Robert 'Georgia Slim' Rutland
Volume 2
Tri•Agle•Far TFR-706
Robert 'Georgia Slim' Rutland
Raw Fiddle
Tri•Agle•Far TFR-703
Bill Cox
The Dixie Songbird
Tri•Agle•Far TFR-705

In my review (see below) of the first volume of recordings by Georgia Slim, entitled Raw Fiddle (in which I included background information about Rutland that doesn’t need to be repeated here),Cover picture I expressed only one reservation: that at 27 minutes it seemed very short.  Volume 2 is even shorter, lasting just a few seconds over 15 minutes.  I’m not usually inclined to overemphasise purely quantitative criteria when assessing a music CD, but many discs run to more than four or five times that length, and it’s bound to be a factor for even the most dedicated of fiddle fans in deciding whether to make the investment.  In each of the dealers’ lists it appears in on the web, it costs the same as other discs in the series, so the length doesn’t seem to be reflected in the price.  This could be a problem, which would be a pity, as this is a recording that really deserves to be heard.  It may only be very short, but it’s a quarter of an hour of sheer pleasure.

Again, most of the tunes are drawn from the same well of old time Southern dance tunes: some are highly familiar, like Soldier’s Joy, Cindy, Old Joe Clark and Chicken Reel; others less so, like the more modern/urban-sounding Limerock.  A few tunes appear on both discs - Billy In The Low Ground (one of my favourites on Volume 1, and here again it is just as lovely), Sally Goodin and Blackberry Blossom.  This is not a problem, as it’s interesting to hear them in two different contexts.  Unlike the previous volume, which - true to its title - captured Rutland playing entirely solo, this set of home recordings, dating to about 1953, also has his wife playing piano.  The accompaniment consists entirely of vamping chords - nothing fancy, nothing complicated, but with just the right degree of bouncy rhythm, and consistently sound from the point of view of harmony.  The overall effect, with its highly infectious swing, probably brings it closer to Rutland’s playing ‘in real life’, as it were, given that he spent much of his career playing in bands rather than the - perhaps - more artificial solo context of the other disc.  In fact, the support may even spur him on to greater efforts, and the techniques on display here - the legato, the double-stopping, the ultra-crisp rhythms - are at least as brilliant as in the other session.  And once again, the technique never obscures the depth of these performances, which still sound like music that’s bred in the bone and played straight from the heart.

As I’ve said, this is definitely one to hear, although putting the two sessions together on a single disc would surely have proved more attractive to potential buyers.

Ray Templeton - 4.1.06

Cover pictureRobert Rutland, born near Tifton, Georgia in 1916, recorded this fine, if rather short (just over 27 minutes) collection of tunes in 1960, at home.  It is very much in the spirit of a field session - he plays solo (hence the title Raw Fiddle) - but Rutland was no raw country fiddle player.  This is the work of a highly accomplished musician, entirely within the tradition, but drawing also on the influence of popular recording fiddlers of his young days, like Clayton McMichen, Lowe Stokes and (especially, it would appear) Hugh Farr of the Sons of the Pioneers.  He had also had some formal lessons, and had acquired enough to be able to read music, although it seems pretty clear from what you can hear that this man’s music was shaped by listening, watching and lessons from other musicians, not from reading notes on a page.  What’s more, he learnt from players from well outside of his home patch, especially during a time spent in the Ohio Valley.

Accordingly, he could turn out a rendition of one of the great Southern dance tunes like Sally Goodin, Grey Eagle, or Black Berry Blossoms to match just about any you will hear from better known fiddlers - his rhythms are immaculate, his technique dazzling.  (Note that he plays some tunes in medleys, but the tracklisting only lists the starting tune).  His tone is as sound as you might wish for, and there is great clarity in his articulation of the notes, but without any of the sterility that excessive technique sometimes causes.  On the contrary, the musical effect is always uplifting and frequently quite moving, such as on a particularly beautiful setting of Billy in the Low Ground.

Rutland’s active period was primarily in the 1930s and 1940s, and he could be heard during these years in travelling shows (there is reference in the notes to a medicine show operated by one ‘Chief Greyfeathers’) as well as on radio out of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and later - for much longer - out of Dallas, Texas.  He must have been a sensation, and was especially renowned for his twin fiddling with ‘Howdy’ Forrester from Tennessee.  There were a few commercial recordings, for the Texas label Blue Bonnet, as well as for Mercury, and later some other home recordings, with a piano player (I understand that these are released on a Volume Two, from the same label - TFR-706).

One of Rutland’s specialities seems to have been double stopping (playing on two of the fiddle’s strings at the same time).  One of the best examples of this is on his superb treatment of Bonaparte’s Retreat; here a breathtakingly fast rendition of his version of the familiar dance tune is book-ended by a beautiful slow melody, the double-stopping sometimes creating a drone effect, sometimes a delightful harmony.  A review by Stacy Phillips elsewhere on the web () tells me that Rutland used a different open tuning to that normally associated with the tune (AEAE instead of DDAD).

As you might expect of a musician of Rutland’s generation, his repertoire also included popular tunes - he makes a very nice job of When You and I Were Young and the ubiquitous Over the Waves, using the full range of his technique.  There’s also a showpiece entitled Mocking Bird, based on a rather sentimental-sounding tune in waltz-time, which is then elaborated in various ways, with superbly realised harmony effects as well as all sorts of virtuoso touches and even some sound effects, from birdsong to wolf-whistling.  This makes a fitting conclusion to the disc, not least as we also get a few brief snatches of him talking.

Rutland spent his later years running a music store in Valdosta, Georgia but died at the young age of 53 in 1969.  In the same year, he had been interviewed at some length by researcher Earl Spielman, and it is this that has formed the basis of the biographical information in the notes to this disc, written by Ivan Tribe, Professor of History at the University of Rio Grande.  The packaging by Tri•Agle•Far Records has a home-made look about it, but as so often, it is this kind of small operation that we must thank for enabling us to hear some outstanding and highly valuable recordings.

Ray Templeton - 10.6.05

Cover pictureA native of West Virginia, born at the tail-end of the nineteenth century, Bill Cox went on to become a regular broadcaster and a highly prolific recording artist during the depression years.  Between 1929 and the Second World War, he recorded over 150 sides, first for Gennett (also appearing pseudonymously on various subsidiary labels, like Champion, Supertone and Superior) and later for ARC (relased on OKeh, Vocalion and Conqueror) either as a soloist or with his recording partner Cliff Hobbs.  On early discs, there is a sense of his trying to be the next Jimmie Rodgers, but he soon established his own niche with a particular line in topical songs (for example, The Trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, about the man accused of kidnapping the Lindbergh baby), as well as comic songs, some of which seem to have been inspired by a lively domestic life (titles like Alimony Woman and Rollin’ Pin Woman tell their own story).  In later years, a few of his songs - notably Filipino Baby and Sparkling Brown Eyes became very popular and have been widely covered by other artists, even if it seems that Bill Cox was never to benefit much from royalties.

After the war, his own musical career seems to have faltered, and listening to the disc under review, it’s not too difficult to see why.  A solo session, recorded in the early 1960s, it shows that he had become an anachronism, with a style that would have quickly found itself out of step with developments in the country music world in the post-war years.  His misfortune, no doubt (he was apparently living in poverty when tracked down by researcher Ken Davidson, who originally released this album on his own Kanawha label), but it meant that we have a session of inter-war period pieces preserved with at least some of the fidelity of 1960s recording technology.  It consists of a mixture of old songs (some of the titles noted above are included, for example) and what were at the time more recent compositions.

Bill Cox had learned to play the harmonica from his mother, and picked up the guitar later, and in a typical arrangement he plays both instruments, with the former on a rack.  His voice shows the signs of age here, not suprising as he would have been in his 60s when the recording was made, but he has no difficulty keeping in tune, and generally handles each song with due accomplishment, even if his guitar work is rarely more than a basic rhythmic strum.  Although he is especially known for his own compositions, it’s interesting that Cox’s album opens with something very much older.  Battle Ax and the Devil is a version of Child 278 (The Farmer’s Curst Wife) and if you took away the guitar, harmonica and Deep Southern twang, it could almost have been recorded in a country pub in England at around the same time (and for lovers of New World survivals of Old World antiquities, it’s almost worth the price of the disc on its own).  Track 2 The Fiddling Soldier is also an older traditional ballad, well known in England, usually as The Nightingale Sing (or some variation on that title), from the last line of the chorus.  A few other songs seem to have been learnt from records, by Riley Puckett, the Dixon Brothers and the Delmore Brothers respectively, but the rest are Cox’s own.

It’s an interesting political perspective that produced both Franklin D Roosevelt’s Back Again and Democratic Donkey.  The former takes a supportive line (‘… since Roosevelt’s been elected, we’ll not be neglected…’) while the latter seems to take a slighly more cynical point of view, implying (if I understand it correctly) that Roosevelt’s party was rather less dynamic than its leader.  Filipino Baby had been one of the songs that had been popularised by other artists, and the booklet notes speculate that during the war, American soldiers operating in the Philippines would have identifed with its sentiments.  Versions by Cowboy Copas and Ernest Tubb had tempered some of the racist overtones in Cox’s original lyrics, and he follows suit with this rendition.

There’s a fair bit of variety - Old Pinto is an attempt at a cowboy song, Blind Baggage Blues features some good train effects on the harmonica, and Sweet Eloise is a sentimental lyric about a musician’s death (‘… darling, lay my old guitar away…’), beautifully rendered.  Dang My Pop-Eyed Soul is a comic drinking number, while Wino’s Last Prayer tells the other side of the story, of a man facing the electric chair reflecting on a life wasted by drink.  There seems to be a mix-up in the track listing: where Temple of Sin is listed, The Girl in the Hillbilly Band (not listed, although mentioned in the notes) appears.  There is no song of the former title here.

Ken Davidson, who had rediscovered Bill Cox and recorded this album, did manage to get some local recognition for him, and even some financial assistance, but he was to die just a few years later.  Some of his pre-war recordings have been reissued on various anthologies over the years (there’s one solo and one duet on Indigo IGOOCD 2529: Drunk and Nutty, from 2002, for example).  I don’t know how easy it is to get hold of the CDs on Tri•Agle•Far, Ken Davidson’s current label, but this one is well worth making the effort for.  [Tri•Agle•Far Records, PO Box 4112, Dayton, Ohio 45401-4122, USA is the contact info I have, but they are available on-line from County Sales: and Elderly Instruments Recordings: - Ed.]

Ray Templeton - 10.6.05

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