duke Ellington should say ‘I DON'T WANT TO EDUCATE PEOPLE.’ My aim is to educate as many people as I can so far as the appreciation and enjoyment of good jazz music is concerned. The jazz leaders of today must prepare the way for the jazz of tomorrow. We must live for the future of the music.

Many musicians think that most people are destined to be musically ignorant, but I know that there is a spark in every person which will respond and glow to the touch of beauty. Because I know this, I am going to continue presenting beauty to the world until I ignite that spark in people's hearts.” — Sun Ra, 1957

Although Joe Bussard believed that the era of great jazz music had passed by the time Sun Ra wrote this, I feel that Joe would wholeheartedly agree that he too was on a mission to present beauty to the world — in some capacity as a musician, but primarily as a record collector and a sharer of the rare sounds he spent his life saving.

I first encountered Joe while I was working as a radio DJ at Georgia State University. It was 1998, and I had taken over a roots music show from a friend who was graduating. Armed with just the Anthology of American Folk Music in the beginning, I set out to build my collection and the station’s library. I could find blues, country, and jazz, but the one genre I had difficulty locating reissues for was gospel, so one day I decided to go straight to the source. Inspired by a line that I consistently saw in the credits of reissues: “Original 78s courtesy of Joe Bussard,” I tracked down a phone number for a Joe Bussard in Frederick, Maryland and gave him a call.

That first conversation I had with Joe lasted more than two hours. I think maybe I got in ten sentences. Immediately, I could tell that Joe went beyond the role of what I thought a collector would serve and was acting more as a proselytizer for the music he loved and was driven to preserve.

I began receiving cassette tapes of gospel music from Joe in the mail. The bubble mailers smelled so strongly of cigar smoke that I learned in order to prevent my apartment from reeking of cigars I needed to carry the mailers outside and place them directly into the dumpster as soon as I opened them. As for the tapes, I would eagerly listen to them with headphones. The recordings I heard often made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. My listening sessions would be followed by phone discussions with Joe. He would tell me about the artists, the recording sessions, the record labels that released the music on 78s in the 1920s and ‘30s, and in what small town he had found the record usually on his canvassing trips in the 1960s.

Many of these cassettes found their way onto my Sunday morning radio shows, and they also inspired me to think about listeners beyond the area of the station’s broadcast reach. I believed everyone should be able to hear these recordings, so I began to conceptualize a reissue project of rare, pre-WWII gospel recordings. I told Joe about my idea, and he responded with enthusiasm telling me that he would be happy to take whatever records I wanted to re-release to his friend Jack Towers in Washington, DC for a high-resolution transfer.

This was the beginning of a series of enthusiastic responses from Joe that would define mine and his relationship for the next two decades. In 2004, when I proposed creating a box set featuring the recordings he had made on his own 78-RPM record label Fonotone Records, including a separate box set of just the John Fahey sides, he said let’s do both. The next year, when I suggested taking his Country Classics radio show onto Georgia Tech’s radio station and also making it a podcast, he said he would send us new shows every week. In 2012, when I asked if he would be willing for us to set up equipment in his basement for what likely would be several years to digitize his entire record collection for our non-profit Music Memory, he said yes.

Thinking about Joe’s life, I return to Sun Ra’s quote about his mission: “to present beauty to the world until I ignite that spark in people's hearts.” In many ways, that was Joe, channeling his passion for the music he loved to ignite the spark in others. Through his assistance on hundreds of reissues, his Country Classics radio show that ran in some areas for more than 50 years, his participation in having his collection digitized, and his open-door policy for anyone who wanted to experience his record collection in person, Joe strived to pass on the spark that the music had created inside him at such a young age and that burned so brightly until the very end.'

Joe Bussard: King of Record Collectors
'Dust-to-Digital produced this documentary around the time of their Fonotone Records box set release in 2005. The short film, which is included on the Desperate Man Blues DVD, is now officially available online for the first time.'

'On a visit to Joe Bussard’s legendary basement earlier this year I made this short video of him playing what he considered one of the greatest recordings of all time, Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark was the night, Cold was the ground.” RIP Joe' -Joe Heim

Founder of Fonotone Records, the undisputed King of 78s reveals his record mecca of blues, bluegrass, and jazz.

Young Joe at wall of 78s

Joe playing guitar in the mid-1950s, and Joe pulling records out of an abandoned house in the early 1960s.

The undisputed King of 78s – Joe Bussard

'In conjunction with the 2006 DVD documentary of record collector Joe Bussard, Dust-to-Digital released this companion CD, featuring 19 tracks in some of the kind of styles -- rural blues, jazz, and old-timey country music, mostly from the '20s and '30s -- that Bussard loves. Desperate Man Blues: Discovering the Roots of American Music isn't exactly a soundtrack to the documentary, since these records are not featured in their entirety in that film. Rather, it's a survey of some of the highlights of the music in which Bussard specializes, the liner notes featuring track-by-track annotation by Bussard himself. It's an excellent mixture of classics by some of the most esteemed early country and blues giants and the kind of more obscure items that are primarily known only to the type of listeners who covet what Bussard collects. Among the classics are Robert Johnson's "Cross Road Blues," Blind Willie McTell's "Statesboro Blues," Clarence Ashley's "The Coo-Coo Bird," the Carter Family's "John Hardy Was a Desperate Little Man," and the very first version of "Stack O' Lee Blues" ever made (by Cleve Reed and Harvey Hull, in 1927). Other big names on the CD are Son House, Charley Patton, Lonnie Johnson, and Uncle Dave Macon. Yet there are also quite a few tracks by lesser known and little-known artists, like Lane Hardin's "Hard Time Blues" (the only record he made); Jimmy Murphy's "We Live a Long Long Time" (a witty yet wistful 1955 recording that Bussard refers to as the last country record made in Nashville); and the raw one-man electric blues of Joe Hill Louis' "When I'm Gone." Another highlight is Blind Willie Johnson's chillingly haunting, wordlessly sung slide guitar blues "Dark Was the Night," which Bussard describes as "the most incredible record I have ever heard." Of course there are tons more records, and even many other compilations, covering similar ground. But this is a very good anthology for those who want an introduction to this kind of stuff, or those who want compilations that focus on some of the best of it, with sound transfers that eliminate as much of the extraneous noise from these aged recordings as possible.' ~ Richie Unterberger

Joe Bussard and car

Various – Desperate Man Blues: Discovering The Roots Of American Music (Original Soundtrack)

Label: Dust-to-Digital – DTD-05A
Format: CD, Compilation, Reissue
Country: US
Released: 2006
Style: Country Blues, Country, Bluegrass, Rock & Roll

1. Jimmy Murphy - We Live a Long Time to Get Old 2:29
2. Robert Johnson - Cross Road Blues 2:41
3. Joe Hill Louis - When I'm Gone 3:13
4. Lonnie Johnson - Death Valley Is Just Half Way to My Home 3:30
5. Uncle Dave Macon - Whoop 'Em Up, Cindy 2:51
6. Blind Willie McTell - Statesboro Blues 2:34
7. Charley Patton - It Won't Be Long 3:22
8. Son House - Death Letter Blues 4:32
9. Lane Hardin - Hard Time Blues 3:18
10. Hoyt Ming & his Pep-Steppers - Indian War Whoop 3:09
11. Gitfiddle Jim - Paddlin' Madeline Blues 3:19
12. Tennessee Mess Arounders - Mandolin Blues 2:43
13. Clarence Ashley - Coo-Coo Bird 2:57
14. Carter Family - John Hardy Was a Desperate Little Man 2:56
15. Stripling Brothers - Lost Child 3:07
16. Billy Banks and His Orchestra - Bugle Call Rag 2:46
17. Uncle Bunt Stephens - Sail Away Lady 2:59
18. Long 'Cleve' Reed and Papa Harvey Hull - Original Stack O' Lee Blues 2:42
19. Blind Willie Johnson - Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground 3:17

CD is companion to documentary Desperate Man Blues directed by Edward Gillan (2003).

1 Oct 2022

Galax, Virginia


Very rare 'Rounder' LP from 1973

'Fields Ward was a superb singer and guitar player from Virgina (he could play the banjo too… Listen to “Cotton Blossom” on the lp) who was part of a talented musical family. His father was Crockett Ward, a fiddler who recorded in the 1920’s and his uncle was Wade Ward, the famous old-time banjo and fiddle player. Fields recorded with his father Crockett, Wade and Uncle Eck Dunford as The Bogtrotters, a great old-time band that was recorded by The Library of Congress in the 1930’s. The present lp includes many fine songs and instrumentals and a moving acapella rendition of the cowboy song “Bury me not on the Lone Prairie”. The fiddler on the disc is Jerry Lundy, grandson of the famous old-time fiddler Emmet Lundy and Fields’s wife Nancy sings with her husband on a couple of tracks. I strongly recommmend that you read the liner notes on the back of the lp for more informations about the Ward Family and their music.'
(On the back of the lp it says that side 2 has 7 tracks but in fact there’s 8, they ommited the song “Alas my darling”) --Cornbread, molasses & sassafras tea

Fields Ward of Bog Trotters Band, with guitar, Galax, Virginia ca. 1937

'Fields Ward was a talented singer and guitarist best known for his association with the Bog Trotters Band during the '30s,'40s, and the folk revival of the early '60s. Ward was born in Buck Mountain, Virginia to a distinguished musical family; his father was a talented fiddler with a great repertoire of traditional mountain songs, and his mother was a talented ballad singer. He learned to play guitar -- still a relatively new instrument to mountain musicians -- directly from Alec "Eck" Dunford and indirectly from Riley Puckett, whose recordings greatly influenced Ward's playing style. He began recording in 1927 at age 16 with his father and brothers for Okeh. In 1929, he recorded again with the Railsplitters for the Gennett Record Company. These sessions became Ward's favorites but were never released, which left a bad taste in his mouth, and he didn't record again until the 1960s. (Portions of this session were eventually released decades later.) He joined the Buck Mountain String Band in the 1930s and later Wade Ward and his Bogtrotters, a band very popular at local festivals. After recording a Library of Congress session with Alan Lomax in 1937, they worked on CBS's American School of the Air in 1940. Ward did have one chance to become a star when John Lair, who helmed the esteemed Renfro Valley Barn Dance, offered him a regular solo gig, but Ward turned him down because he didn't want to play without his bandmates. The Bogtrotters disbanded in the mid-'40s, and Ward played music mostly for friends and family until being rediscovered in the early 1960s, and recorded several albums. Towards the end of the '60s, Ward suffered assorted health problems, including diabetes, emphysema, and hypertension, but continued performing through the early 1980s.' -Sandra Brennan

Fields Ward – Bury Me Not On The Prairie

Label: Rounder Records – 0036
Format: Vinyl, LP, Album
Country: US
Released: 1974
Style: Bluegrass, Folk
Record Grading: Mint (M)
Sleeve Grading: Excellent (EX)

A1 Peekaboo Waltz 2:10
A2 Bury Me Not On The Lone Prairie 3:49
A3 County Road Gang 2:21
A4 Cotton Blossom 2:34
A5 No Low Down Hanging Around 2:58
A6 Leaving Dear Old Ireland 2:31
A7 The Little Stream Of Whiskey 3:19
B1 McKinley March 1:44
B2 Rockhouse Gambler 2:50
B3 Sweet Bird 2:32
B4 Piney Woods Girl 1:50
B5 Alas, My Darling 2:56
B6 The Train That Carried My Girl From Town 2:03
B7 In The Concert Garden 2:24
B8 Old Zeke Perkins 2:43

Banjo – Burt Russell
Design [Cover Design] – Carole Wilson, Mark Wilson, Sandy Marks
Fiddle – Jerry Lundy
Producer – Mark Wilson
Sleeve Notes – M.W.
Vocals – Nancy Ward
Vocals, Guitar, Banjo – Fields Ward

Track B5, "Alas, My Darling," is present on the record and is listed in the tracklist on the label, but is missing from the tracklist on the back of the jacket.

Recorded in Bel Air, Maryland, 1973.

Frederick, Maryland


RIP Joe Bussard, the 'king of record-collectors' 

'For those who don't know who Joe Bussard is, he is a record collector who, during the 1950s and 1960s, went around the US looking for country, folk, blues, and jazz 78s from the 20s to the 50s. His record collection currently has over 15,000 78s, often in near mint condition. Many of the records are the best condition copies, and some of his records are the only copies in existence. His collecting escapades have helped to preserve an important part of American music history and we are able to hear these songs today because of collectors like Joe. His openness to the public when it comes to listening to and recording his records for compilations also showed his diligence to keeping this music alive. It is a great loss of true importance to American music, and I personally believe he is the greatest record collector of all time.' -ryuundo

'Sometimes recorded sound can transport a listener to another place. Turn on the radio and stand beside a correspondent in Kabul, or drive across the plains of Texas.

Joe Bussard's record collection — perhaps the largest of its kind — sends listeners back in time. Among the nation's leading collectors of music from the 1920s and 1930s, Bussard also has recordings that date to the 19th century. He keeps most of his treasure in a basement near Frederick, Md. The walls are lined with records, all in identical, unlabeled cardboard sleeves. He doesn't have a filing system; he has them all memorized.

This collection is Bussard's hobby — and his obsession. He has thousands and thousands of records harvested during four decades of driving through Appalachia. The collection features blues, string bands, jazz and sacred singing, all preserved on black shellac discs that can feel as thick and heavy as a lunch plate.

"The truest form you'll ever hear in American music is on these records," he tells NPR's Steve Inskeep. "It was put there, and it's remained there for seventy years. It hasn't changed."

Several of Bussard's classic tracks have been collected on a recently issued CD, Down in the Basement: Joe Bussard's Treasure Trove of Vintage 78s 1926-1937 on Old Hat Records.' -Steve Inskeep

Everyone should own this fantastic release! 24 Rare Gems from the King of Record Collectors

'It's a funny thing. As we embark further on our journey into the new century, we are just now starting to rediscover all the long-forgotten, wonderful things about the 20th. Whether it's bluegrass or early jazz, many music lovers have developed a growing fondness for the musical styles of yesteryear. The result has been a slow but growing interest in older recorded music, music trapped on 78 RPM records, just waiting to be unleashed by modern technology.

Enter Marshall Wyatt. His Old Hat label seeks out obscure vintage tunes and releases them in compilation form on CD, opening up a world unknown to our time - taking us back to the basic roots of popular entertainment that still impact the contemporary world.'

''This is the music of poor whites and blacks: wild-ass jazz and string-band hillbilly, surreal yodels and kingsnake moans, lightning-bolt blues and whorehouse romps and orgasmic gospel. It’s all anti-pop, anti-sentimental, the raw sounds of the city gutter and the roadside ditch.'' -Eddie Dean, Desperate Man Blues

''Only one copy of Long Cleve Reed & Little Harvey Hull’s ‘Original Stack O’Lee Blues’ exists, and it’s Bussard’s, and it’s here. So are creaking fiddle breakdowns, earthy blues, soaring gospel, and stomping jazz, all of it exciting, odd, exotic, and free of the taint of manufactured dishonesty.'' -Chris Morris, Los Angeles City Beat

'This is not just another reissue of old 78's .... this is a collection of rarities put together by a man who lives and breathes shellac. The discs on this CD are all prime copies, no elecktrickery; track 21 (Original Stack O'Lee Blues) is the only copy of this disc known to exist, one disc from a label that issued only 55 records....bought in a lot for ten dollars, that someone has since offered thirty thousand dollars for....but collectors never sell, they buy discs to listen to, not trade.
And Joe Bussard is the king of collectors, been at it since his teens, knows his stuff and loves his music...proper music that is. We are lucky that he chooses to share his collection with us and others who've heard his broadcasts....
This is a collectors issue for collectors; you can tell by the booklet with the CD...74 pages with details about the discs, how they were found (each and every one!) pictures of the labels and (mint!!)sleeves....if they could record the smell and feel of a shellac disc in a cardboard sleeve they would have done.
Most of us will never amass stuff like this since the glory days of collecting 78's from the original owners are now well gone; buy this CD and enjoy some real American music from the days when folks appreciated real musicianship.
Then, in the words of Joe Bussard "Enjoy yourself, relax and live!"' -Ralph Caton

'Joe Bussard has been called the “King of Record Collectors” and there’s solid evidence to justify such a title. In the basement of his Maryland home is a vast treasure trove of American vernacular music first recorded by phonograph companies in the 1920s and ’30s- old-time songs, hillbilly hoe-downs, hot jazz, country blues, jug band music, sanctified singing, and a whole lot more. For over 50 years, Joe has pursued this music with a passion that borders on mania, building a world-class collection of 78 rpm records- more than 25,000 in all. With Joe’s cooperation, we’ve carefully remastered 24 tracks of this rare music, representing the major genres in his collection. Included are classic performances by such colorful names as Seven-Foot Dilly, Gitfiddle Jim, The Grayson County Railsplitters, Fess Williams’ Royal Flush Orchestra, Long Cleve Reed & Little Harvey Hull, The Grinnell Giggers, and many more. These recordings are not just historical relics, but vital and entertaining performances that have stood the test of time- a potent dose of great American music.'

'Joe Bussard is a veteran record collector (owning over 25,000 78s) and disc jockey who delights in sharing his recorded treasures with others. This CD allows one the opportunity to hear some of his favorite recordings, many of which are rarities. The 24 selections include country blues, 1920s good-time music, a few jazz performances (the most common of the recordings), early country music, string bands, and several unclassifiable numbers. Long "Cleve" Reed's "Original Stack O'Lee Blues" is heard from its only existing copy. Ranging from Big Bill Broonzy and Luis Russell's jazz band to Gene Autry and Gitfiddle Jim, this is a valuable set that is quite enjoyable from start to finish. Bussard's enthusiasm for early music is felt throughout the extensive liner notes, which tell tales of his life as a record collector. This single CD (hopefully there will be more) is highly recommended to those wondering what the excitement is to pre-swing music.' -Scott Yanow

'Absent shellac fanatics, our sonic world would be a dreary place. Down in the Basement promises "24 rare gems from the king of record collectors." That would be Joe Bussard, a cigar-chomping jug-band renegade, DJ, record producer, musical polymath, raconteur and enthusiast extraordinaire of old-time music.

A social product of the hand-wound Victrola, schooled on Gene Autry soundtracks and the music of Jimmie Rodgers, Bussard began collecting in 1947 at the age of 12, and set up his own pirate country music station at 14, broadcasting from his parents' Virginia basement. He soon moved to commercial radio, and hasn't discarded a single disc over the past 55 years. Listeners should pay heed to Bussard, the visionary curator of a cellar full of quirky period commercial recordings dismissed by professional archivists and casually forsaken by the companies that originally produced these wondrous, weird old sounds.

Culling two dozen tunes from a collection of 50,000 78s is a fool's errand, to be sure, but there's no arguing with producer Marshall Wyatt's choices. While the sound has been digitally scrubbed, the scratchy warmth and bright, gritty panache of the original grooves survive. A bonus is the 72-page booklet, with archival photographs, peculiar record covers, bibliography, and extensive track notes.

You probably haven't heard of most of these artists, but some superb takes of the better known also appear: Reverend Gary Davis's growling declaration, "You Got to Go Down," Gene Autry's louche "Atlanta Bound," Blind Blake and Charlie Spand's saucy "Hastings Street," one of six known versions of Charley Jordan's "Keep It Clean," "Uncle Dave's Beloved Solo" (Dave Macon), and a ringing Big Bill Broonzy guitar solo, "How You Want It Done?"

Lesser known, and all the more astonishing, are such as Luis Russell and His Orchestra's "The (New) Call of the Freaks," featuring a celestial vibraphone and some fine 1929 New York jazz, Fess Williams and His Royal Flush Orchestra's brassy, shack-a-lacka "Hot Town," Gitfiddle Jim's rapid-fire slide guitar on "Paddlin' Blues," a finger-poppin', lickety-split "Runnin' Wild" by James Cole's Washboard Four, the racy "Get the 'L' on down the Road" by Bill Johnson's Louisiana Jug Band, and from the wilds of 1929 Dallas, the Corley Family's polyphonic vocal marvel, "Give the World a Smile." There's more, of course, for as Bussard hears it, "Music is a word for something that no longer exists." Here's evidence of that trenchant paradox.' -Michael Stone

'Let's kick off with a statement of fact: Joe Bussard possesses the finest collection of American vernacular music on 78 r.p.m. shellac disc in the world. Among collectors of such things (and I count myself as one of the little fishes in the pond) he is the head honcho. His generosity in sharing this treasure trove has enhanced many a reissue on vinyl, cassette and CD, from the classic album Fields Ward and His Buck Mountain Band - Early Country Music (Historical HLP 8001 - Bussard owns the only known test pressings, with the story of how he came by them recounted in this CD booklet), through the complete-in-chronological-order Document issues of pre-1950 blues and their ongoing old timey series (the complete Georgia Yellow Hammers is on the way), and on to the short-lived series of cassettes (soon to be available from this site in CD format) issued by Musical Traditions during its salad days in hardcopy format. Articles about Bussard and his awesome collection have appeared before, but the current release offers perhaps the definitive statement, with memories of their initial encounter recounted by Marshall Wyatt, a man clearly swept up in Bussard's unstoppably-enthusiastic wake. In common with all truly great collectors (of whatever persuasion), Bussard's passion intersects with obsession, opinionated frankness and fanaticism.  He uncompromisingly refers to himself in what, in other mouths, might be considered pejorative terms, and indeed both fosters and relishes that reputation.

His tales of acquiring the discs, as recounted here, are amusing, joyous and salutary in turn, exhibiting doggedness and resilience in equal measure. Inevitably, luck has played a major part in the process, but the basic ground work of travelling around knocking on doors began at an early age (just before this reviewer was born, in fact). Most record collectors have similar tales, though not necessarily those yielding such prolific and in many cases unique harvests. Such stories have been a staple of the excellent 78 Quarterly magazine, and I have even recounted a few of my own in What record collectors do on their holidays. Bussard's discovery of a balcony stacked with grime-covered 78s echoes my own experience in Portstewart, Co. Down, in 1987, when I found my first extensive cache of pre-1920 Scottish melodeon player discs, and could no more restrain my excitement than could Bussard in rural Virginia.

The twenty-four tracks featured here are about as good as these various genres get. Within the Anglo-American instrumental tradition we hear Charles and Ira Stripling's double-stopped pizzicato Alabama fiddle and busy guitar duetting on the spectacular The Lost Child, the Ragtime-tinged Plow Boy Hop from the Grinnell Giggers out of Missouri, the densely-complex yet almost throwback sound of Tennessee's Weems String Band on Greenback Dollar, and that remarkable banjo solo of religious melodies by Uncle Dave Macon, effortlessly showcasing intricate and varied playing techniques from both the folk and parlour traditions.

Georgia's John Dilleshaw - Seven Foot Dilly himself - renders a snappy number filled with apocryphal Biblical imagery until the Noah's ark story dries up and he segués into more mundane couplets. The conceit of 'No-ey and the Devil playing seven-up, the Devil win the ark, and No-ey wouldn't give it up' is a choice one. The recording company issued this as The Old Ark's a' Moving, even though Dilly and his harmonist consistently sing 'No(ah)'s ark's a' moving.' The Dixon Brothers tell of a then-recent tragedy in The School House Fire, set rather incongruously to the jaunty tune of Weaver's Life, which they recorded on that same 1937 day in Charlotte, North Carolina. The gut-wrenching chorus 'You could hear those children screaming, while the flames were rolling high; daddy come and get your baby, will you stand and let it die?' has haunted me for decades.  One ought, perhaps, to applaud the inclusion of a Gene Autry item, a performer not particularly in favour among old time enthusiasts, and a nod towards Bussard's earliest musical fancy. This 1931 track features Autry still firmly in his Jimmie Rodgers homage phase, proving once again that he could yodel with the best of them (except Roy Rogers and Montana Slim, of course). His accompanist is Roy Smeck, a virtuoso on practically any fretted stringed instrument (tenor banjo in this instance), well-known on the vaudeville stage and, like Autry himself, destined for the silver screen within a few short years.

Give the World a Smile by the Corley family is a richly textured, staccato evangelical number which benefits from the presence of a young child (whether male or female isn't clear at this age). There is little enough usage made of this rather appealing musical texturing within the commercially-recorded corpus - Asher Sizemore and Little Jimmie may have the highest such profile - but on the radio, a format where many performers in the old timey genre achieved their highest audience ratings, vocalising children were common enough, and the surviving transcriptions made for the medium as a substitute for live performance abound with them. The Carter Family and Patsy Montana (and Sizemore père et fils again) spring most readily to mind.

African-American instrumentals include James Cole's Washboard Band's manic reinvention of the Tin Pan Alley tune Runnin' Wild (most often associated nowadays with the sexily-breathy Marilyn Monroe from the film Some Like it Hot); and one of the breakdown tunes which straddled the colour divide (and a personal favourite for over quarter of a century), Old Hen Cackle, performed by the truly inspired mandolin and guitar combo of Arthur McClain and Joe Evans, which sounds like a 45 r.p.m. recording played with the turntable set at double speed. Just try dancing at that tempo for more than a few minutes at a time.

Big Bill Broonzy's How Do You Want it Done?, an extended sexual metaphor from one of his 1932 sessions, has him flat picking the solo strings of his guitar at great speed, in what is essentially a mandolin technique. Gary (later Reverend Gary) Davis also employs this technique, among a multitude of others, on his tour-de-force 1935 'social tolerance or hellfire' exhortation You Got to Go Down, where he adopts the straining vocal mannerisms of numerous recorded Pentecostal preachers such as Reverends Nix and Gates.

Although three tracks are labelled 'blues' there's not a twelve bar to be heard. The remarkable musically-dense Original Stack O'Lee Blues by the Downhome Boys, much reissued already from Bussard's unique copy (he claims to have turned down an offer of 30,000 dollars for it), dates from the earlier songster tradition; while the jazz-tinged, virtuoso slide guitar number Paddlin' Blues, the first recorded item by a man destined for a prolific post-Depression recording career as 'Kokomo' Arnold, was only half a dozen years young in 1930, concealing as it does the pop number Paddling Madeline Home, waxed with great success by such performers as Ukulele Ike. The third, Easy Rider Blues, is a freeform slice of Louisiana Cajun soul-baring, in which fiddle, one-row melodeon and voice blend seamlessly to create a plaintive whole.  Amedé Ardoin and Dennis McGee recorded the form in greater quantity, but certainly with no greater emotional intensity than Leo Soileau and Mose Robin.

Luis Russell's Orchestra is present among the few jazz tracks, with a stellar roll call of New Orleans luminaries, among them the great clarinetist Albert Nicholas, who launches the number with a terrific solo. Russell himself, featured on piano, was a New Orlean by adoption, but after relocating there in 1919 became fully integrated into the local musical scene, eventually embracing a stint with King Oliver. The (New) Call of the Freaks is a song much beloved by later hokum and Western Swing combos, generally using some form of the 'garbage man' refrain as title.

The inclusion of a single track only caused me to scratch my head and say "Huh?" Bessie Brown, who lies firmly within the sub-genre generically labelled 'the classic blues women,' is singularly unprepossessing, and even the accompaniment by such luminaries as Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Green and (maybe) Fletcher Henderson does little to lift this very far above the level of mere curiosity. Even the CD note itself seems to be apologising for her. But this is thankfully the only odd spot in an otherwise entirely wonderful collection.

Of course, this is unashamedly a sampler, and with pleasure we may note that practically every artist here can be heard more extensively elsewhere, though not necessarily in such good shape. The sound quality on the majority of items is clear and crisp.  Least of all is a swishy Seven Foot Dilly track, and one wonders why another, cleaner number from his extensive output (MT issued a whole cassette) was not chosen. Other than these few minor quibbles this is an outstanding production; joyous music, informative annotations, full discographical details, appropriate photos of record labels and sleeves, and amusing collecting anecdotes galore. I could hardly recommend it more enthusiastically. Order this excellent CD from P.O. Box 10309, Raleigh, North Carolina 27605, or go to the website - www.oldhatrecords.com  Do it now!' -Keith Chandler

Various – Down In The Basement (Joe Bussard's Treasure Trove Of Vintage 78s 1926-1937)

Label: Old Hat Records – CD-1004
Format: CD, Compilation, Remastered, Digipak
Country: US
Released: 2002
Style: Country, Gospel, Hillbilly, Cajun, Delta Blues, Country Blues

1. Stripling Brothers - The Lost Child 3:06
2. Big Bill - How You Want It Done 2:52
3. Luis Russell & His Orchestra - The (New) Call Of The Freaks 3:14
4. Dixon Brothers - The School House Fire 3:14
5. Weems String Band - Greenback Dollar 3:11
6. Blind Gary - You Got To Go Down 3:21
7. A.A. Gray And Seven-Foot Dilly - The Old Ark's A'moving 3:00
8. James Cole's Washboard Four - Runnin' Wild 2:59
9. Charley Jordan - Keep It Clean 2:49
10. Bill Johnson's Louisiana Jug Band - Get The "L" On Down The Road 2:58
11. Sweet Brothers & Ernest Stoneman - I Got A Bulldog 2:52
12. Coleman & Harper - Old Hen Cackle 2:43
13. Bessie Brown - Song From A Cotton Field 2:46
14. Gene Autry - Atlanta Bound 2:49
15. Soileau & Robin - Easy Rider Blues 2:56
16. Bill Brown & His Brownies - Hot Lips 2:51
17. Uncle Dave Macon - Uncle Dave's Beloved Solo 3:05
18. Charlie Spand & Blind Blake - Hastings Street 3:15
19. Fields Ward & The Grayson County Railspitters - Ain't That Trouble In Mind 3:00
20. The Corley Family - Give The World A Smile 3:10
21. Long "Cleeve" Reed & Little Harvey Hull - Original Stack O'lee Blues 2:43
22. Fess Williams & His Royal Flush Orchestra - Hot Town 3:11
23. Gitfiddle Jim - Paddlin' Blues 3:21
24. The Grinnell Giggers - Plow Boy Hop 2:53

Compilation Producer, Photography By [Booklet], Liner Notes – Marshall Wyatt
Concept By – Harris Wray
Graphic Design – David Lynch
Mastered By [Digital] – Robert Vosgien
Remastered By – Christopher King
Research [Stories, Vintage Photos, 78s Collection] – Joe Bussard

with Biographical Essay & Fully-Annotated Discography

Louisville, Kentucky

Experimental resonator guitar

'R Keenan Lawler is a Louisville Kentucky based musician, sound artist, improviser and composer. For nearly thirty years he has been a restless explorer of sound from rock to electro- acoustic improvisation and many points in between. Since the late nineties he is best known for developing a highly idiosyncratic difficult to categorize language on the metal bodied resonator guitar fueled by minimalism, blues, asian and african musics, ancient and modern classical, psychedelia and jazz.'

'R. Keenan Lawler is a Louisville, Kentucky, musician and sound artist who has been active in experimental folk for over 20 years using a National Steel Resonator guitar. His instrumental pieces consist of equal parts composition and improvisation. Music that is difficult to label, not least because of the diverse interfaces that can be found in it. In R. Keenan Lawler's case this ranges from blues, ragas, improv, minimalism and free jazz to drones and psychedelia, while his guitar playing also explores and deepens all sound possibilities. He picks, rubs, hammers and slashes on the strings and sound box, using a bottleneck, bow, marbles, cutlery, and other metal objects to elicit new and unexpected sounds from his National Steel. In addition to many obscure cdr releases and contributions to various project and compilation albums, R. Keenan Lawler released two full CDs: jn 2006 'Ghost Of A Plane Of Air' at Music Fellowship and also in 2006 'Music For The Bluegrass States' at Table Of The Elements.'

'Native Kentuckian R. Keenan Lawler speaks a private, fundamental language via his trademark metal-bodied resonator guitar. With an intensely focused technique, he sets bluegrass and blues-inflected tonalities against dense masses of harmonic overtones and sustained textures. It is a mesmerizing sound, one that conjures the effect of various global trance-musics and has beguiled a series of collaborators including Pelt, Matmos, Charalambides and My Morning Jacket. Inhabiting the mysterious string-space between Tony Conrad and John Fahey, Lawler's is a wholly original idiom of music that brims with near-religious exaltation and spectral, gothic dread -- a daring plunge through the darkened brambles of a particularly raw Americana.' -Soundohm

'There’s more to Kentucky than the Colonel’s famous recipe, and armed with his trademark Resonator guitar R. Keenan Lawler (who was last spotted on the ‘Strands Formally Braided’ CD on Music Fellowship) takes steps in re-branding the bluegrass states for us modern avant-garde heads. Taking a similar route to guitar god John Fahey and the Fahey for our modern age Jack Rose, Lawler wrestles with Bluegrass structures, tearing them apart and bending them into shape as if they were made of thin wire. You might get the hint of a traditional structure for a moment and then we’re back into tangled abstraction, allowing Lawler the space he needs to show off his dextrous fingerpicking. I can’t say I’ve heard Americana interpreted in this way before, there’s something undeniably dark and foreboding about Lawler’s style, which gives his America a quality usually pushed way into the background. A brave move and one which certainly pays off as he treads the line between Tony Conrad’s wild experimentalism and John Fahey’s folk reverence. A bizarre and beautiful statement from a unique voice in American music.' -Boomkat

"Sound is pretty boring if you can't see and hear the color," guitarist R. Keenan Lawler said in a 2001 interview on the website Documentation and Discourse. The idea that music has to be abstract to entertain may seem counterintuitive, but Lawler's multi-hued work makes a convincing case. Bowing, strumming, and plucking his National Steel resonator (a booming 1920s guitar made of heavy nickel-plated brass), Lawler weaves probing instrumentals that can be raw, dissonant, and rambling, but are never boring.

That's because Lawler's semi-structured approach to improvisation frees him up to explore a wide variety of sounds. On Music for the Bluegrass States, recorded live in his hometown of Louisville, Lawler travels through patches of melody, digressions into tangents, and spots of pure abstraction. His fertile playing, amplified by the resonator's ringing tone, evokes the avant-folk of John Fahey, the minimalist drone of Tony Conrad, the backwoods blues of Charley Patton, and the outsider chill of Jandek. But ultimately Lawler is a lone, restless artist charting his own crooked path to the outer reaches of guitar invention.

Each stop along that road is engaging. Opener "That Train Has Left the Station" hammers at percussive chords until they bleed stray notes, while "Wall Climbing Spirit" knits off-tune plucks into a head-rush of strums. On the more tuneful side of the album's wide street, "1930"'s creaky picking creates its own 78-rpm hiss, and the rhythmic melody of "A Universal Rose"' sticks in the brain like a rustling scarecrow in a windy field.

Two tracks fully unite Lawler's twin affinities for tunefulness and abstraction. His bowing on "One of These Days" starts like an orchestra warming up, then morphs into hoedown-worthy string-fiddling. Even more all-encompassing is "The Air on Mars Is Hard to Breathe, We'll Just Have to Stay in Louisville", a 26-minute piece that consumes long drones, intricate finger-picking, and a fervent passage in which mantra-like strums entrance Lawler into self-hypnosis. But then much of this album is introspective, like a conversation Lawler is having with himself. He has collaborated with many groups, from Pelt to My Morning Jacket to Matmos, but years of playing alone grants his music an inside-the-brain aura. (Even his contribution to Matmos' The Civil War was done alone, as he gave the group a recording of himself playing guitar inside a sewer pipe.)

This lonely air gives Music for the Bluegrass States the feel of a journey, which is enhanced by pyramid-shaped sequencing. The shortest tracks come at the beginning and end, while "The Air on Mars…" occupies the middle, like a mount that Lawler scales to meet a sonic Maharishi. That trek may be the album's peak, but the conclusion is where Lawler encounters a real-life hero: free-jazz legend Albert Ayler. Covering Ayler's funereal "Our Prayer", Lawler replaces multi-horn blare with single-guitar solitude, turning a soulful ballad into a private elegy. It's a dazzling trick, but then all of Music for the Bluegrass States is enchanting-- proof that in Lawler's hands, a shiny guitar can become a magic wand. -Marc Masters

'Strange to think that, in the space of a little over 10 years, a record collector from Takoma Park, Maryland, would go from being an overweight dude in wayfarers who’d pawned his guitar for gas station pistachio money to an avatar of the American avant-garde. These images, of course, come from the stories told about the man in the steady stream of articles that began to appear in the mid-’90s, stories already embedded in John Fahey’s ‘forgotten figurehead’ status. Despite the fact that his CV extends back 25 years, at this point any discussion of R. Keenan Lawler’s work, for better or worse, has to pass through the pillars of innovative guitar wrangling: Fahey and Derek Bailey. While Music for the Bluegrass States’ seven tracks are in explicit dialogue with Bailey’s crack jazz serialist MO and Fahey’s bluegrass ragas, the space these artists open up for Lawler to explore ends up being much more significant than the space they occupy within his language.

As the album art makes clear, the album is deeply rooted in place. The clever and subtle mise-en-abîme of the cover photo – which depicts a corner in one of Louisville’s bohemian neighborhoods – suggests what the music bears out: the album is both an attempt at mapping something both incredibly specific and yet somehow ubiquitous. In this case, it’s a run through the sonic palette of bluegrass music that lands us in the liminal zone between the urban, the rural, and the suburban, between avant-garde ‘incoherence’ and the comfort of traditional music.

Recorded live in Louisville in 2006, the album manifests as a series of solo exercises on the steel-string resonator guitar central to traditional bluegrass. Ironically, Lawler's playing style on a guitar named for the depth and clarity of its tone revolves around the metallic, truncated tone of a string buzzing against the fretboard. These on-purpose mistakes suggest more than they actually articulate, and on tracks like "A Universal Rose,” Lawler manages to construct something both as sturdy as James Blackshaw's sprawling, burnished 12-string arabesques and as subtly colored as Fahey’s fake American anthropology. Riding as it does on the interplay between vibration and pattern, Lawler’s guitar evokes a sense of both the sprawling suburban spaces glimpsed from the freeway and the claustrophobic dioramas of American history, overpopulated with ghosts and half-occluded histories.

Lawler’s album is paced carefully so that each of the first three tracks is longer than the last, while each of the album’s final three tracks is shorter than the previous. The sine-wave sequencing of the album feels less like the kind of pathos-filled avant-hillbilly epic you might expect and more like a humid stroll through the ’burbs. These tracks can’t help but feel like both warm-ups/cool downs and preliminary studies/reworkings of the album’s centerpiece, the 26-minute “The Air on Mars Is Hard to Breathe, We’ll Just Have to Stay in Louisville.” The track is both heavy and deliberate, but shies away from turgidity thanks to Lawler’s most fascinating quality: the ability to conjure tones, shades, and an uncanny amount of depth from squelched notes. The song opens with a limpid purple drone as Lawler draws a bow across his guitar’s neck, but before Tony Conrad comparisons kick in, he starts knocking out notes that, while they aren’t fully voiced, have the kind of transitory intensity of a clumsy watercolor. The formal possibilities of Lawler’s instrument play a major role in determining the album’s symmetry. Album opener “That Train Has Already Left the Station,” is probably Music for the Bluegrass States’ prickliest, with its languorous, doubled notes that fan out around the edges into full spectrums, like the two rainbows of the cover photo.

The closest Lawler comes to Fahey is in the latter part of “1930,” which begins with high lonesome notes that slightly wince under the pressure of his slide, then slowly crystallize into a freewheeling cascade of figures. But while Fahey’s phraseology allowed each passage to stretch out, breathe, and merge into the next, the faster parts of Lawler’s playing reveal figures that emerge from other figures, melodies that aren’t quite, because they occupy both the negative and positive space of the song. Much could be written about this clamoring polyphony in the context of bluegrass music’s own gnarled history or the red state/blue state divide that the album’s title indirectly references, but one gets the feeling that Lawler’s not too big on words. Just colors.' -Brandon Bussolini

R. Keenan Lawler – Music For The Bluegrass States

Label: Xeric – XER-CD-108
Format: Digital, CD, Album
Country: US
Released: 2006
Style: Contemporary Folk, Free Folk, American Primitivism, Ambient Americana

1. That Train Has Already Left The Station 3:39
2. Wall Climbing Spirit 5:27
3. 1930 9:40
4. The Air On Mars Is Hard To Breathe, We'll Just Have To Stay In Louisville 25:49
5. A Universal Rose 9:14
6. One Of These Days 4:00
7. Our Prayer 4:26
Bonus Track
8. High Tower Bells For Loren Connors 9:07

Art Direction – Thaniel Ion Lee
Music By – Ayler (tracks: 7)
Music By [All Music By] – R. Keenan Lawler (tracks: 1 to 6)
Photography By – Elizabeth Lawler
Photography By [Inside Tray Photo] – Samantha McMahon
Recorded By – Aaron Rosenblum, R. Keenan Lawler
Resonator Guitar [National Steel Resonator Guitar] – R. Keenan Lawler
Technician [Technical Support] – Steve Good, Susan Archie
Recorded live in Louisville, KY.