All the fancy lines in the world will not give "Ridin' a Buggy" just due, so I'll forgo the usual and get straight to the point. Since stumbling onto The Tallboys' Yeah Buddy a few years back, I had pretty much been forced to limit myself, old-timey-wise, to the handful of collections made available through labels like Rounder and County and Arhoolie—abels which went out of their way to find and clean up old recordings by the likes of Uncle Dave Macon and Gid Tanner and His Skillet Lickers and a whole host of string bands which infused a rare mountain and rural heart in their music. Those days seemed to be stuck between vaudeville and bluegrass and I loved it, having grown up with a stack of old 78s and a handful of old colored vinyl 45s which I played incessantly, green and blue-green and red translucent works of art which made my heart soar. Before the introduction to The Tallboys, I thought that the sound had been left in the past. At that point, I stood corrected.
I'm still standing corrected, thanks to Paul McGowen and his splitoff band, Shout Lulu. Last year's fine A Long Time Ago-Go (they should have received a Grammy just for the title) caught me off-guard with its authentic old-time sound and the anthropological attention to detail. Ridin' a Buggy takes it a step further. It floors me.
Speaking of floors, you should know that Skye McGowen carries a piece of floor around with her. She is a clogging maniac—well, maybe it's more of a flatfootin' lunatic—and has been using foot and floor to stomp out rhythms whilst Paul, who doesn't seem to want to hold down a day job, er, busks. I know. Who even knows what busking is these days? I guess Paul does and chances are catching the two of them, or the three of them if fiddler Pete Howard lowers himself to street level on occasion, is a real treat. And, hey, who's to blame them. You gotta eat.
When old-timey fans hear this new disc, they should eat well for awhile. While I thought it unlikely, they topped Ago-Go with eighteen outstanding (and I mean outstanding) collections straight out of the musical time machine. Jigs, reels, breakdowns—all here and all performed to virtual perfection. Live. That's right. Says right there in the liner notes (printed on one side on a pretty fine printer and nice paper, too): "All of the songs were recorded 'live' into a pair of nice microphones, at The Old 78s Studio, by Curly Miller. He used his ear to determine who should scoot up or back and did a masterful job." Damn masterful. In fact, what he did shoots the hell out of every argument I've heard regarding sound quality. Simple as, Skye, a bit closer, Pete, a step back. Like Paul writes, "That's Old Time".
If you're not sure what real old-timey music is, think toned-down O Brother Where Art Thou. Plucked banjo, stomps and shouts, rudimentary harmonies, screeching fiddle, baritone ukelele—okay, no screeching fiddle, Pete plays much better than that. But it is primal and basic, and pure mountain. Not only that, it is unmitigated musical anthropology. It is not easy to find songs once played by Frank Blevins and his Tarheel Rattlers, or Luke Highnight's Ozark Strutters. I know. I've tried, but no more. After hearing this, I'm just going to let McGowen do my work for me. To paraphrase a famous line, "Something tells me this is the start of a beautiful friendship."
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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