A couple of Boggs tunes were used on Harry Smiths ANTHOLOGY OF AMERICAN
FOLK MUSIC in 1952 and a new generation picked up on the blues-driven raw
boned sound of numbers like "Sugar Baby" and "Country Blues".
In the early sixties, a folk revival was underway. Researchers and fans
were hunting down roots musicians and bringing them to perform for urban
audiences. Bluesmen like Skip James, Son House and Bukka White were all
located and began second careers on the folk circuit, playing concerts and
coffeehouses both here and abroad. Musician Mike Seeger (from the New
Lost City Ramblers, a revival string band that played numbers in the
old-timey style) found Boggs in Kentucky in 1963. Boggs had just
recently begun playing again and Seeger got him gigs at the Newport and
Ashville Folk Festivals, and arranged for him to do recordings for Folkways
This double CD set includes all 50 tunes, originally released on three
LPs recorded in 1963, 64 and 68. Mostly it's solo banjo, Seeger does some
tasteful backup guitar on a few numbers, at Boggs insistence. The
repertoire runs the gamut from old Elizabethan murder ballads to badman
songs, to gospel numbers, to blues tunes. What makes this set of interest
to blues fans is the deep influence of Afro-American music on Boggs'
playing style and tune choices. Boggs first heard "John Henry" as a boy,
when he followed a black guitarist named Go Lightning on his street playing
rounds-"it would thrill me from the top of my head to the soles of my
feet. And so I'd walk along after him..."Boggs recalled. His "Down South
Blues" was learned from a recording of a female blues singer with piano
accompaniment, as were "Mistreated Mama Blues", and "Careless Love".
Dock's style suited the blues--when he sang he picked out single note
melody lines behind his vocals, rather than chording accompaniment like
most did. His raw-boned voice and syncopated, deliberately plucked notes
made for an eerie, compelling sound. He also liked to play in minor
sounding modal tunings, which added a haunted quality. The subject matter
was often grim, check out these titles: "Poor Boy In Jail", "Brother Jim
Got Shot" "I Hope I Live A Few More Days" and "Oh Death". But there are
also several bouncy instrumentals and the gospel numbers promise some hope
of redemption. About half of Boggs' twenties recordings are recut here and
the later versions are on a par with the originals. Dock is playing better
and singing almost as well as in his early days.
Like I said about the Revenant release--this stuff is not easy
listening--but if you liked what you heard there, this 2-hour, twenty-two
minute set is right down the same alley. Songs old as dirt sung by a man
who knew how to work the hardscrabble soil.
This review is copyright © 1998 by Tony Glover, all rights reserved.
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