March 02, 1998
Country, Old-Timey

Album Review

Volume six in Document's seven part survey of Fiddlin' John Carson's complete recorded works presents 23 variably scratchy Okeh recordings made in New Orleans and Atlanta during a 12-month period beginning in mid-December 1929. By this time, the fiddler's daughter Rosa Lee had grown into a rather hardboiled young lady who sounds like a living personification of the name she'd performed under for several years: Moonshine Kate. She is heard with her father and guitarist T.M. Brewer; as a member of a slightly larger group billed as the Virginia Reelers, and as a blue yodeler on "Texas Blues" which, backed with "Raggedly Riley" (a variant on "Devilish Mary") was the first of a handful of records released under her name. Once the prerequisite one-liners are out of the way, Kate follows her father's example by singing "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down" under the title "The Last Old Dollar Is Gone," and this is surely one of her best vocals on record. The same date yielded quite a number of excellent sides, beginning with what could have developed into a sort of bestiary if they'd continued the theme suggested by "The Raccoon and the Possum," "Hen and the Rooster," and "The Dominicker Duck."
There are several fine father-daughter vocal duets, and "Sunny Tennessee" reveals the nicest aspect of old man Carson's temperament, as he relishes the sentimental lyrics before inadvertently demonstrating the kind of radically variable timekeeping that made some of his records seem more than a little bizarre. Like most Southern musicians, the Carsons made a point of including religious songs in their repertoire; examples that surface here are "The Old Ship Is Sailing for the Promised Land" and "At the Cross," which borrows lyrics from "Amazing Grace." Sorting out reels, airs, jigs, and breakdowns can be quite an undertaking as "Little More Sugar in the Coffee" is more or less the same as "Peter Went A-Fishin'," while "John in the Army" is both "Sugar in the Gourd" and "Turkey Buzzard Blues." "Goin' Where the Climate Suits My Clothes" is a retitled "Cotton Eyed Joe," which also appears as the first track on this volume with the eye-catching title "Who Bit the Wart Off Grandma's Nose?" Carson's approach to "You Gotta Let My Dog Alone" (which is "Turkey in the Straw" with elements of "Get Along Home Cindy") is to fortify it with jokes about baby punching and a hound that isn't housebroken. The collection closes with a down-home singalong version of "Didn't He Ramble" (the same tune as the old-time Crescent City jazz standard), which was also known as "The Derby Ram." If you're trying to figure out which of the seven volumes to opt for, the blend of fiddling, strumming, singing, and joking on volume six places it well among the better installments in the series.
arwulf arwulf, Rovi

Track Listing

  1. Who Bit the Wart off Grandma's Nose?
  2. Kate's Snuff Box
  3. Sunny Tennessee
  4. Whatcha Gonna Do When Your Licker Gives Out?
  5. The Last Old Dollar Is Gone
  6. Texas Blues
  7. Raggedy Riley
  8. The Raccoon and the Possum
  9. Hen and the Rooster
  10. Goin' Where the Climate Suits My Clothes
  11. The Dominicker Duck
  12. Silver Threads Among the Gold
  13. On the Banks of Old Tennessee
  14. You Gotta Let My Dog Alone
  15. John in the Army
  16. The Old Grey Horse Ain't What He Used to Be
  17. After the Ball
  18. My Home in Dixie-Land
  19. The Old Ship Is Sailing for the Promised Land
  20. At the Cross
  21. Take the Train to Charlotte
  22. Little More Sugar in the Coffee
  23. Didn't He Ramble