Sunday, May 14, 2006

Those That Refuse It Are Few

The Perm and the Skullet has a bunch of excellent Johnny Cash/Bob Dylan outtakes from the Nashville Skyline sessions. You’ll want to go hear these. Among the tracks is "Old Mountain Dew," a rendition of a tune credited to Bascom Lamar Lunsford.

BLL, as some of you will know, was from Western North Carolina, Asheville way. I remember taking a sort of ethnic/folk music class at Warren Wilson College where we learned "Swannanoa Town" – another tune by Lunsford. Most people know him through the incredible "I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground" as heard on the Anthology of American Folk Music. Lunsford is one of those huge figures in American old time music. His story gives the lie to many of the popular ideas about old-time musicians in the south.

He wasn’t some hick with a spooky surreal apocalyptic vision sprouted from the hardships of farm living and a steady diet of Sunday sermons, though that would be cool, too. Lunsford, like A.P. Carter, if I’m not mistaken, worked briefly as a traveling fruit tree salesman. Like Carter, Lunsford’s travels around the countryside provided him with a chance to seek out, gather and collect old songs. He was an untrained musicologist who kept track of stories about the old songs and paid close attention to who played what, and what instrumental styles were common in what regions. Lunsford was also a lawyer, and you can hear on the recordings that he made for the Library of Congress that he was erudite and spoke with a cultured air. He wore sharp suits and a cool-o eyeglasses. He could have passed for a Bauhaus architect. Lunsford also started a regional folk music and mountain culture festival.

Here are a few of my favorite tracks from the Library of Congress sessions. Like the Carter Family, BLL performed a mix of old tunes that had their roots in Scotch-Irish traditional music, Elizabethan balladry, African-American blues, Cival War era parlor songs, and whatever else the folks in Buncombe County were inclined to play for one another when they gathered for some music. Here is "The Mermaid Song" (with a special nod to Dewey Dell), "In the Shadow of the Pines," and "Swannanoa Tunnel." If you’ve ever been to Swannanoa, it’s sort of startling to find such a speck on the map showing up in a song.

Somewhere on the disc he says that he’s recorded something like 300 songs or so for the library. I’d love to hear them all.

Bascom Lamar Lunsford - "The Mermaid Song"

Bascom Lamar Lunsford - "In the Shadows of the Pines"

Bascom Lamar Lunsford - "Swannanoa Tunnel"

There’s a Buffy St. Marie version of a few BLL tunes, I may have to transfer from vinyl and inflict on you all. Stay tuned.

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