Regular visitors to Blabber’n’Smoke will know that we’re partial to old timey sounding American music, a habit we’d date back to first hearing The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s album, Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy, which had a scratchy rendition of Chicken Reel on it (40 years on and any album with a chicken scratch rhythm on it gets automatic approval here). Anyway, while the reissue industry has made much of the genuine article available, over the years we’ve been privileged to have heard and seen several bands who seem to breathe the same air as The Carter Family, The Skillet Lickers, Uncle Dave Macon and Bascon Lamar Lunsford, all of them entertaining and often leading to frenzied Googling in order to hear the originals. Imagine the frisson then when the latest from Canadian trio, Sheesham & Lotus & ‘Son dropped in the post; a trio well versed (one could say immersed) in this very music, they’ve not only produced another fine collection of sepia stained rag time, blues and country, they’ve gone the whole hog and recorded their songs direct to 78rpm lacquer.
The project has come about via the auspices of Tyneside based Lathe Revival, an organisation dedicated to vintage recording techniques and in possession of a 1937 Presto recording lathe, the self same machine that was lugged about by Alan Lomax for his field recordings. In the summer of 2015 the band travelled to Skegness (yes, a wee bit away from Appalachia although I’ve heard tell it’s bracing) for seven days of recording, all captured by this steampunk technology with each song singly carved into lacquer as it happened. Unfortunately the logistics of offering a 21 disc collection of the songs is somewhat beyond their reach but this CD is an accurate representation of what went down and stands up as a very fine listen.
The trio, banjo, parping horns, fiddle and hollering voices, are delivered faithfully as if they were in a hot and dusty hotel room back in the thirties. The sound is thick, sometimes muddied, the limitations of the recording process apparent (the last tune, Up The Wooden Hills, suffering the most and probably only there as the CD process allowed an extra number). However the majority of the songs transcend (or benefit from) the patina bestowed upon them from the opening jollity of Down In Your Pockets to the rousing 1929 and the vaudevillity of Sister Maude Mule. The mannered grandeur of All Dressed Waltz is evocative to the nth degree, stately but slightly infirm it could have been the backbone of any number of “authentic” Western movies from McCabe and Mrs. Miller to Cold Mountain. The album is a somewhat audacious concept but for fans of the band and aficionados of old time Americana I’d suggest that this is essential listening.
For more information on the Lathe Revival see here