All the music on the 34 tracks of this CD was recorded in 1939 in the Smoky Mountains by Joseph S. Hall, a college teacher from California. To learn the full story of how he came to do that, you will have to read the very extensive liner notes. This is the first time these recordings have been made available, aside from visiting the Park Archives or the Archives Of Appalachia at East Tennessee State University.
There are songs such as “My Home Is In The Smoky Mountains” by John Hannah and “Down In The Willow Garden” by Bessie Raab and fiddle tunes such as “Bonaparte’s Retreat” by Willis and Dexter Bumgarner and “Sourwood Mountain” by the Cataloochee Trio (Wayne Wright, Slick Wilson, and David Proffitt). Some of the other performers recorded include Myrtle Conner, Jack Johnson, Bill Moore, the Leatherman Brothers, Clarence Sutton, and far too many more to list here. The repertoire includes traditional British and American ballads, blues, hymns, gospel, more contemporary songs, and fiddle and banjo tunes. A few titles to give a feel of the contents are “The Ramshackle Shack,” “Crying Holy Unto The Lord,” “The Girl I Love Don’t Pay Me No Mind,” “John Henry,” “Cackling Hen,” “Chinese Breakdown,” “Ticklish Rubin,” “Conversation With Death,” and “The Big Bend Killing.” The version of “Polly Put The Kettle On” by the Bumgarners is unique and unusual. Most of the recordings are clear and of quality; a few are a bit rough sounding.
Some of the singing is a cappella, though there are also string bands. Most of the songs and tunes are familiar. What is special about it is the time and place of the recordings. Hall was trying to document a culture being displaced by the creation of a National Park, and these recordings were a critical part of that culture. Others had written about the mountain culture, notably Horace Kephart in his Our Southern Highlanders published in 1913 and 1922. And, Alan Lomax had recorded samples of music in widely varying locales. What Hall did was to record hundreds of songs and tunes from one place. He recorded much more than that, too, including stories and speech, which were his real interest. This recording is both a slice of musical history and fine music in its own right. Lovers of old-time mountain music need to have it in their collections. (Great Smoky Mtns. Assoc., 115 Park Headquarters Rd., Gatlinburg, TN 37738.) SAG