Sunday, February 13, 2011

VARIOUS ARTISTS - Theme Time Hour Volume Three (Ace)

The third and final season of Mr Zimmerman’s indispensable theme-based meander through the panoply of twentieth century popular American vernacular music, and its tributaries and byways, featured such subjects as “Fruit”, “Blood” and (appropriately enough) “Goodbye”. But the key words for yet another immensely enjoyable fifty song romp through the highlights of the show are probably “rhythm” and “blues”, reflecting this volume’s centre of musical gravity in the geographical and chronological cradle of the southern United States circa mid-last century, and incorporating the influences, descendents and classy contemporaneous side-products that reached into middle-America and beyond.

Aside from the great man’s asides, it was the adherence to genuine, big-selling music from Dylan’s youth (step forward Fred Astaire, Sarah Vaughan, Annie Ross) that anchored the shows in radio-era America, whilst re-casting the roots influences - folk, blues, country, gospel, doo wop, jazz - in their proper place alongside and vital to the mainstream, past and present.

To wit, the arresting habit of exposing original versions of numbers integral to pop’s rich tapestry - highlights this time Bessie Banks’s deep soul precursor to the Moody Blues’ Go Now, and Clarence Ashley’s depression-era chiller Little Sadie, later transfused into versions by Johnny Cash and Dylan himself. Speaking of murder songs, a word for Los Socios De San Antonio’s corking mid-70s corrido, La Muerte de Fred Gomez Carrasco, earthy accordion gratifyingly to the fore, the ensemble vocals transcendent and touching. And great to see Jesse Winchester get his (over)due props, and so too Brenda Evans, the (at the time) 12-year-old vocalist receiving equal billing on Elizabeth Cotton’s achingly bittersweet Shake Sugaree.

All those punctuated by the aforementioned R ‘n’ B and its cousins, from Elvises P and C through Professor Longhair to the mighty vocal pipes of O.V. Wright, taking in reggae and calypso too (early, hilarious Mighty Sparrow) and topped off by Bob’s hero, the man who closed the series and (but for Roy Rogers’s evocative Happy Trails) this collection, Woody Guthrie bidding so long to a collection of depth, heritage and quality.

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