Posted by Stev187 on Friday, January 26, 2007
"The Legacy Volume 3, Come and Go With Me."
Tommy Jarrell (early 1970s)
I love Tommy Jarrell. I'm not one of those folks who knew him, played with him, or learned tunes from him. I've never been to Mt. Airy. But so much of what everybody does in old-time music comes from Tommy's open, giving spirit. His recordings with Fred Cockerham are some of my favorites, but that's not what I am reviewing here. Here is a look at the banjo record The Legacy of Tommy Jarrell: Volume 3, Come and Go With Me.
We've had some good discussion about this record here on BHO. The banjo on the cover of the record wasn't Tommy's. It belongs to Paul Brown. Apparently Tommy didn't own a banjo toward the end of his life. Given the number of old-time music pilgrims going through his life, he probably could have his pick of banjos to play.
On this record Tommy mostly plays fretted banjo, which is both good and bad. Let's start with bad. Tommy was a killer fretless banjo player, and in my opinion his playing sounds best on a fretless ("Sweet Sunny South" on this record is played on fretless banjo). So the tunes on fretted banjo here are not as driving and exciting as they could be if he played fretless. That said, he selected the banjo. As a student of Tommy's style, however, there is an advantage to learning these tunes from this record. It's actually easier to hear what Tommy is doing on the fretted banjo. Take, for example, "John Henry." The frets hold the particular notes for longer during Tommy's quick sliding passages, so you can really hear the tune and what he is doing. That said, I much prefer that tune played on the fretless.
Some standouts on this record are "Step Back Cindy," "Ducks on the Millpond," and "Sally Ann." Those last two tunes show off Tommy's wonderful singing. Some of these lyrics sound like they were meant to come from Tommy's throat. You hear him sing it, and it feels so natural. "All a them rocks / All them rocks at me."
Another tune with fine singing is "Uncle Ned," the problematic Stephen Foster song. Tommy cleans up the lyric a bit by singing "Darkie" instead of the N-word. To hear Tommy sing and play this tune, you have an intuitive feeling that there is nothing offensive or racist in his intent. That said, for me this and other old-time songs bring up the very complex racial context of Southern music. As Lomax notes in the film Appalachian Jouney, Tommy and other musicians like him lived in a context where both white and black musicans shared musical traditions. Even the racist lyrics in tunes recorded by the likes of Earl Johnson and the Skillet Lickers owe much to the influence of African American musicians.
The County Records web site notes: "Recorded in the early 1970s by Charles Faurot & Rich Nevins, this is one of the all-time gems of old-time music."
In all, this is a wonderful record.
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