PINCH HITS: DECEMBER 1997
By Art Menius
December brings recording recommendations from both the seasonal and great gifts categories. Blue Ridge Mountain Holiday: The Breaking Up Christmas Story (County CO-CD-2722) offers Paul Brown’s public radio special featuring the music of Tommy Jarrell, Ralph Stanley, Ernest East, and many others. Brown blends recent and vintage private and commercial recordings with interviews to guide you to a traditional mountain Christmas house party. The Louvin Brothers epitomized the classic country male lead/tenor vocal duet, influencing Emmylou Harris and Jim & Jesse, among many others. Save for a couple of tepid, overproduced songs, Christmas with the Louvin Brothers (Razor & Tie RE 2154-2), reissuing a 1961 LP, finds Charlie and Ira treating these chestnuts in their own timelessly pure style of harmony.
Phil Ochs’ Farewells & Fantasies (Elektra Traditions/Rhino 73518) earns my nod for the outstanding recording gift under $50. The 3-CD set pleasingly mixes the singer-songwriter and political activist’s all-the-news-fit-to-sing material with his later more musically and thematically complex songs. A lovely 100 page booklet fills in the details about Ochs, the first burdened with the “next Dylan” albatross, who committed suicide not long after the end of the war he spent his life protesting.
A number of recent roots CD’s will make superior gifts. Ricky Skaggs’ Bluegrass Rules (Skaggs Family/Rounder CD-0801) delivers straight ahead, kick-ass bluegrass inspired by Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs, while Doin’ My Time (Sugar Hill SHCD-3870) delights with young master fiddler Aubrey Haynie surrounded by the best players and singers today. Europeans brought the fiddle to this hemisphere along with disease and famine. Wood That Sings (Smithsonian/Folkways SF 40472) demonstrates what the First Nations peoples did with the instrument from the Celtic sounds of the Mi’kmaq to the polka-like chicken scratch from Arizona to the Amerindian fiddling of South America. You can’t go wrong giving any lover of our own Piedmont blues style Carolina Blues and other Down Home Hits, compiling all 29 sides cut by Guitar Slim and Jelly Belly in 1944 in a studio above Jack Dempsey’s Manhattan restaurant.