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Music of the Southern Highlands: Old-Time Stringbands - Heathen Dawn [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

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Music of the Southern Highlands: Old-Time Stringbands [Feb. 21st, 2008|05:24 pm]
When commercial recording technology became available in the 1920s, Appalachian performers emerged as some of America's first recording stars.  Playing a stylized version of the folk music of the Southern Highlands now typically called 'old-time' (but was often called 'Hillbilly' music at the time), performers like Uncle Dave Mason, Fiddlin' John Carson Kelly Harrell, Gid Tanner and Riley Puckett, backed by the characteristic string bands of the time (typically consisting of two fiddles, banjo played in the finger picking, frailing or clawhammer styles, mandolin, guitar and bass) brought Appalachian music to America.  The appearance of the stringbands, and especially, the move to recorded music represented a distinct break in the tradition of mountain music.  No longer a primarily oral tradition in which strong regional variation played an important role, the stringbands served as the key evolutionary bridge between the fluid, community-oriented cultural practice of  19th century Appalachian folk music and the homogenized and performer-centric practice of the emerging country music industry.  Still, this is the medium through which the vast bulk of the folk music of the earlier period has been preserved, and, unlike most subsequent generations of commercially produced country music, the old-time stringbands of the 1920s and 30s were deeply rooted in the Appalachian tradition from which they sprung, and accordingly, played music with a degree of sincerity and authenticity that has really not been matched since.

The following compilation consists of a series of early recordings (1927-1931) made by several (mostly) lesser-known stringbands hailing from North Carolina's "Lost Provinces" (Ashe, Avery, Alleghany, Watauga and Wilkes counties in the northwest corner of the state), a region that remained one of the most isolated parts of the continental US well into the 20th century.  Of the artists included on this recording, by far the most popular (and historically significant) were Grayson & Whitter.  This duo was responsible for popularizing several of the most enduringly loved tunes from the Appalachian tradition, most notably "Train 45," "The Banks of the Ohio," "Handsome Molly" and probably the greatest of all the American murder ballads, "Tom Dooley" (G.B. Grayson was, incidentally, the grand-nephew of the Sheriff Grayson who tracked and apprehended the real-life Tom Dula).  Those familiar with similar vintage blues recordings will note strong stylistic parallels between several of these songs (notably "Short Life of Trouble" and "Don't Get Trouble in Your Mind") and many early blues recordings, despite a distinctly different musical idiom, showing just how indebted to the Appalachian folk tradition the blues really were.

Music From the Lost Provinces: Old-Time Stringbands from Ashe County, North Carolina & Vicinity, 1927-1931