Following their recent compilation celebrating The Johnson City Sessions, Bear Family Records have compiled a collection of the Bristol sessions of 1927-1928.
Famed for discovering and presenting to the world two powerhouse country recording artists, The Bristol Sessions were a series of recording sessions conducted by Ralph Peer in 1927 and ’28. This collection busts some myths surrounding those infamous recordings, providing a rounded factual view of what actually happened, and giving space to those artists who have perhaps been forgotten but deserve just as much respect as those who went down in music history.
Of course, there are the familiar names who became synonymous with the birth of country music; Jimmie Rodgers, The Carter Family, even The Stonemans under the name Ernest V. Stoneman and his Dixie Mountaineers. But more fascinating here are the artists whose names we may not all know. It is almost the case that tracks such as “The Longest Train I Ever Saw” and “Johnny Goodwinn” evoke the spirit of the now-infamous Bristol Sessions better than those who became legends.
There is a wonderful mix of moods among these 26 tracks. Some sound like a snapshot of a barn dance or community gathering; some are real down-to-earth ballads of the people of those rural communities whence many of these performers came; while others feel like the nucleus from which the future country music industry grew.
A number like B.F. Shelton’s “Oh Molly Dear” somehow manages to be all three. The banjo work feels like a foundation on which many future recordings were built. It is easy to see the connection between these earthy recordings and the folk boom of the 1960s.
Of course, when one listens to the track by The Carter Family, it is obvious why they went on to have such enduring success and why they are still so widely regarded today. There is much hype about them being “the first family of country music” and so on. It does not diminish any of the other performers included here to say the Carters fully deserved such accolades. Whilst they stand out, they also blend perfectly with every other number and artist.
Equally so with the other most famous participant of these sessions: Jimmie Rodgers. His trademark lonesome yodelling style is already fully formed here for all to enjoy. In parallel with the Carters, it is clear to hear why Rodgers went forward to and recorded so successfully. His appeal rightfully endures today.
There is–understandably–some audible hiss on most of these recordings. However, given the rudimentary conditions, equipment and somewhat fragile media of the time, these recordings retain astounding clarity. The limitations of the recording environment do not impact on the mood and emotion created and conjured by these recordings.
A Little Something Extra…
Inside a standard CD case, is a booklet containing liner notes written by Ted Olson, in which “the 1927 sessions are reassessed based on recent scholarly research and discussion.”
The information included here is delightfully extensive for any fan or anyone curious about these legendary recording sessions. A fascinating essay and a biography on each artist fill out 43 pages.
- Ernest V. Stoneman & His Dixie Mountaineers – Sweeping Through The Gates
- Blind Alfred Reed – The Wreck Of The Virginian (Take 2)
- El Watson – Narrow Gauge Blues
- Johnson Brothers With Tennessee Wildcats – The Soldier’s Poor Little Boy
- B.F Shelton – Oh Molly Dear
- J.P. Nester – Black-Eyed Susie
- Bull Mountain Moonshiners – Johnny Goodwin
- The Carter Family – The Poor Orphan Child
- Alcoa Quartet – I’m Redeemed
- Henry Whitter – Rain Crow Bill
- Dad Blackard’s Moonshiners – Susanna Gal
- Jimmie Rodgers – Sleep Baby Sleep
- Tenneva Ramblers – The Longest Train I Ever Saw
- West Virginia Coon Hunters – Your Blue Eyes Run Me Crazy
- Tennessee Mountaineers – Standing On The Promises
- Smyth County Ramblers – My Name Is Ticklish Reuben
- Ernest Phipps & His Holiness Singers – Shine On Me
- Howard – Peak (The Blind Musicians) – I Cannot Be Your Sweetheart
- Clarence Greene – Little Bunch Of Roses
- Uncle Eck Dunford – Old Shoes And Leggin’s
- Smith Brothers – My Mother Is Waiting For Me In Heaven Above
- The Palmer Sisters – We’ll Sing On That Shore
- Tarter & Gay – Unknown Blues
- Carolina Twins – New Orleans Is The Town I Like Best
- Shortbuckle Roark & The Family
- Alfred G. Karnes – We Shall Be Reunited
The sound quality is outstanding for the era. The slight hiss almost transports you to the very room where these songs were all recorded. Many of these numbers and the earnest style in which they are performed are so evocative.
Although this collection is probably not the best entry point for the uninitiated, for the curious it is a delight. No number outstays its welcome. Each song and artist invite you into their world. Listening to this album is a full experience. One not to be missed for anyone with an interest in the roots of country music.
Alongside other releases by Bear Family, such as The Johnson City Sessions which we reviewed previously, this compilation represents the catalyst to the growth of the country music industry very comprehensively. A must-listen for fans of Rodgers, the Carters, or the roots of “hillbilly music” alike.
We Shall All Be Reunited – Revisiting The Bristol Sessions 1927-1928 is available from Bear Family Records.