Various Artists - Roots Music: An American Journey(26K)

Roots Music: An American Journey

Various Artists


Rounder Record Corp.
One Camp Street
Cambridge, MA 02140

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Matt Fink

Now that it has been just about 50 years since Harry Smith issued his essential Anthology of American Folk Music, it's a good time to step back and evaluate the evolution of traditional folk forms over that period. Roots Music, a sprawling four-disc set that captures many of the great traditional performers that Rounder has recorded over the past 30 years.

In all honesty, the Rounder folks do an overwhelmingly wonderful job with that task. Starting out with the familiar strains of old-timey Appalachian folk, with Norman Blake's rendition of "Tennessee Mountain Fox Chase" and Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard's "Banjo Picking Girl," the set jumps off to a wonderful start and continues on a similar path, winding through fiddle tunes (Joe Thompson), bluegrass (Dry Branch Fire Squad), vocal gospel (The Persuasions), folk revival (Dave Van Ronk), country-blues (Etta Baker), electric blues (Mississippi Fred McDowell), jovial brass band music (The Rebirth Brass Band) and cowboy tunes (Glenn Ohrlin). At times, the constant genre jumps may become a little disorienting, but for the fan of traditional American music, it's a delirium that is wholly tolerable.

The second disc journeys a little farther South to dig up songs and styles outside of the English-speaking folk tradition. As such, we're treated to the Cajun mastery of the Balfa Brothers, the brilliance of young zydeco accordion protégé Chris Ardoin, and the conjunto tunes of Los Cachorros. Strangely, after leaving the Cajun/Spanish influenced styles, we are treated with modern updates of the bluegrass, blues, and jazz heard earlier. How that fits into the flow of music presented, I'm not sure, but with so many genres represented, I suppose a certain amount of chronological or geographical order is bound to be lost.

The jaunt through bluegrass continues on disc three, displaying the modern variants popularized by Alison Krauss & Union Station, Bela Fleck and Rhonda Vincent. Ray Wylie Hubbard is presented as a proto-typical Texas singer-songwriter, the Tarbox Ramblers as a modern electric stringband, and the Holmes Brothers as the most deeply soulful of modern blues bands. Again, Cajun sounds are revisited with the indispensable Buckwheat Zydeco, Beau Jocque and the Zydeco Hi-Rollers, and the rocking Beausoleil. Time and again, it's hard to find any fault with their selections.

The fourth disc in the set sums up the recent past of folk-based music, while throwing a grab bag of musical styles. From the blues of Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown to the roaring eclecticism of the Klezmer Conservatory Band, Rounder has taken great care to leave no stylistic high mark left unaccounted for. Tish Hinojosa, Joe Ely, and Jimmie Dale Gilmore provide the standard-bearers of modern singer-songwriter fare, with relative newcomers like Slaid Cleaves, Sarah Harmer, and Bill Morrissey picking up the rest. However depressing modern music may seem, it's nice to have talents such as these presented in such a context as to show that there may be hope.

With these tracks being culled from the vast catalogue of Rounder recordings, the hard-core completist is unlikely to find anything here that is particularly rare. Still, there is no arguing with the representative selections they've chosen, and the incredible overview presented should be enough for anyone but the most studied of American music collectors. Even then, to assemble a cohesive and concise overview such as this would be more than a little daunting. As so many genres are covered, it may take years of listens to become fully acquainted with the different variations between the related forms - a task that Roots Music ensures will be altogether enjoyable for the listener.

Track List:

Disk 1
  1. Tennessee Mountain Fox Chase - Norman Blake
  2. Banjo Picking Girl - Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard
  3. Old Corn Liquor - Joe Thompson
  4. Rain and Snow - Suzanne Thomas (Dry Branch Fire Squad)
  5. The Orphan Child - Jody Stecher/ Kate Brislin
  6. Working on a Building - Johnson Mountain Boys
  7. You Better Mind - Bessie Jones
  8. Dry Bones - Persuasions
  9. Did You Hear John Hurt? -- Dave Van Ronk
  10. One-Dime Blues - Etta Baker
  11. All the Way from East-St. Louis - Mississippi Fred McDowell
  12. Juke Medley - Robert Nighthawk & Carey Bell
  13. Black's Ball - J.B. Hutto & the New Hawks
  14. Just a Little While to Stay Here - Rebirth Brass Band
  15. Iko, Iko - Bo Dollis & the Wild Magnolias
  16. Mai Kai No Kauai - Tau Moe Family
  17. Texas Cowboy - Glenn Ohrlin
  18. Streets of Laredo - Brownie Ford
Disk 2
  1. Lacassine Special - Balfa Brothers
  2. Ti Galop Pour Mamou - D.L Menard
  3. Dimanche-Apres Midi - Chris Ardoin & Double Clutchin'
  4. Pere et Garcon Zydeco - John & Geno Delafose
  5. Oh Bye Mon Neg - Boozoo Chavis
  6. Zulema Waltz - Santiago Jimenez, Jr.
  7. El Ahualulco - Pregoneros Del Puerto
  8. Ven - Cachorros
  9. Reels: Catherine McEvoy's/Arkle Mountain - Liz Carroll & James
  10. Keane, Jr.
  11. Silver Star Hornpipe/Karen's Reel - Joe Cormier
  12. Long Journey Home - J.D. Crowe & the New South
  13. Leavin' - James King
  14. Old Folks at Home - Vern Williams
  15. Nobody's Business - Freight Hoppers
  16. All Around the World - James Booker
  17. Frankie and Johnny - Tuts Washington
  18. Yancey's Bugle Call - Jack Preacher
  19. Bottle Up and Go - Sleepy LaBeef
Disk 3
  1. Friend of the Devil - Rice, Rice, Hillman & Pederson
  2. Every Time You Say Goodbye - Allison Krauss & Union Station
  3. Man of Constant Sorrow - Tony Furtado & Tim O'Brien
  4. Crossfire - Bela Fleck
  5. You're In My Heart - Rhonda Vincent
  6. Second Wind - Claire Lynch
  7. Black Dog - Ray Wylie Hubbard
  8. Don't Kneel at My Grave Side - Stevens Sisters
  9. Oh Death - Tarbox Ramblers
  10. You Can't Hold On to a Love That's Gone - Holmes Brothers
  11. This Time I'm Gone for Good - Johnny Adams
  12. Down the Road - Marcia Ball
  13. Think It Over One More Time - Buckwheat Zydeco
  14. Just One Kiss - Beau Jocque & the Zydeco Hi-Rollers
  15. Le Danse de Mardi Gras - Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys
  16. Chez Seychelles - Beausoleil
Disk 4
  1. Frosty - Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown
  2. Funkyard - Walter "Wolfman" Washington
  3. Doyne/Freylekhs - Klezmer Conservatory Band
  4. Somos Boricuas - Pleneros De Las 21
  5. Hey Little Love - Tish Hinojosa
  6. El Ano Viejo - The Blazers
  7. All Just to Get You - Joe Ely
  8. One Endless Night - Jimmie Dale Gilmore
  9. Nebraska - the Cash Brothers
  10. Uniform Grey - Sarah Harmer
  11. Broke Down - Slaid Cleaves
  12. Birches - Bill Morrissey
  13. More Than a Paycheck - Sweet Honey in the Rock
  14. Swing Low Sweet Chariot - IIIard Tyme Out
  15. Flamenco Fling - Natalie McMaster
  16. Ashokan Fever - Fiddle Farewell
Edited by: David N. Pyles (
Copyright 2002, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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