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DIXON BROTHERS 'A Blessing to People' (4CDs) BCD-16817


We have about used up all the superlatives we could find in describing the various magnificent boxed sets that Germany's BEAR FAMILY label has issued over the years, but this wonderful new 4-CD set calls for the highest praise. Bear Family's earliest sets reflected its owner's love of Rockabilly and mainstream country music (Hank Snow, Ernest Tubb, etc.), then they produced complete recordings of all the major Bluegrass groups (the early box sets of Flatt & Scruggs, Bill Monroe and Jimmy Martin have consistently been among our best sellers). The label has only dabbled in Old-time music, with wonderful sets of Darby & Tarlton, the Bristol Sessions, and of course Jimmie Rodgers, so this superb boxed set is quite a surprise. Before we point out some of the highlights here, let us say that this is not for everyone: it is raw, almost primitive "home made" music that must be an acquired taste to the modern listener. But Dorsey & Howard Dixon --textile mill workers from South Carolina --evidently struck a popular chord with thousands of fellow mill hands who kept coming back for more, as their extensive repertoire found its way onto several dozen Bluebird and Montgomery Ward records in the late 1930s. In all, the four CDs include about 90 of the duo's songs --in fact everything that they recorded commercially apart from a handful of lost masters. ( The 4th disc here is devoted to later recordings that Dorsey Dixon made in the 1960s for Pete Welding's Testament label, including 21 previously unissued titles --certainly an interesting bonanza for today's fans.) The brothers' songs --many of them penned by Dorsey, and including Howard's slide guitar accompaniment --include quite a variety of material, ranging from INTOXICATED RAT and SALES TAX ON THE WOMEN to lovely, soulful gospel duets of Dorsey and Beatrice Dixon like SATISFIED AT LAST. But a good number of the songs have to do with mill workers and their hard lives: best known of these are WEAVE ROOM BLUES, SPINNING ROOM BLUES, WEAVER'S LIFE and HOW CAN A BROKE MAN BE HAPPY. And of course there is I DIDN'T HEAR ANYBODY PRAY (later a big hit for Roy Acuff as "WRECK ON THE HIGHWAY"), and the Dixons' unique take on the sinking of the Titanic, DOWN WITH THE OLD CANOE. There are plenty of other song highlights like LITTLE BESSIE, TWO LITTLE BOYS, WHITE FLOWER FOR YOU, TWO LITTLE ROSEBUDS etc. And the overall sound quality is some of the best we've heard involving transfers of old 78s. We could devote an entire page to the absolutely wonderful hard cover book (164 pages) that graces this collection --we'll just say it's a treasure house of rare photos, discography and all sorts of fascinating ephemera. Just a great, great set!