Ola Belle Reed & Family

Ola Belle Reed & Family

Rounder 0077

Going to Write Me a Letter; My Doney, Where Have You Been So Long?; The Ninety and Nine; Lamplighting Time in the Valley; Only the Leading Role Will Do; Over Yonder in the Graveyard; Sing Me a Song; You Led Me to the Wrong; The Ranger's Command; Boat's Up The River; When Can I Read My Titles Clear; The Butcher's Boy; Where the Wild, Wild Flowers Grow; I've Endured; No Sorrow Will Be There; Wild Bill Jones; Away Out on the Mountain; Old Banjo Tune; The Train That Carried My Little Girl from Town; Fortunes; Shoo Fly; Let Me In; Bury Me at the Foot of the Mountain.
This is a reissue of a record originally published in 1977, with nine additional tracks from the same 1976 recording session.  Ola Belle Reed, a 'mountain girl' from a musical family, started singing and playing banjo professionally in 1936, when she was twenty, and by the time of these recordings she had well and truly become a 'national treasure'.  Cover pictureOf the 23 tracks, 12 are traditional and almost all the others were written by her.  Reed wrote songs that, for the most part, could have been traditional, albeit with certain modern sensibilities; an accomplishment that is carried on today by a younger generation of splendid exponents such as Gillian Welch.

In 1949 Ola Belle Campbell married Bud Reed, another 'cradle musician', and this record is called Ola Belle Reed & Family.  The family here consists of Ola Belle and Bud and their son David.  Bud was a singer, guitarist, harmonica player, and Jimmie Rodgers fan, which is evident from the too few tracks given him here.  He does sing a lovely seductive American version of the The Butcher's Boy; this is ample evidence of why we Brits sang American traditional songs before we learned to sing our own.  They have been so proud of their music, and loved it so much that they based a good deal of their pop music on it.  How sad that we are not so universally fond of our own songs, when these are the origins of those self-same pop songs.  Mind you, they do also write more popular-style words; surely "... I died of shame, I could not give my child a name" hardly compares with the splendid lines "Silly girl, silly girl am I; murdered myself for the butcher's boy".

David is also an excellent singer and guitarist, and it is suggested that his mother wrote Let Me In to suit his 'then contemporary tastes'.  He sings harmony to Ola Belle's lead on several songs, and makes a most engaging solo, with autoharp, of Lamplighting Time in the Valley, written by Herald Goodman and first performed by the Vagabonds on the Grand Ole Opry in 1932.  His great singing on this is remarkably like Jeanie McLerie of Bayou Seco.  A very different performance of this song can be heard on Cyril Poacher's Plenty of Thyme (MTCD303)!

Whatever fool said "the Devil has all the best tunes" had obviously not spent much time in a non-conformist church (particularly an American one).  There are many religious songs on this record, some like the lovely traditional Ninety and Nine, some penned by Ola Belle which sound traditional (Over Yonder in the Graveyard), and others like Fortunes whose chorus is:

The rich man with all of his money, all his silver and all his gold,
He can't buy one breath of life or a home for his weary soul.
For it is bought and it is paid for by the blood of the blessed lamb,
And the greatest of all our fortunes is in God's promised land.
As you can see, while this is totally traditional in format, it is probably far too overloaded with schmaltz and sentimentality for many British tastes, notwithstanding David's fine harmonies on the chorus.  Most of the songs have a folksy philosophy, and quite a few of these have a religious basis, as you might expect from a 'mountain girl' from N Carolina, brought up in poverty through the Depression, whose grandfather was a Primitive Baptist preacher.

Only the Leading Role, was written in 1972 and is sung in quite a raunchy style, unlike some of the 'trad' sounding songs.  It was sung by many as an anthem for Women's Liberation Movement, but she did not write it for the Movement - "I wrote it because it is right".

The enigmatic, sparse opening to You Led Me to the Wrong heralds a song she wrote based on a story she got from her Uncle Doc.  This is one of the many instances that show that the title 'and Family' does not only mean those who accompany her, but those from whom her love of music comes.  Other songs like Where the Wild Wild Flowers Grow show her love of the mountain home her family had been forced to leave a liftetime earlier.  Another reminder of her mountains is one of her most famous songs, I've Endured which she wrote at the age of 50 - and then went on to live another 36 years, dying the day before her 86th birthday.

This is a record that will appeal to all fans who have the original 14 track record; they will now have the record on CD with an extra 9 tracks.  It will appeal to new listeners who only know Ola Belle Reed from the songs that were so popular here in the '70s.  The singing of Bud and David were a revelation and a delight to me.  However, the format Rounder have chosen for the liner notes and text are very much less than helpful.  They do not come, as they do on almost all well-produced CDs, as a hard-copy booklet, but as a PDF file that you have to print off for yourself.  I'm afraid I lost patience with this, and am pretty sure I will also lose the paper hard copy I made.  The file includes all the original notes, with an interesting article 'The Reed Family and their Music' and song notes by David Whisnant, and an obituary by written by Cathy Fink in 2002.

The notes on the nine extra tracks are written by Mark Wilson who made the original recordings.  The format for these tracks is even worse than that for the original 14.  Here all the notes on the songs bunched are together, rather than each song having its own set of notes.  I found this particularly unhelpful when wanting a quick reference to a particular song.  I assume Rounder have chosen this PDF format for reasons of cost, but I found it particularly unhelpful and hope not to see such good records served so badly in the future.

Danny Stradling - 5.11.06

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