Prayers From Hell

White Gospel & Sinners Blues 1927-1940

Trikont US 0267

That Lonesome Valley (Carolina Ramblers String Band), I Am Ready to Go (The Monroe Brothers), Church in the Wildwood (The Carter family), New Prisoner's Song (Doc Boggs), Didn't Hear Nobody Pray (Dixon Brothers), The Heavenly Train (Bill Carlisle), Hell Bound Train (Frank Hutchison), We Shall Rise (Byron Parker & His Mountaineers), Down South Blues (Doc Boggs), What Will You Take in Exchange (Edith and Sherman Collins), Shining City Over the River (Dorsey and Beatrice Dixon), Worried Man Blues (Rodgers & Nicholson), It is Better Farther 0n (The Carter Family), Country Blues (Doc Boggs), What Would The Profit Be (The Monroe Brothers), Unclouded Sky (Bill Carlisle's Kentucky Boys), Stackalee (Frank Hutchison), When Gabriel Blows his Trumpet for Me (Dixon Brothers), Love My Saviour (Byron Parker & His Mountaineers), Sugar Baby (Doc Boggs), He Will Be Your Saviour Too (Bill Carlisle), Ninety Nine Years (Ledford & Daniel Nicholson), When Jesus Appears (Dorsey and Beatrice Dixon), Pretty Polly (Doc Boggs), Can't Feel at Home in this World Anymore, (Edith and Sherman Collins)
Prayers From Hell?  One might be tempted to sing "Too Late Brother, Too Late" - perhaps Rejoicing and Regretting From Earth might be more appropriate as a subtitle.  Whichever way you look at it this mixture of songs looking forward to the life hereafter or lamenting the consequencies of wrong doing during this life make up an excellent seventy three minutes listening. 

Of particular interest to me are the tracks featuring the fiddle playing and sometimes voice of Steve Ledford from Mitchell County, North Carolina (tracks 1,12 and 20).  Steve was the son of fiddle player Waites Ledford who fathered twelve children all of whom played instruments and most if not all of them sang.  I was first aware of the session - Steve's recording debut which produced these items - when I interviewed his youngest brother Wayne in 1980, but as far as I am aware this is the first time any have been re-issued.  When will someone issue the remaining titles? Steve's distinctive fiddle style, much influenced by that of East Tennessee's G B Grayson, hits you on the opening track along with the banjo of Daniel Nicholson, guitar of of Audie Rodgers and an unlisted Harmonica.  Vocals are by the whole group including Steve's brother George.  Is he the Harmonica player or is it Taft Ledford, not mentioned in the notes here but also present at the session according to Wayne?  My apologies to all non-discographical nuts out there for this digression. 

Whoever is responsible, these 1932 recordings are good examples of the string band music of the era.  The two tracks from the Monroe Brothers Bill and Charlie are from 1937 and hearing them again I am reminded just how great they were as a team.  True there were brother duets using guitar and mandolin back-up that preceded them but none had the same dynamism created by this pair.  Charlie's solid foundation bass runs on the guitar and Bill's soar-away mandolin make for great listening.  Bill's long career as the recognised 'Father of Bluegrass' following the break-up with his brother has tended to overshadow these excellent earlier recordings, and of course Charlie's own later career. 

The Carter Family should need no introduction if you have continued so far into this review and I must congratulate Keith Chandler and Christoph Wagner for being able to keep their choice down to only two items by this group who have been such a major influence in the field of country music right up until the present day.  Sara's strong lead vocals with Maybelle's harmony and A P's occasional bass vocals result in a sound which I don't think has ever been matched.  Incidentally the notes refer to Maybelle as Sara's sister - she was in fact her cousin. 

Doc Boggs should by now be familiar to most old timey music lovers having not too long ago had a complete album and booklet of his entire early output issued and another of all his post rediscovery material.  However in the context of this album it would be impossible to exclude him.  Five excellent tracks featuring prison and murder in his own quirky style of vocal and banjo, two of the tracks also include the guitar of Hub Mahaffey. 

This whole album is chock-full of excellent material from the vocal duets of the Dixon Brothers with guitar and slide guitar, Dorsey's duets with his wife Beatrice backed by his own uniquely rich sounding fingerpicked guitar, the wonderful bounce of the Carlisle Brothers' tenor and steel guitars to the full sound of Byron Parker and His Mountaineers.  This latter group, by the way, includes Snuffy Jenkins who along with his brother was one of the earliest players of the three finger banjo style later taken up by Earl Scruggs and which was to become such an important ingredient in Bill Monroe's band and without which bluegrass may have remained under the general umbrella of country music and not been given its own pigeonhole. 

West Virginia's Frank Hutchison is also reasonably well known but, like Boggs, he deserves a place on this album with Hell Bound Train and the murder song Stackalee - another slide guitar player this who also played harmonica in a neck harness. 

Two artists new to me here are the husband and wife team Sherman and Edith Collins, they made one single session for Decca in March 1938 and no biographical information has so far been uncovered.  This is a vocal duet accompanied by their own two guitars, one of which seems to be capoed up reasonably high.  Their first offering is a version of the song first recorded by Bill and Charlie Monroe in 1936 and two days earlier than them at the same recording session by Wade Mainer and Zeke Morns, although it was the Monroe's version which was issued.  The second offering by the Collins duet is one that was later taken and adapted by Woody Guthrie who changed the content of the song quite dramatically but only changed one word in the title from can't to don't.  Edith's voice has that slightly immature for want of a better word mountain sound with a slight husky catch in it which I find appealing.  I think she would have sounded equally at home singing with Hartman's Heartbreakers but that's another ball game.

For those of you who don't know, Trikont is a German label but notes are in German and English in the informative booklet.

Just in case it isn't clear from the above ramblings, I find this a fascinating and enjoyable album - highly recommended.

Frank Weston - 25.4.00

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