Record Reviews: Reissues


ANGRY SAMOANS

The Unboxed Set (Triple X)

SOCIAL DISTORTION

Mommy's Little Monster (Time Bomb)

Mainliner (Time Bomb)

Say what you will about the biz-generated texture of punk's recent commercial ascendance. True, it's unleashed a rash of identikit "punk" bands as faceless and plastic as every Sunset Strip metal band who suddenly bought flannel shirts and Big Muff pedals once "Smells Like Teen Spirit" hit. And didn't every last one ring equally false in their hairspray metal days, too? Opportunism will always reign supreme in the music business. But sometimes, desirable side effects can result from others' profiteerial instincts. And the booty to be scored from the rise of record company punk is the flood of long-unavailable punk-rock classics given a second life via rigorous reissue campaigns. The Angry Samoans were the brainchild of Gregg Turner and Metal Mike Saunders (himself a UT graduate), two honors students in the R. Meltzer School of Misanthropic/Dadaist Rock Criticism and longtime champions of 1-2-Fuck-You! noise a la the Stooges and the Dictators. Therefore, once they emerged from a suburban California garage, energized by what they'd absorbed in flea-bitten dens of din like the Masque, it was no coincidence their take on pogo basics was as hilarious as it was hateful ("You stupid asshole/Baby, I'm one, too..."). An equally rabid fondness for Sixties garage snot and smartpop a la the Hollies also ensured their fury retained a degree of listenability. They arose in an age when 14-song LPs clocked in at 14 minutes, so it's no accident the entirety of their output (2 LPs and as many EPs) can sit comfortably on one CD. While the Samoans were pissed-off wussbags and never denied it, Social Distortion leader Mike Ness never admitted his wussbag nature. Whether smearing mascara from eyelid to cheekbone in the vintage punkumentary Another State of Mind (to achieve a "sympathetic look, like I'm crying"), or telling an interviewer in 1991 that he's "still an outlaw" who hangs out "with reformed gangsters" (groan!), Ness has been a poseur of the most atrocious degree. This isn't to say poseurs aren't capable of absolutely primal rock & roll (as any early Clash or Bowie record can prove), and in their early-Eighties prime, Social Distortion were a welcome 1977 throwback in a sea of mindless thrash bands. True, as a lyricist, Ness was hardly Lou Reed ("I love the sound when I smash the glass/If I get caught, they're gonna kick my ass"), and his second-hand cockney drawl is likely the source of Billie Joe Armstrong's. But Ness' otherwise taut, raucous, classic songwriting proved he knew his beloved English punk bands owed as much to vintage glam stompin' as to the New York Dolls. When they were on, Social D. was potent and explosive, and Ness could squeeze enough juicy voltage from his guitar to prove he knew his Wayne Kramer licks. Mommy's Little Monster was the band's sole classic LP (also making it their sole LP on any consequence), while Mainliner collects crucial early non-LP recordings, including their essential "1949" b/w "Under My Thumb" 45. You need all three CDs. Seriously.

(Unboxed Set) 3 1/2 stars

(Mommy's Little Monster) 3 stars

(Mainliner) 2 stars - Tim Stegall


RARE SURF

Vols.1 and 2: The South Bay Bands (AVI)

The nice thing about the phrase "surf music" is that it evokes a very specific sound: twangy instrumentals that ebb and flow over percussive tidal waves. More than the nasal-voiced, ooo-wah-ooo of the Beach Boys or frat-party novelty hits like "Wipeout," real surf music was a largely anonymous venture by regional bands who have remained, well, largely anonymous. It's a dreamy, hypnotic throb melding into pounding beat that lifts the listener and carries you away into the freefall of being under the ocean's surface. And for those for whom the ocean was a prop for beach movies, surf music translated well to road music too; those little two minutes gems worked just as well cranked up on the radio in the Midwest if you were skirting the speed limit and had all the windows down. But inasmuch as songs like "Pipeline" and "Endless Summer" define the more aesthetic, if not successful, end of the genre, Rare Surf makes a case for the Los Angeles-based bands like P.J. & the Galaxies, the Vibrants, the Journeymen, and the Revelaires in these well-documented collections. What's most impressive is how many originals are included and how creative the covers are (P.J. & Artie's version of Lerner & Loewe's "Mariah" cranks it up on Vol. 1; in the second, the Nocturnes kick into Bill Doggett's "Honky Tonk" the right way). The first volume features Paul "P.J." Johnson's many noms de surf with a very direct, straight-ahead surf sound with more Link Wray and Duane Eddy influence; volume two highlights other L.A.-area bands, more covers, and a little more variety. Not essential music but certainly an excellent addition to any collection. (Both) 3 stars - Margaret Moser


THE MILLS BROTHERS

The Mills Brothers: The Anthology 1931-1968 (Decca/MCA)

What a wonderful assemblage this is! 48 songs by a quartet of brothers that includes guests like Ella Fitzgerald, Al Jolson, Count Basie, and Louis Armstrong; the best songwriters like Hoagy "Rockin' Chair" Carmichael, Sammy "Dedicated to You" Cahn, Irving "I've Got to Keep My Love Warm" Berlin, and Johnny "The Glow Worm" Mercer; and titles so endemic to American music they require no introduction: "Flat Foot Floogie (with the Floy-Floy)," "Is It True What They Say About Dixie?," "Lazy River," "You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You," and "Yellow Bird." From the cartoon-soundtrack opening of "Tiger Rag" to the last smooth notes of "Cab Driver," the Mills Brothers put an imprint of smoky barbershop-style harmonies across four decades of popular music from a time when each cut was treated individually. More importantly, they are mostly love songs, as American as apple pie and even tastier and more melodic, especially on the first disc. (The second disc places their exquisite voices to cornier tunes like "Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone" and "Say Si Si"). It may seem odd to suggest to the average rock & roll lover that The Mills Brothers were as important to the development of vocal styling in contemporary black artists as, say, Al Green or Seal, but even novelty numbers like "Across the Alley From the Alamo" and "(I Yi Yi Yi) Wish Me Luck, Amigo" [Attention, Joe King Carrasco!] shine with impeccable tradition of harmonies that Harry, Donald, Herbert, and John Mills literally learned at the knee of their barber and Barbershop quartet father, John, Sr. The Mills Brothers: An Anthology is treasure. 4 stars - Margaret Moser


THE CARS

Anthology: Just What I Needed (Rhino)

Using the word "anthology" with reference to The Cars makes most people nervous. And with good reason. The Cars were a dream singles band from the first cut of their 1978 debut, The Cars. Unfortunately, by the time AM/FM radio and MTV were finished with the five singles from 1984's Heartbeat City, most people were looking at their watches, sure that the Boston band's 15 minutes were hell and gone. The platinum success of the greatest hits that followed -- including the titanium single "Tonight She Comes" -- didn't really help, and the band was dead in the water by the time their last album Door to Door was fished out in 1987. Frankly, 10 years of not hearing "You Might Think" or "Drive" every five minutes doesn't seem long enough. Nevertheless, Rhino's assembly line has rolled out a two-disc Cars set with a snazzy paint-job with the hopes that we'll forget the sporty, one-disc Greatest Hits model from a decade back. Easy enough, since the earlier coupe was heavy on singles and light on album tracks, while the two-and-a-half-hour riding sedan of Just What I Needed has everything, including a handful of previously unissued demos -- like Iggy and Bowie's "Funtime" -- which should have all stayed unissued. And while disc two of the new set feels much like the older compilation (with the chronological comp method colliding the singles from Shake It Up and Heartbeat City to reveal a formulaic death-trap), the first CD is flawless in its basic edit of the first three albums. The result is an anthology that may have been better served by separating the set into two, one-disc volumes. Then again, Just What I Needed could've become the Police's Message in a Box -- collecting all the albums in their entirety -- and ended up like the Pinto: an accident waiting to happen. 2 1/2 stars - Raoul Hernandez


STEREOLAB

Peng! (Too Pure)

The Groop Played "Space Age Bachelor Pad
Music"
(Too Pure)

ESQUIVEL

More of Other Worlds, Other Sounds (Reprise)

Cabaret Mañana (RCA)

When Laetitia Sadier and Tim Gane titled Sterolab's 1993 EP, The Groop Played "Space Age Bachelor Pad Music," they couldn't have known that one year later in the states -- where their
28-minute opus was available only as an import -- that the father of the modern lounge movement, Esquivel, would be close to canonization -- enjoying yet another revival. Nevertheless, it was an opportune coincidence -- particularly in the light of what it is Stereolab does; filter all forms of dreamy pop through a haze of Farfisa organs and Moog synthesizers while Sadier's gauzy French purr stirs the hypnotizing, sometimes disturbing stew. In spirit, at least, very much a Nineties, Velvets-influenced notion of Esquivel's peculiar musical landscape. So what better time for American Records to domestically release two of Stereolab's three albums for the English Too Pure label? Especially with the long lull since their '94 Elektra release, Mars Audiac Quintet (a lull that a new singles collection Refried Ecoplasm also hopes to fill). Peng!, the group's first full-length, recorded in '92, is Mars Audiac Quinet without the edges or confidence. It's tamer, but still pleasing, while The Groop that Played... already finds the groop experimenting more with mixes and textures - something very close to Juan Esquivel's heart, and found in spades on two recent Esquivel releases. While Cabaret Mañana covers similar territory to the Bar None compilations Space-Age Bachelor Pad Music and Music From a Sparkling Planet, and is a strong introduction to the long outta print Esquivel catalogue, it's More of Other Worlds, Other Sounds that's the real goods; a vibrant full-length from '62 that mixes the Mexican studio wizard's musical savvy with the lysergic loopiness that put Fifties lounge kitsch on its ear. While each has its own vibe, both are rides through galaxies you've never imagined, which can also be said for both Stereolab reissues. The trip began in late Fifties, it continues four decades later.

(Peng! ) 2 1/2 stars

(The Groop Played...) 3 stars

(More of Other Worlds...) 4 stars (Cabaret Mañana ) 3 stars - Raoul Hernandez


JOHN COLTRANE QUARTET

Ballads (Impulse)

JOHN COLTRANE & JOHNNY HARTMAN

(Impulse)

JOHN COLTRANE & DUKE ELLINGTON

(Impulse)

DUKE ELLINGTON MEETS COLEMAN HAWKINS

(Impulse)

DUKE ELLINGTON

Live at the Whitney (Impulse)

CHARLES MINGUS

Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus (Impulse)

CHARLES MINGUS

The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (Impulse)

Ever since Scott Joplin began publishing rags in New Orleans around the turn of the century, jazz labels have come and gone like the tides. Most of them, however, didn't have John Coltrane. In fact, Coltrane was the Impulse label's maiden artist, and it was his signing that essentially started up the ABC-Paramount Records offshoot. And why not? Coltrane was coming off his commercial breakthrough on Atlantic ('59-'61), documented on Rhino's seven-CD magnum opus, The Complete Atlantic Recordings. He was at the height of his powers when veteran A&R man, producer -- impresario and ear -- Bob Thiele got a hold of Coltrane and paired him with a few of his favorite musicians. Thiele's teaming of Coltrane and Ellington probably came at a pivotal point in the tenor saxman's career, as Gene Lee's liner notes on the Ballads CD points out. Ellington brought out a melodic side of Coltrane that the saxophone colossus had never really been associated with. Not to say that Ellington brought out a rich melodicism that heretofore hadn't been there; more to say he accentuated it in Coltrane, and one listen to the sublime "My Little Brown Book" from Duke Ellington & John Coltrane pairing is damning evidence. Lees suggests that the success of the Ellington/Coltrane date prompted the beautiful (and short, 32 minutes) Ballads CD, a collection of `Trane and his trio playing with a simple and heartfelt romanticism. Few other jazz albums in the genre's recorded history are as smoky and romantic as Thiele's pairing of Coltrane and singer, and bass profundo Johnny Hartman, whose singing seduced all those women in Clint Eastwood's Harlequin romance, The Bridges of Madison County. This is Hartman's finest moment (as is made clear by two other disappointing Impulse reissues, Hartman's Unforgettable, and I Just Dropped By to Say Hello), and one that Frank Sinatra in his whole career will never top. Ever. Hard to top, certainly, is another tenor gigantis, Coleman Hawkins, who united with Ellington and his Orchestra the same year as the Coltrane and Ellington session, 1963. The results are everything the title would lead you to believe. And while the title of Ellington Live at the Whitney may not mean anything to you, the facts might: It was only the third concert of Ellington's entire career (he would be dead a little over a year after this was recorded in May of '73), where he permitted a live taping of him unaccompanied on the piano. Fifty-five masterful minutes of just Ellington at his piano (a rhythm section is on a few tunes), filtering every form of American music into one enchanting and bewitching groove. Imagine if we had live recordings of Mozart of Bach. Incredible. The two Mingus titles, both from the same year, 1963, would make smart cuff-links to this cross-section of the first batch of Impulse reissues. On both The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, and Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus, the legendary bassist proves that Ellington had no small effect on his musical style (he was the only musician ever fired from the Ellington orchestra) as these two titles find Mingus in orchestra mode, swinging like mad in a modern extension of Ellington -- particularly the latter title. There are more amazing titles currently be given the once-over treatment by Impulse's re-start-up (they're all remastered and come in elegant gatefold sleeves) -- titles by Sonny Rollins and Oliver Nelson come to mind -- and for sheer musical value, these seven titles, all five-star efforts, would make a box set equal to Rhino's seven-CD Coltrane masterpiece. (All) 5 stars - Raoul Hernandez


THE COMMODORES

Anthology (Motown)

MICHAEL JACKSON

Anthology (Motown)

SMOKEY ROBINSON & THE MIRACLES

Anthology (Motown)

GLADYS KNIGHT & THE PIPS

Anthology (Motown)

Much has been written about the social, racial, and industrial aspects of Motown, but it's the music on these four mini-boxes (each 2-disc sets) that succinctly outlines the institution's modus-operandi: Berry Gordy found young artists with raw talent and big dreams, matched them with songwriters equally young and hungry for their own careers, mined for hits the artists' own songwriting skills when possible, and only ran tape when given a great song with a great singer willing to sing his/her ass off on each take. As a series, at 40 or so tracks a piece, these four titles really are individual Motown Top-40 anthologies -- for the most part, nicely mixing charting hits with essential album tracks. Of the boxes capturing the earliest Motown efforts, the slight drag of Robinson's perhaps-too-inclusive box is easily offset by the sheer amazement offered by Gladys Knight's hit-machine output in only a seven-year Motown stint. Knight's box also offers a window into the experimental side of Motown, where a great song is worth a gamble, whether it rocked like Dave Mason "Feelin' Allright," or twanged like Kris Kristofferson's "Help Me Make It Through the Night." As for, Jackson, who gets much better treatment on Motown's four-CD Soulsation collection, his set is a nice vocal showcase dragged down by a half-dozen superfluous 1973 re-mixes. Even then, however, as a Motown-Jackson primer, Anthology mostly succeeds. And the Commodores? Perhaps surprisingly, this collection proves that in an openly revisionist mind, Lionel Richie's crew was arguably Motown's most consistent and flexible act - oozing their trademark slink all over rock, soul, sappy ballads, and best of all, knee-deep funk. The testament of Motown is that the occasional failures of these boxes are only relative to the sheer quality of the brighter gems, so taken together, preferably with a disc changer in shuffle mode, these anthologies are more than just that, they're true goldmines.

(Jackson, Robinson) 3 1/2 stars (Commodores, Knight) 4 1/2 stars - Andy Langer


LOVE

Love Story (Electra Traditions/Rhino)

Arthur Lee and Love are responsible for a good part of the great musical concepts of the mid-Sixties, as well as for a certain je ne sais coif and thrift-store fashion sensibility which still garbs stars and fans today. Yet, credit for this style is bestowed upon the bigger hitmakers. "In attire, without me, there'd be no Jimi Hendrix, no Sly Stone. I was the first so-called black hippie," says Lee in the liner notes. While the Buffalo Springfield were luring 10 or 20 people to shows, across the street, Love had them lined up around the block -- they were the hot act in Hollywood. Often the crowd would include some Yardbirds, some Stones, and other such luminaries; they were a musician's band. In spite of this gush of cultural inspiration, Love get little credit for the chaotic wellspring they wrought. In an almost overwhelming gesture of over-compensation, Elektra/Rhino is attempting, with this impressive release, to right the wrongs of time. Two discs, 44 songs, a slew of foxy photos, and an epic essay (over 8,000 words) equals one helluva penetrating look at this enigmatic rock stalwart. "My Little Red Book" ignites disc one with its bludgeony, garage take on the Bacharach & David(!) showtune. (Remember that unlike today, irony was still a fairly radical concept in pop music back then.) The disc wends through a dizzying passel of psychedelia, Spanish guitar, hoedown, samba, baroque, folk, and blistering rock. Adding to the addling insanity of disc two is complete inclusion of the long out-of-print Forever Changes album. A master conceptualist, Lee along with guitarist Bryan Maclean penned the masterful time shifts, tempo routs, lyrical essays of political righteousness, and compellingly twisted melodies found on Forever Changes. The open chords of "Willow Willow" and "Andmoreagain," sound suspiciously contemporary; certainly many of today's gleeful Love-usurpers will willingly admit the origin of their appropriation. Listen to Mazzy Star. Check Kim Gordon's Top 10 LPs-of-all-time list. Ask Mick Jagger where he inhaled the inspiration to do what he did to "Goin' Home" on the Stones' Aftermath. As a compilation, Love Story does Love justice. Aside from the usual CD format complaints (some of the mixes seem icy compared to vinyl), this collection delivers. For Love completists, Love Story is a must, but it will also indoctrinate a young, new contingent of true Love lovers. Consider this the perfect introduction to the whole lost fairyland that wasn't just a summer, but an entire generation of Love. 4 stars - Kate X Messer


GRATEFUL DEAD

Hundred Year Hall (Grateful Dead/Arista)

GRATEFUL DEAD/JOHN OSWALD

Grayfolded (Swell/Artifact)

THE MUSIC NEVER STOPPED: ROOTS OF THE GRATEFUL DEAD

(Shanachie)

The Grateful Dead is/was, perhaps first and foremost, an American music band, a band that psychedelicized its blues and country roots. These three sets, all released or scheduled for release prior to Jerry Garcia's death, cover the Dead's music from it's most primitive, Delta/Dustbowl/Blackland roots to the farthest reaches of its vast, interstellar explorations. Unlike most previous live Dead albums which piece together numerous songs from various concert dates, the two-CD Hundred Year Hall has captured some first-rate Dead, all from a 4/29/72 Frankfurt, Germany date. As a close-to-complete concert, it's a fairly exacting portrait of the Dead in their prime on an inspired night. This was a particularly fecund period for the band and the music certainly bears this out. Many of the songs here were still in the band's '95 repertoire but it's nice hearing fresh and sometimes a bit ragged renditions of some of the old warhorses that have since been worn out. Pigpen, who was just six weeks away from his last performance, raves splendidly on a kick-ass "Lovelight." While it's surely a treat to have this performance released commercially, it's almost inconsequential in light of the long availability of live Dead performances in general through the easily accessible tapers network. And besides, who other than a stone Deadhead would want a near 25-year-old performance, anyway. Because the roots of the Dead's music run deep into the heart and soul of Americana, The Music Never Stopped is a terrific concept; a collection of the original renditions of songs the Dead covered down through the years. Most folks are probably more than familiar with the Chuck Berry, Marty Robbins, and Merle Haggard tunes here, but how many of you have heard Woody Guthrie's heartfelt "Goin' Down This Road Feeling Bad," Rev. Gary Davis' mesmerizing "Samson and Delilah," Bonnie Dobson's poignant "Morning Dew" or Obray Ramsey's old-timey "Rain and Snow"? Very informative liner notes by Dead scholar Blair Jackson and a wonderful
R. Crumb cover are added bonuses. Deadheads owe it to themselves to check this one out, but so do all lovers of American roots music. Roots in orbit may be the only way to describe Grayfolded (get it?). Talk about out there! This two-CD set is one of those truly delightful projects that seems to have exploded to life as a spontaneous epiphany during one of the Dead's cosmic jams. In actuality, the process was a lot more labored and precise (as the intriguing linear notes detail) but the result is a Deadhead's wet dream. Mastermind John Oswald of Plunderphonics fame has meticulously pieced together 25 years of the Grateful Dead playing "Dark Star," to create one, virtually seemless, nearly two-hour rendition of the Dead's fabled acid space anthem. The very audaciousness of this project is what most attracts me as it's so in keeping with the explorative spirit that has always characterized the whole Dead phenomena. Needless to say, die-hard Deadheads will be frothing over the very idea of a mega-Dark Star. All others need not apply.

(Hundred Year Hall) 3 1/2 stars

(The Music Never Stopped) 4 stars (Grayfolded) 4 1/2 stars - Jay Trachtenberg


BLUES FEST: MODERN BLUES OF THE '70S, '80S, AND '90S

(Rhino)

After listening to this three-CD set, it's obvious it's time to retire "Sweet Home Chicago" -- not just as a tired, way over-covered song, but as an idea. Rhino, whose instincts when it comes to reissues are usually pretty good, has stepped in something pretty smelly on this one. According to the liner notes, Blues Fest was intended to trace the path of the blues since it was supplanted on the R&B charts by soul, funk, and then rap as the most popular form of black music; what it does instead is show how stale the same 12 bars over and over again have become. If you took Blues Fest's word as gospel (don't), you'd think the blues had been breaking very little ground since 1970; the three Texas tracks (that's right, three Texas-based tracks out of 53) -- the T-Birds' "Wait on Time," SRV's "Love Struck Baby," and even Angela Strehli's "Two-Bit Texas Town" - are enough to shoot that hypothesis to hell. On this collection, there's nary an Albert Collins track, no Freddie King, and a big zilch from the postmodern Nineties blues front of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Tenderloin, and G. Love & Special Sauce. There's not even any Blues Traveler, which may not be such a bad thing, but it would be nice to have even them instead of Koko Taylor's boring "Hey Bartender." There's a lot of the same old Chicago shuffling (at least two tracks out of every three), which was fine when Muddy, Sonny Boy, Wolf, Willie and those guys did it, but enough already!!! Even standout cuts from Albert King, The Allman Brothers, Etta James, R.L. Burnside, Charles Brown, and Ted Hawkins, along with a few others, can't totally redeem this thing. "Sweet Home Chicago" my ass. If you ask me, I think it's about time for another fire. 2 stars - Chris Gray


ALBERT COLLINS & BARRELHOUSE

Live (Munich)

RORY BLOCK

Turning Point (Munich)

HUGH MUNDELL

Arise (Munich)

A HISTORY OF DUB

(Munich)

Europeans have always thought about music differently than Americans, embracing such chronically underappreciated forms like blues, jazz, and reggae while simultaneously producing stomach-churners like Milli Vanilli and Ace of Base. Go figure. What's good for the Continent isn't always good for the Colonies, and ne'er the twain shall meet. Well, almost ne'er: Austin's Stewart-Meyers Music Group recently began handling American distribution for Holland-based Munich records, bridging the transcontinental cultural gap in some small way. The first four joint releases, the compilation, A History of Dub; socially conscious folkie Rory Block's Turning Point; late Rasta man Hugh Mundell's Arise; and Albert Collins' 1978 Netherlands Live set, don't have that much in common with each other individually. Collectively, however, they definitely speak to a distinctly European state of mind that also happens to be an Austin one. Where else in the lower 48 are folk, reggae, dub and blues all as popular as they are here? All four records are solid, true to their chosen genres while lacking any real standout cuts (the lone exception is the moving "Blue River Rising" on the Collins CD, featuring a Janis-like lead vocal by Scandinavian soul shouter Tineke Schoemaker); for my money, the Collins is probably the best of the lot, though that may just be my personal taste and nothing else. Kudos to Munich and Stewart-Meyers for even attempting to release their product stateside; since this stuff is readily available now, it's definitely worth checking out. (All) 3 stars - Chris Gray


THE MUSIC OF KENTUCKY: EARLY AMERICAN RURAL CLASSICS 1927-37

(Yazoo)

The grass on this two-CD set is so blue, it makes the Carter Family and Bill Monroe sound second-generation at best. This is white American rural music at its purest, and its finest. Even the performers' very names -- B.F. Shelton, W.M. Stepp, Emry Arthur, Monroe Gevedon -- comment on the simplicity of the music and the times. Recorded in the most backwoods part of Kentucky during the darkest hours of the Great Depression, these 54 tracks show what a powerful cultural force music can be even in the most backward of settings. Before major labels, before radio, before the "music business" as we know it even existed, this is what the music of America sounded like: just folks whose musical instruments were the most expensive things they owned, sittin' on the porch or around the wood stove, singin' about God, and Jesus, and Mama, and Aunt Jane, and their hard (but never hopeless) lives. The best part about these two discs -- even better than the proficient, melodic musicianship and the surprisingly clear recordings -- is that this music was made for the best reason of all: because these people simply loved to play. They played and sang for the sheer joy and spiritual release it brought them, not for any kind of (earthly, at least) reward. Classical music scholars will be interested in W.M. Stepp's "Bonaparte's Retreat," the source of the theme from Aaron Copland's "Hoe-Down," but the other 53 songs are equally revealing. This is what God meant when he told his children to go and make a joyful noise. Amen, Hallelujah. 5 stars - Chris Gray

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