January 02, 1998
Country, Old-Timey

Album Review

Like each of the seven volumes in Document's Fiddlin' John Carson chronology, the third installment contains quite a few scratchy recordings; in fact, considerably more than any of the other volumes. To put it bluntly, most of the records were beat to hell and no effort whatsoever seems to have been made to clean them up. Some, like "Hop Light, Lady" and "The Old Frying Pan and the Old Camp Kettle" are so worn that the needle seems to have trouble negotiating the grooves. These old 78 rpm platters were cut during a period extending a little over eight months from late June 1925 through early March 1926. Carson either performed alone or with guitar and banjo accompaniment by his teenage daughter Rosa Lee, who also sang from time to time in a rather shrill and plaintive voice. Her father's singing was stronger and more direct, and is best represented on this collection by "The Honest Farmer," "The Drunkard's Hiccups," "The Bachelor's Hall," and "Do Round My Lindy," which are closely patterned on old world ballad forms. "All Alone by the Sea Side" contains lines that are usually heard in the gambler's funerary ode "St. James Infirmary." The best fiddling occurs on "The Hawk and the Buzzard" (followed by "Hell Broke Loose in Georgia," which is almost identical to it but much scratchier); "Soldier's Joy," "Liberty", "Cackling Pullet," and "Georgia Wagner," with additional fiddling provided at times by Earl Johnson.
Anyone bothered by the implications of a scratched-up instrumental titled "Flat-Footed Nigger" need only dig beneath the surface of the two Mary Phagan songs for a truly upsetting history lesson. Mary Phagan was a 13-year-old laborer who was sexually assaulted and murdered in April 1913 at a factory where she operated machinery that fixed erasers onto the top ends of pencils. Suspicion fell upon an African-American janitor but soon shifted to Phagan's Jewish supervisor Leo Frank, who was ultimately convicted on trumped-up evidence, sentenced to life in prison, then abducted by an anti-Semitic posse calling themselves the Knights of Mary Phagan and lynched in Marietta, GA in August 1915. Numerous members of the lynch mob were professional gentlemen of Southern society whose names are still on street signs in the region. Frank's violent execution, during which one individual stomped in the face of the corpse after it was lowered from the tree, led directly to the establishment of the Anti-Defamation League. What does all this have to do with Fiddlin' John Carson? According to Gavin James Campbell, author of Music and the Making of a New South, Carson fiddled for a crowd that gathered outside of the courthouse in Marietta to celebrate news of the lynching. Carson had cooked up a song about the murder (complete with lyrics specifying Leo Frank as the culprit) and had been performing it publicly during the police investigation and the trial. During the post-lynching festivities he stood on the courthouse steps and churned out "Little Mary Phagan" over and over again while people cheered. On this collection, the song is sung by Carson's daughter who dutifully traces a ghoulish re-enactment of the crime. Never one to pass up the opportunity either to milk a well-known scandal or revisit any theme in order to sell records, Carson himself solemnly invokes "The Grave of Little Mary Phagan."
arwulf arwulf, Rovi

Track Listing

  1. There's a Hard Time Coming
  2. The Boston Burglar
  3. Little Mary Phagan
  4. The Honest Farmer
  5. To Welcome the Travellers Home
  6. Run Along Home With Lindy
  7. The Lone Child
  8. Flat-Footed Nigger
  9. Bully of the Town
  10. Hop Light, Lady
  11. The Hawk and the Buzzard
  12. Hell Broke Loose in Georgia
  13. Soldier's Joy
  14. The Drinker's Child
  15. The Grave of Little Mary Phagan
  16. All Alone by the Sea Side
  17. Do Round My Lindy
  18. The Batchelors Hall
  19. The Drunkard's Hiccups
  20. Liberty
  21. The Old Frying Pan and the Old Camp Kettle
  22. Cackling Pullet
  23. Georgia Wagner
  24. Goodbye Liza Jane
  25. If There Wasn't Any Women in the World
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