featuring Clark Kessinger, Kilby Snow, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Mose Vinson, Napolean Strickland, Jimmy Driftwood, Canray Fontenot, Alphonsos "Bois Sec" Ardoin, Ed and Lonnie Young and others
The Folksong Revival was a dynamic cultural event with its origins in the early 20th century. By the mid-1960s, it had captured American popular music, inspired a generation of folklorists, and served to reintroduce the United States to its vernacular musical roots. Fortunately some of the legendary artists of the 1920s and 1930s were rediscovered and performed at festivals and concerts.
This DVD illustrates well the mingling of old and new within the framework of old-time, cajun, blues and folk music. It focuses on traditional instruments, i.e. the ancient mouth bow, autoharp, fiddle, banjo, accordion, diddley-bow, as well as the piano and guitar.
Clark Kessinger, who was rediscovered in the 1960s, stands out as one of a handful of old time musicians who lost nothing in the years he was out of the spotlight. His playing is as beautiful and clear as it was during the height of his first career in the 1920s as a recording artist. The five Creole performances of Alphonse "Bois Sec" Ardoin and fiddler Canray Fontenot, two caretakers of the Creole tradition, show how Cajun and Creole sounds joined together in Louisiana. Canray and "Bois Sec" had put their first band together, the Duralde Ramblers, in 1948.
Kilby Snow's autoharp playing incorporates old and new compositions. From songs of the hills to tunes by Bill Monroe. The Memphis piano player, Mose Vinson, illustrates how the Delta blues standard, Roll and Tumble can be played in both the "old style" as well as modern. Traditional artists are constantly discarding songs and styles and incorporating newer ones into their repertoires.
Napolean Strickland, Compton Jones and Glen Roy Faulkner show how a wire strung up on the side of a house can produce eerie and evocative sounds. These African retentions are again echoed dramatically by Ed and Lonnie Young and the Fife & Drum Band, residents of the Mississippi highlands whose riveting, ritualized performances powerfully portray the continuity of African elements in the New World.
Titles include: CLARK KESSINGER Sally Ann Johnson, Poca River Blues, Wednesday Night Waltz, Billy In The Lowgrounds, Leather Britches, Chicken Reel KILBY SNOW Shady Grove, Please Don't Take Advantage of Me, Wildwood Flower, Close By JIMMY DRIFTWOOD Old Joe Clark, Galloping Horse FIDDLE GROUP Turkey In The Straw COON CREEK GIRLS East Virginia Blues, Sight Of a Pretty Girl CANRAY FONTENOT AND ALPHONSOS"BOIS SEC" ARDOIN Eunice Two Step, Bon Soir Moreau, Lacassine Special, Jeune Gens de la Campagne, Les Barres de la Prison ED AND LONNIE YOUNG AND THE FIFE AND DRUM BAND Oree, Snake Dance Jessie Mae Hemphill & Group Get Right Church COMPTON JONES Working On The Railroad NAPOLEAN STRICKLAND Roll and Tumble Blues, Bottle Up and Go GLEN ROY FAULKNER Bo-Diddley Blues, When I Lay My Burden Down MOSE VINSON Blues Jumped The Rabbit (Version One), Blues Jumped The Rabbit (Version Two), Roll and Tumble Blues JOHN (PIANO RED) WILLIAMS Roll and Tumble Blues BOOKER T. LOW Roll and Tumble Blues
Running time: 103 minutes
Review: Mining a deep catalog is a win-win for the company and for collectors of older music and videos. Some of these old clips were released on scattered disc before. The music collected here gives the viewer a chance to see a wide range of American indigenous music in its natural setting. Clark Kessinger was a born entertainer, and he loved an audience. He is presented here doing what he does best, playing the heck out of the fiddle and mugging for the camera. His playing was always interesting and would nearly run off the track, but everything was under control. He is probably the most professional of the players presented here. His bowing is a study in control, and he is always on for his audience.
Kilby Snow is a much lower energy performer, but his autoharp playing is of first-rate quality. Jimmy Driftwood acts as an interviewer and performs a couple of pieces on his mouth bow. The Coon Creek Girls were formed to be part of the "Renfro Valley Barn Dance." They're represented here by two songs in their driving style with Rosie Ledford on guitar and vocals and Lilly May on banjo and vocals. The band originally was a quartet. From there, we move way down South to Louisiana where we get a taste of early Zydeco music, the R&B of Cajun music with the great fiddler Canray Fontenot and Alphonsos "Bois Sec" Ardion. Their plaintive music, sung in Creole French is highly danceable, filled with a driving edge. Moving up to the hill country of Mississippi, we are treated to the fife and drum music of Ed and Lonnie Young and the Fife And Drum Band. This music still exists in that region and is intoxicating in its rhythm and texture. Chanted vocals over the drum intermingle with the fife into an enchanting, surreal sound with an out-of-this-world feel.
The balance of the DVD presents a gospel song by Jessie Mae Hemphill and group singing "Get Right Church." Then we are on to several examples of the Bo-Diddley or Diddley-Bo, a one-string instrument made from bottles, nails, and a house, or even a large plank. When folks had no money, they still made music. We are treated to four different versions of a well-known blues tune, "Roll And Tumble Blues," with each artist presenting his take with many shared lyrics, but not all lyrics being the same. The claims to authorship and history are interesting, but nothing says folk process like hearing the range of interpretations a song can take on.
This is a valuable look into music of a half-century ago. This very music had an influence on the music we play today, and to have such a wide range of it available to see and hear is a treasure and joy. - Bluegrass Unlimited
Review: Hot on the heels of Bluesblast's recent review of Vestapol's Legendary Country Blues Guitarists comes another DVD from Stefan Grossman's stable. Like its stablemate, Music From The South also features a collection of rare archive footage of great American musicians, but there is less focus on pure blues on this release, the spotlight instead turning on the likes of old-time fiddle player, Clark Kessinger, autoharpist Kilby Snow, and Jimmy Driftwood playing a mouth-box. There are however some great blues moments.
36 songs are collected on the DVD, from 14 different artists. As with Legendary Country Blues Guitarists, this DVD also does not contain any liner notes with biographical details of the artists or details of how and when these recordings were made. Much of the footage appears to come from the 1950s and 1960s with occasional forays into the 1970s, but something like the gorgeous Creole/Cajun performances of accordion-player Alphonse "Bois Sec" Ardoin and fiddler Canray Fontenot could come from the late 1940s. Be that as it may, the quality of the music on offer is once again is first class.
A number of genres feature on the DVD, from the Appalachian folk of The Coon Creek Girls to the hypnotic fife and drum work of Ed and Lonnie Young and from the gospel of Jessie Mae Hemphill & Group to the blues of the last few tracks. A number of the artists are also filmed talking to the camera about their lives and how they came to play this music. If there is an over-arching theme to the release, it is probably the understanding of how musicians used such a wide variety of acoustic instruments to create what we now call American music, from the mouth bow, autoharp, fiddle, banjo, accordion, and the diddly-bow, where a single wire is played with a bottle or drinking glass, to the more common piano and guitar.
The first half of the DVD has some wonderful highlights, in particular Clark Kessinger's supple and powerful fiddle playing and Kilby Snow's virtuoso autoharp, but it is the latter half that will be of most immediate interest to blues fans.
As the footage turns from black and white to color, Jessie Mae Hemphill sings the gospel song, "Get Right Church", backed by voices, drums and a diddly-bow attached to the wall of a building. Having provided backing vocals to Hemphill, Compton Jones then contributes "Working On The Railroad", backing himself on the bottle and wire and establishing a repetitive, droning rhythm strongly reminiscent of Mississippi Hill Country blues. Napolean Strickland then uses the same instrument to turn in chilling versions of "Roll and Tumble Blues" and "Bottle Up And Go" that could have been recorded 50 years earlier. Later, Glen Roy Faulkner plays "Bo-Diddley Blues" and "When I Lay My Burden Down" on a standalone diddly-bow. Listening to slide guitar players today, it is easy to forget that the diddly-bow, which dates back well into the 1800s, may have been the first "slide" or "bottleneck" instrument that produced the eerie and evocative cries and howls that are so fundamental to blues music today and it is wondrous to see it used on this DVD.
The final tracks on the DVD are wonderful old blues piano pieces. The Memphis great, Mose Vinson, plays old time versions of "Blues Jumped The Rabbit" and "Roll and Tumble Blues." Piano Red (John Williams) and Booker T. Low then also essay versions of the same latter classic. It's a fascinating contrast. Vinson may play with a little more swing, but Red has that distinctive bounce to his playing and there is a muscularity and thrust to Low's version. And the three versions work both end-to-end and as standalone pieces.
If you're a blues fan, you'll want to hear and see the last half of this release. If your tastes include country and folk music, you'll want to hear and see it all. Either way, Vestapol are to be congratulated again on collecting, preserving and releasing footage that captures a time that is long since gone and a music that sometimes appears to be heading the same way. Glorious stuff. - Rhys Williams/Blues Blast Magazine