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Tell It To Me: Johnson City Sessions Revisited

Review by Gary Hill

There is a big roots music revival still in effect in the world of music. That makes this recording all the more relevant today. Fans of acts like Mumford and Sons will find plenty to enjoy here. This is a collection of Appalachian artists from the depression era. The old-school bluegrass sounds are often dated, and some of the performers might not be as professional as some modern practitioners of the genre. All that said, this is often entertaining and always important from a historical point of view.

This review is available in book (paperback and hardcover) in Music Street Journal: 2020  Volume 1. More information and purchase links can be found at: garyhillauthor.com/Music-Street-Journal-2020.
Track by Track Review
Grant Brothers & Their Music - Tell It To Me
Classic old-school bluegrass music is on display here. This tune is fun, if a bit lackluster in some ways. It's pretty light-hearted in tone given the lyrics.
Roane County Ramblers - Home Town Blues
This instrumental is energetic and tasty. I love some of the melodies at its heart.
Clarence Greene - Johnson City Blues
This is just a man with a guitar. It's a down-home number that's very stripped back.         
Proximity String Quartet - Louise
Even more homey in a lot of ways, this is another that's fairly stripped back.                  
Richard Harold - The Battleship Maine
While the general concept here is pretty similar to the last couple tunes, I really can't take this one. I don't like the vocals at all, and the arrangement is too stripped back to really make up for it.
Charlie Bowman & His Brothers - Roll On Buddy
This is more energetic and works pretty well. The bluegrass jamming seems rather inspired.
Bill & Belle Reed - Old Lady And The Devil
This is another where the lyrics don't really seem to fit with the lighthearted nature of the music. Old-school bluegrass sounds are on the menu here.
McVay & Johnson - I'll Be Ready When The Bridegroom Comes
Feeling like a bluegrass hoedown party, this is a fun track. It's one of the highlights of the set.
Earl Shirkey & Roy Harper - When The Roses Bloom for the Bootlegger
With a spoken introduction, this is an old-school, down-home folk styled piece. It includes some yodeling.
George Roark - I Ain't A Bit Drunk
I like the playful and fast-paced bluegrass groove of this tune. This is a fun cut and one of the standouts here.
Garland Brothers & Grinstead - Just Over The River
With both male and female vocals, this bluegrass number has a lot of vitality.
McCartt Brothers & Patterson - Green Valley Waltz
This slower tune is very much in a down-home style. It's not one of my favorites here.
Blalock & Yates - Pride Of The Ball
Another slow tune, this is a bit bouncy. It's another with a serious down-home feeling to it.         
George Wade & Francum Braswell - When We Go A-Courtin'
This is another example where the lighthearted and playful music really doesn't fit the dark and violent themes of the lyrics.
Jack Jackson - I'm Just A Black Sheep
Slow moving and balladic, this has a bit of an operatic edge to it.
Wyatt & Brandon - Evalina
With both male and female vocals, this has a real old-time folk music texture to it. It's one of the more interesting pieces here.   
Roy Harvey & Leonard Copeland - Just Pickin'
An instrumental, the bluegrass picking on this is so cool. This is a song that doesn't really feel dated even today. It's a definite highlight of the set.  
The Spindale Quartet - God Will Take Care Of You
From an instrumental, we go to an acapella arrangement. This is essentially a gospel piece, but you probably figured that out from the title.   
Moatsville String Ticklers - Moatsville Blues
The bluegrass is strong with this number. It is another instrumental piece. It's also another standout.   
Byrd Moore & His Hot Shots - Three Men Went A-Hunting
A bouncing kind of hoedown piece, this is another fun one.
Clarence Ashley - The Coo-Coo Bird
I really like the down-home vibe on this tune. This is a classy roots music piece that doesn't sound all that different from a lot of the roots music revival that's been underway for a while.
The Bentley Boys - Down On Penny's Farm
Here we get another old-school bluegrass tune. It's solid, but not a standout.
Bowman Sisters - Old Lonesome Blues
This feels particularly dated. I don't really like this one much, but the female lead vocals are a nice change.
Ephraim Woodie & The Henpecked Husbands - The Last Gold Dollar
More down-home sounds are on display here, This is another that doesn't work all that well for me, but I do like some of the instrumental work.
Ira & Eugene Yates - Powder And Paint
The fast paced groove on this almost feels like what you might call "bluegrass punk." It's quaint, but also fun.
Ellis Williams - Buttermilk Blues
The closer is a rather fun bluegrass instrumental.
 
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