Field Recorders Collective has become the foremost vehicle for getting music by master old-time musicians into the hands of listeners. As such, they have become in essence a public archive of recordings made during the old-time revival by exceptional collectors and musicians. Times have changed a lot since our friends were recording the traditional bearers back in the 1960s and 1970s, and they have changed since FRC produced its first CD. FRC, therefore, is now making some of their classic early CDs available as digital downloads.
Tommy Jarrell is the Grateful Dead of traditional fiddle recordings. Everybody seemed to record both, and those recordings seem to be everywhere, but the fans still want more. Even though, like his son Benny, we know what he is going to say and what he is going to play, we eat it up. During the last year of Tommy's life, Paul Brown took him to Massachusetts for the Pinewoods Music Camp. Just like at home, Tommy's "teaching" consisted of him playing and sometimes singing, often expertly accompanied by Paul and Mike Seeger. New Yorker Jerry Epstein captured much of the "classes." Tommy Jarrell, Vol. 2 (FRC212) is the second collection drawn from those tapes. The album collects 30 tunes, which helps it stand out from the field. With the 27 selections on Vol. 1, they form a comprehensive collection of Tommy repertoire. Vol. 2 include the "hits" such as "Breaking Up Christmas" and "Joke on the Puppy" and less heard pieces such as "When Sorrows Encompass Me Around" and "Rochester Schottische."
Albert Hash remains a legend in the old-time world as fiddler, tradition bearer, band leader, and luthier. Unlike the other two projects here, the music on Albert Hash, Vol. 2 (FRC707) comes from multiple sources including Wayne Henderson, the Spencers, and the Augusta Heritage Center. Delightfully, several of the 31, yes, 31 tunes include spoken comments by Hash. He plays plenty of the old familars, his original "My Whitetop Mountain Home," and a cover of the pop song, "Love Letters in the Sand." With the variety and intros, this is essential for any Hash fan.
Less well known, and thus even more important to have been recorded, are the The Kimball and Wagoner Families (FRC-06). Fiddler Taylor Kimble (1892-1979) raised two children who are recorded here with his first wife and then remarried at 76, to banjo player Stella Wagoner, also heard here. Ray Alden began recording them in 1972. This release is derived from a double cassette Ray released from those tapes. The set contains far more singing than the other two sets but is more important is what it tells us about the roles of family, place, and time in traditional music. For example, we find the Oak Ridge Boys' hit "The Baptism of Jesse Taylor" and "Silver Threads and Golden Needles" from Wanda Jackson and Linda Ronstadt in among "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down" and "Georgia Buck." Other titles have morphed such as "Duncan and Brady" becoming "Brady Why Didn't You Run" and taking on some aspects of "Otto Wood the Bandit."
If you love the old music and understand about the fidelity of field recordings, you'll live the Field Recorders Collective catalog.
Tommy Jarrell playing with Mike Seeger and Paul Brown at Pinewoods Camp, MA in 1984.
Tommy Jarrell, at the time the oldest living carrier of North Carolina's powerful Round Peak music tradition, rode with me all the way to Massachusetts in the summer of 1984 to stay a week at Pinewoods Camp. There an annual American traditional music and dance week was sponsored by the Country Dance and Song Society of America. Tommy loved to travel and meet people. But at age 83, he was at first a little hesitant about a two-day journey into New England, and a week-long stay in a place with food and traditions he could only imagine would be very different from those of his longtime Surry County home. When I told him he could live in an old house in the woods at camp, where he could cook as much of his own food as he wanted and keep his own schedule, he said he'd go. We packed fiddles and banjos, and also pinto beans, fatback, country ham and corn meal, into the car for the long ride. Tommy held no formal classes. Instead, he sat out on the porch of the old house each day, often with Mike Seeger and me, playing his fiddle, clawhammering the occasional banjo tune, and reeling out his great yarns to a devoted group of campers. He played in a couple of concerts and dances. And he did sometimes walk over to the camp dining hall. Here, in Volume 2 of this FRC set, you'll hear more of Tommy's classics including great performances of "Forked Deer", "Polly Put the Kettle On", and "God Gave Noah the Rainbow Sign". Tommy, Mike and I were closest to Jerry Epstein's microphones. But you'll hear others as well from time to time, including Jackie Spector on banjo. - Paul Brown