Listen Up: Wednesday, April 13, 2005
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A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Compilation

The Appalachians
(Dualtone)

By Tom Geddie

As a soundtrack to the public television documentary series of the same name, The Appalachians probably works well. As a stand-alone c.d., however, its mixture of big names (June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash, The Carter Family, Ricky Skaggs, Jimmie Rodgers) and lesser-knowns (David Grisham, Jean Ritchie, Tony Rice), and of scratchy old recordings and songs made with modern recording techniques, and its attempt to represent a whole subset of our civilization’s roots, produces a collection that is uneven at best.
The Appalachian Mountains extend from Alabama and Georgia all the way into the Saint Lawrence River Valley in Canada. The part of the range most closely identified with a musical style is the mid-southern region where Scottish-Irish immigrants blended instruments and songs from the old countries with the new American experience and, to a degree, with the blues. Real country music grew out of this environment, as well as real folk music.
Hardship and homicides, churches and coal mines, moonshine and electricity, and an enduring sort of patient joy, or at least the simulacrum of it, come through clearly in the familiar songs (“Wildwood Flower,” “Waiting for a Train”).
But two fiddle instrumentals — “East River of Shannon,” which sounds like an old song but isn’t, and Rose Bell’s slow, down-on-the-low-strings take on the classic “Amazing Grace” — capture the mythical locale better than any of the other songs, leaving room for the imagination to feel both the isolation and sense of awe that sometimes lead to great, enduring art. Ritchie’s a capella recording of her own “West Virginia Mining Disaster” and Maggie Hammons’ traditional “When This World Comes to an End” build on those remote and wondrous vibes that almost fill the disc.


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