Saturday, March 06, 2021

An Hour of Popular Favorites: Royale Concert Orchestra (Royale 1326)


I love the 1930s-style art here, and this particular on-the-town image shows up on at least one other Royale LP.  So, An Hour of Popular Favorites.  Would you settle for 41 minutes?  Because that's what you get.  Of course, you could always put a few tracks on replay, which would get you closer to an hour.  So, I ripped this a week ago, and listening to it just now, the rumble was offending my ears.  So I used MAGIX's rumble filter, and things sound better.  But I mention this on account of the fact that typically, when I make a major change to the sound of a track, or a set thereof, I give it day to make sure I didn't make the change in error.  I'm really meticulous about this stuff.  That's why my Williams College Mandolin Club file (last post) took around ten tries.  During Christmas, when I'm rushing to deadline, I often put up restorations that have me wincing after the fact.  There was a group of 78s that didn't come out very well, but nothing I can do about that now.  Sometimes, you just gotta close your eyes and press the "Publish" tab.  This is not a job for the squeamish.

So, like all Record Corp. of America (not to be confused with RCA) releases--or like many of them, anyway--this has a copyright year of 1952, which I don't trust.  Besides, I'm pretty sure most, or all, of these tracks are reissues--for example, the four Percy Faith tracks--Begin the Beguine, Dancing in the Dark, That Old Black Magic, and The Touch of Your Hand--appeared on Majestic and/or Varsity 78s in 1947 (or at least were recorded in that year).  And the Ted Straeter side--The Most Beautiful Girl in the World--dates to about 1948.

I have no idea where the rest of the tracks come from, but feel free to investigate--and let me know what you discover.  And, unless the Varsity label had a wonky cataloging scheme (which is very possible), it appears that some of the Percy Faith material showed up on that label after Faith hit it big on Columbia.  The old artist-becomes-popular-and-the-previous-label-or-labels-rush-out-earlier-recordings routine.  Like RCA Camden, with Roger Miller.  I imagine Starday Records did the same thing with its Miller material.

Back to today's tracks, the original masters probably sounded good, but Royale did its usual crummy remastering job here, so what we get, audio-wise, is pretty good but nothing to phone home about.  Yet, we (or at least I) have heard far worse fidelity on LPs from this cheapest-of-the-cheap label group--I guess I would have to rate this audio (post-rumble filter) as surprisingly adequate.  It's possible I have a never-before-played copy, though it's hard to tell with junk labels, since "mint" is relative.  And so there were pressing defects and other things I had to contend with, but for late-1940s easy listening, these are all excellent and decently recorded examples.  I was honestly expecting D- fidelity along the lines of An Hour of Star Dust, a Royale classic which boasted terrific performances--and hold-the-mike-up-to-the-radio-speaker fidelity.  An audio embarrassment, though a truly fun LP.  Today's Royale collection is easily a C+, or even a B, sound-wise, and the content is top-notch mood music--in particular, the superb Percy Faith numbers.  I'm sure that Royale, if it was still in business, would send its apologies for the missing 19 minutes (from the "hour" of favorites).

DOWNLOAD: An Hour of Popular Favorites--Royale Concert Orch. (Royale 1326)


Friday, March 05, 2021

Reuben and Cynthia; Come Fill Your Glasses Up; Alagazam (To the Music of the Band); 1903-1915


DOWNLOAD: Reuben and Cynthia; Come Fill Your Glasses Up; Alagazam

I haven't posted in a while, though I have three entries nearly ready.  In the meantime, here are three 78s, two of which required four or five (or six) tries to get right.  Or someplace close to right.  The third--a typically-racist-for-its-time 1915 side called Alagazam (To the Music of the Band)--only required a couple tries, as I quickly realized that the lack of audio body in the quartet was a fault of the recording--maybe something to do with positioning the recording bell/horn to best capture the bass drum sound.  This could have precluded placing the quartet any closer.  And, oddly enough, my memory of this side is that Billy Murray can be heard on it, and prominently.  But there's no trace of him.  Maybe it's simply the kind of thing I can imagine him being a part of.

Reuben and Cynthia, from the 1892 hit musical A Trip to Chinatown (Charles H. Hoyt-Percy Gaunt), is first on our playlist, and it has all the characteristics of a comic country duet (with banter), albeit without country-sounding voices, save for Frank C. Stanley's New England-style old-guy accent (and there was a New England branch of country/hillbilly).  Or, should I say, it contains the seeds of comic country banter?  No, I'll stick with my first choice. 

I'm assuming that  "Reuben" means "rube," and while Stanley is somewhat in character, Corinne Morgan sounds more like a society lady than a simple country girl, or whatever she's supposed to be in this number (lyrics here). Corinne was born in central Ohio, where I live, though her accent is like nothing I've heard in these parts.  However, years of vocal training, the need to overenunciate for the recording horn, plus the fact that the acoustical process wasn't kind to the female range--these could all explain her seemingly odd accent.  That, plus the passage of  118 years.  That can do it.  Now, I was thinking this song might have a folk source, but I've been unable to establish anything like that.  It's probably one of those composed numbers that just happens to sound "traditional."  The same musical gave us After the Ball and The Bowery.  The coolest thing about this 1903 recording (which I ripped from my 1908 reissue) is not only the amazing piano work, but the approximately four seconds of Corinne singing in the background as the record starts, just before the announcer comes in--late.  It seems like both of them missed their cues.  I love caught-on-wax errors of that type.  In the starting grooves, it seems to be a different number Corrine is singing--possibly in preparation for her next session.

The 1914 Williams Mandolin Club 78 was a freebie included with an eBay order.  I was astonished by what I heard, because it is very much like the African-American string bands I'd heard on acoustical recordings from the same period, except, in this case, the Mandolin Club was evidently recorded as is.  It wasn't pared down to four or five players, with the percussion close to the horn (that's why you have to really listen for the drumming on this side).  And, since I have no idea how a large string club/orchestra should sound with the acoustical process, I had to make my best guesses--about nine of them--before deciding my file was as good as I was going to get it.  I really, really want to generalize like crazy from this single example of a college string band/club, given that mandolin and banjo clubs are African-American in origin and that what we likely have here are middle class white kids imitating black models (which meant the kids had heard the real deals).  The second part of this record, the one that picks up in tempo and charges ahead in near-ragtime fashion, is an 1896 text named "Come Fill Your Glasses Up" (gee, I wonder what that's about?) and matched to a strain from Sousa's Corcoran Cadets march of 1890.  But, as much as I want to generalize like crazy from a single example, I know the foolishness of trying.  At any rate, high school and college mandolin and banjo clubs, which were often augmented with drums, reeds, and brass (there seems to have been an anything-goes ethic), were a big thing from the 1880s to the early 1920s.  They didn't up and vanish, but they seemed to become less common after that initial boom.  I have seen a few college banjo club LPs, I believe, but I can't imagine a record store section devoted to same.  "Massed" string bands--clubs--existed all over the country--New England, the Midwest, Colorado, etc., and there were men's and women's groups.  Here's the not-tiny 1917 Oxford University (of Ohio) mandolin club.  Good grief.  And you'll notice a banjo and some other non-mandolin instruments... 

Our last 78--a 1915 Victor--features the superb Peerless Quartet--my favorite of all, from their time as the Columbia Quartette and forward--with Alagazam (To the Music of the Band), and I've heard too many jazz, rag, and rag-related sides from this period to be remotely surprised that the "darky patrol" tradition hadn't yet disappeared.  So much great music from the 1890s-1920s, and there's no way to pry it loose from the front-and-center racism--the words and images--that came with it.  I've been reading up on Alagazam in an attempt to figure out its meaning, and all I can tell you is that there was a 1902 ragtime piece by that title, with "Alagazam" allegedly a refrain marched to by a "colored regiment" in the South--so the composer of the piece claimed to have witnessed.  The word must be related to "Alakazam," which is a magical phrase of the "Abracadabra" type.  Maybe the idea is syncopated rhythms have a magical effect or quality.  Or maybe it's simply a nonsense word. 

A fuller playlist next time...


Sunday, February 28, 2021

Don Richardson and others, 1905-1931


I should win the Creative Blog Title of the Year award for "Don Richardson and others."  Sorry for my long absence--the weather has had me demotivated.  Something about snow (over ice) that just sits there and sits there (and sits there), with the temps refusing to climb above 32--it lowers one's blogging enthusiasm.  However, major meltage is occurring now that we're finally at seasonal temps, and I might even be able to get to the top of my drive, say, today.  I don't intend to attempt this until all (or nearly all) of the snow/ice is gone.  The drive is 2/3 cleared, as we speak.  A long, steep, curved rural drive can be a cool thing, but for the past two weeks and more, it's been anything but.

But we're here to talk early country music.  In my previous post, I did a reading-too-fast error and listed Philip Hauser as the pianist behind fiddler Don Richardson's 1916 sides--in fact, it was Samuel Jospe on the 1916 discs (I corrected the post and mp3 tags).  Hauser tickles the ivories on Don's 1921 sides, and, while making these posts, I discovered I wasn't as up on Don's discography as I imagined--he recorded six sides (three 78s) in 1916, and just as many in 1921, all for Columbia.  Somehow, I wasn't aware of that, and maybe it's because the online 78 discography--the one I couldn't operate without--splits off at both 1917 and 1921 in the way it's sectioned.  Sure, blame the online discography.  Of course, that resource is wonderful and I'm epically thankful for it.

So, there are two 1921 Richardson sides I don't own, but I prefer ripping my own copies, as opposed to borrowing from the Internet Archive, so I hope to acquire these sides sometime.  Nothing against using IA rips--I just like to start with my own, using no response curve for the acousticals, and then working from there.  So... today, we have Don's two remaining 1916 gems--Mrs. McLeod's Reel and The Devil's Dream.  Richardson is as amazing as ever on these two, and I wish my copy was in better shape, though The Devils Dream comes through loud and clear--it's a robust number.  I'm sure there's much boring, er, much fascinating background on these tune titles, but don't look at me.  And the 1921 Richardson titles are gems, and either Columbia was doing quieter pressings by then, or else the shellac mixture from that period has aged better--dunno.  

Then we have the Victor Military Band with Virginia Reels, including one we just heard--only as "Miss McCloud's Reel"--plus "Pop Goes the Weasel," the music to which seems to have originated as a dance in the 19th century, though I don't know about the reel part.  Money Musk, the flip, was a type of country dance--and before "country" meant, well, country--and was named after a village in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.  Now you know.  Fine sides.  Then we have the Tennessee Ramblers, from 1931, doing a "banjo, fiddle and dialogue" version of Arkansas Traveler, which of course means cornball humor, and plenty of it--and at the lightning pace of the old Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In series.  At the time, Laugh-In was treated like a new era in comedy, with the cast breaking the punchline sound barrier on a weekly basis, but it seems they were treading old ground.  For a horrifying time, watch some reruns of that show and try to imagine that it was once regarded as hip.

Then we have Harry Yerkes' Jazarimba Orchestra, from 1918, hammering out Turkey in the Straw, which "introduces" (i.e., includes) Arkansas Traveler and The Preacher and the Bear, though the results don't sound remotely country.  (Big surprise.)  Next, from Maine, we have got Mellie Dunham playing contra dance music--contra dances being related to square dances (that's all I know).  The "calls" are by Mr. N.A. Noble, because you were wondering.  1926 county, and I'm fascinated by any and all New England "roots" of a musical form we regard as southern.  For example, there's that other early country fiddler, Charles Ross Taggart, "The Man from Vermont" (and who, sure enough, grew up there).  He's not in this playlist, but he'd fit right in.

Back to 1905 for Charles D'Almaine's Medley of Old Time Reels, and as country as Charles may sound, we just know he isn't "authentic," if only because he was an accomplished musician--and from England.  Sure, he was born close to the fiddle-tune source (the UK) and he sounds like the real deal, but of what value is "sounds like..." when we're talking about music?  It's not as if music is an aural artform.  (Wait--you mean, it is?)

So... eleven terrific tracks, and I didn't once give my opinion of modern country.  You don't necessarily want to hear it.

On that cheery note...

DOWNLOAD: Don Richardson and others, 1905-1931

Irish Washerwoman/Wearing of the Green/Rakes of Mallow--Don Richardson, violin, Philip Hauser, Piano (Columbia A3424; 1921)
Dance Wid' a Gal, Hole in Her Stocking--SameMrs. McLeod's Reel--Don Richardson, violin, Samuel Jospe, piano (Columbia A2575; 1916)
The Devil's Dream--Reel--Same
Virginia Reels (Intro. Arkansas T., Preacher and the Bear)--Victor Military Band (Victor 18552; 1918)
Money Musk Nos. 1 and 2--Same
Arkansas Traveler (Banjo, Fiddle and Dialogue)--The Tennessee Ramblers, 1931 (Brunswick)
Turkey in the Straw (Inttro. Arkansas T., Preachers and the Bear)--Jazarimba Orch. (Columbia A2537; 1918)
Lady of the Lake (Contra Dance)--Mellie Dunham and His Orch., Speaker: Mr. N.A. Noble (Victor 19940; 1926)
Medley of Old Time Reels--Charles D'Almaine, Violin solo with orchestra (Victor 16393, 1905)
Mountain Rangers (Contra Dance)--Mellie Dunham and His Orch., Speaker: Mr. N.A. Noble (Victor 19940; 1926)


Saturday, February 20, 2021

The return of Don Richardson--1916 country fiddle!

From my collection, four 1916 selections by Don Richardson, the marvelous violinist/fiddler from North Carolina who, though he wasn't the first fiddler to record jigs, reels, and the like for a major label, may have been the first to record entire selections which are so unmistakably in a country/barn dance style.  It's a complicated situation, as country-style fiddle can be heard on discs and cylinders at least as far back as 1900.  Now, rather than try to write a blurb myself, let me refer you to some terrific passages about Don from Play Me Something Quick and Devilish: Old-Time Fiddlers in Missouri, by Howard Wight Marshall: Richardson.

And, also, to this excellent blog piece by historian and country music expert Patrick Huber, who's associated with Archeophone Records' upcoming Before the Big Bang project.

My previous all-Don post was in 2016, before I had my curve-adjusting software, so these rips should sound a lot better.  Since I have multiple copies for several of these, I was able to replace some noisy starting grooves with better-sounding sections--I did this for Mississippi Sawyer and Arkansas Traveler.  A "sawyer," of course, is one who saws.  The word makes for easy dialect-style humor: "Hey, I sawyer sister at the market yesterday!"  Noisy starting grooves on 78s--and they're a fairly common thing--were (as far as I know) caused by tonearm/sound box tracking error.  The farther the gramophone's arm from the center, the greater potential for mistracking, since those arms ran on friction (no anti-skate back then).

With these restorations, my goal was to bring the violin front and center--with the piano nice and clear, too.  That goal took precedence over hiss reduction, though these turned out to be reasonably quiet rips.  In addition to the four 1916 fiddle solos, you'll be hearing Don Richardson's dance orchestra on a 1914 Columbia disc--this starts out the short set.  There's nothing country about the 1914 side (sorry, Wikipedia)--it's early, early dance music.  The versatile Richardson led a dance orchestra and wrote popular songs on top of playing a mean country fiddle.  I imagine that simply his ability to actually read music has the "purists" breaking out in sunspots, and never mind that millions of children start reading music as early as the age of six.  The audacity of a country musician, to have the ability to read music and perform in more than one style!  That's... that's cheating.  Actually, it's called being a performing musician.

Richardson was an amazing player, and the notion of Don as someone who simply performed standard fiddle tunes "as written" is absurd in the light of all the flourishes and moments of improvisation (which typically involve rapid arpeggiating of the melodies) that we hear on these sides.  

Next post: Don's 1921 Columbia fiddle sides.  These were a lot of work, and I think it's mostly because this extreme winter has me pretty sluggish (yet, loveable as always). Thanks to Patrick Huber for the i.d. on Richardson's excellent piano accompanist, Philip Hauser Samuel Jospe. Somehow, I was thinking Nat Shilkret, but he's on Victor, not Columbia,  Hello.

DOWNLOAD: Don Richardson 1914 and 1916  

(Note: The pianist on the 1916 country sides is Samuel, Jospe, not Philip Hauser (information from Patrick Huber's piece).  Just a little misreading on my part.  The mp3 files have been corrected.  My apologies.)


Sunday, February 14, 2021

The Yoder Family: Pure Appalachian-style bluegrass gospel from Indiana


Bluegrass gospel at its best, with a pure Appalachian sound--fiddle and banjo and everything.  Just what we'd expect from northern Indiana, no?  This is another thrift gift from Diane, and it was still sealed!  Mint condition is always nice.  And the audio quality is outstanding, especially for a small label, though I have no idea on the year.  Only one Yoder Family LP shows up at Discogs, and it's not this one.  Anyway, these folks are good, with a sound very much like the Lewis Family's, and the songs are bluegrass standards--River of Death (credited all over the internet to Bill Monroe, though I doubt it), Wayfaring Stranger, Where the Soul of Man Never Dies (aka, To Canaan's Land I'm on My Way), Uncloudy Day, and the cream of the bluegrass crop, 1925's Shoutin' on the Hills (aka, There'll Be Shouting).  I'm pretty sure the voice of the youngest member (Ideanna?) is the light, airy one, and she has a quiet type of projection consistent with her young age and size--the contrast with the more mature voices is pretty charming.

Not much else I can say, except that this is about as good as bluegrass gospel comes.  This would fall into the "roots music" category nowadays, a term I find kind of silly in its vagueness.  The roots of what?  This isn't the roots of anything--it is what it is.  (And you can quote me.)  And the Yoder family doesn't appear to be tethered to the soil, so there are no roots in evidence.  If you've visited this blog often enough, you know I don't approve of treating "traditional" music as a prelude to modern sounds.  I remember my father telling me, "You only like music that's old."  I was maybe 12.  And it was true, but it was my parents who had me take piano lessons and study Bach, Bartok, Chopin, and Scarlatti.  So, yeah, I was into old music.

To the sounds.  Thank you, northern Indiana (and Diane), for the Yoder Family's wonderful offerings.  Oh, and on the mp3 tags I corrected some of the credits.  Gospel labels are amazingly adept at screwing them up.

DOWNLOAD: The Yoder Family--Happy on Our Way