Old-Timey Music
February 1, 2005 11:49 AM   Subscribe

That high lonesome sound. Any recommendations for old-timey music—string bands, ballads, fiddle music, country blues, even up to orthodox bluegrass? I'll soon be surrounded by vendors of such things but I don't have much grounding—any really standout groups or recordings I should look for?
posted by kenko to Media & Arts (33 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Bill Monroe has THE definitive high lonesome voice. The term was coined to describe it, if I'm not mistaken. You really can't go wrong with Monroe's music, even up to the 1990s. Pick up a live recording or two -- I recommend this one -- and you'll see why he set the gold standard.
posted by Dr. Wu at 11:54 AM on February 1, 2005

Also, any and all Flatt & Scruggs records (they were originally a splinter group from Monroe's Bluegrass Boys) are well worth your listenin' time.

And I am a huge fan of Western swing, the king of which is Bob Wills, who, as far as I'm concerned, never made a bad song. He was a hell of a fiddle player, too, as Merle Haggard will attest to.

For more modern stuff, Ricky Skaggs is terrific. And I'm very partial to Emmylou Harris's bluegrass album, Blue Kentucky Girl.

Is this what you're looking for?
posted by Dr. Wu at 11:57 AM on February 1, 2005

Anthology of American Folk Music is a treasure trove. Compiled by Harry Smith, released on Smithsonian Folkways. Contains not one but two--count 'em, two!--songs about the assassination of President McKinley. It's a big box set but well worth the price. You may also want to pay a visit to Weenie Juke Radio to find some more ideas: http://weeniecampbell.com/juke/playing.php. Shake 'em on down.
posted by scratch at 11:58 AM on February 1, 2005

One more: you MUST have the Harry Smith/Smithsonian Anthology of American Folk Music. I cannot emphasize this strongly enough.

On preview: yup.
posted by Dr. Wu at 11:59 AM on February 1, 2005

I love me some Stanley Brothers. Do they count?
posted by goatdog at 12:08 PM on February 1, 2005

Hank Snow
posted by sciurus at 12:10 PM on February 1, 2005

I second the Ricky Skaggs suggestion.
posted by greasy_skillet at 12:10 PM on February 1, 2005

Well -- the phrase 'high lonesome sound' and the stuff by Bill Monroe is all bluegrass, which is different from old-time country music. Bluegrass was a later and somewhat more commercial form - the rock'n'roll of country. 'Old-timey' generally refers to traditional songs and tunes - ones that aren't attributed to any individual author. Old-time is made up of mostly Appalachian ("mountain") tunes and songs, whose roots come from a combination of Irish tunes with African-American modalities and blue notes. When there are vocals, there's quite a bit of gospel-influenced stuff, and some ballads that fit into the Childe heirarchy. For more info on real old-time, look here. Their discussion of what is/isn't old time is good, and you'll also find some recommendations for listening.

I love this kind of music a lot, and have recently been playing a weekly session with fiddlers, washtub basses, and banjos. Awesome. If you come across great resources/events, drop me a line. Email in profile.
posted by Miko at 12:12 PM on February 1, 2005

Response by poster: Damn firewall won't let me access Weenie Juke.

On preview: I did sort of mix up terms—I'm after both bluefrass and old-time country music. I think most of the more mainstream or modern stuff won't be available at the festival anyway.
posted by kenko at 12:14 PM on February 1, 2005

Jimmie Rodgers, "the Singing Brakeman," was the first-ever country music singer. His high, lonesome howl is what inspired Hank Williams and all who came after; he's well worth listening to.
posted by koeselitz at 12:30 PM on February 1, 2005

Pretty good Wiki entry.

I wish I could give you a list of recordings to look for. Problem is, I've learned all my tunes the old fashioned way -- sitting in session and playing them. Since it's irrelevant to ask 'who's that one by?' I have no idea what recordings will be the best. Since the songs are public domain, it's all about who can play. I guess I'd just ask the vendors what you asked here -- "I'm interested in this genre, but I'm new to it -- where do I start?"
posted by Miko at 12:36 PM on February 1, 2005

You might hear something you like at Bluegrass Country, the red-headed stepchild of WAMU in Washington, D.C., which dropped its daily lineup of bluegrass music a few years ago in order to simulcast NPR news with one of the other local stations. Not that I'm bitter or anything. One of hte WAMU hosts refers to the contents of his playlists as "obsolete music". I love that description.
posted by casu marzu at 12:49 PM on February 1, 2005

Go here & listen in: WNCW and WDVX
posted by Pressed Rat at 1:20 PM on February 1, 2005

Check out the album "Satan is Real" by the Louvin Brothers. It's amazing.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 1:23 PM on February 1, 2005

With the country blues in mind, you may want to check out the Piedmont Blues. As far as I'm concerned, that alpha and omega of that style is Etta Baker.
posted by NoMich at 1:24 PM on February 1, 2005

(Also check out the Delmore Brothers.)
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 1:28 PM on February 1, 2005

The Flatlanders are/were a Texas band, but they have more of an old-timey sound to them than your typical country band--musical saws, fragile sounding vocals, and no drums. And Jimmy Dale Gilmore played Smokey in The Big Lebowski. Start with More a Legend than a Band and work from there.
posted by LionIndex at 1:33 PM on February 1, 2005

You can get a lot of good inspiration from WMMT, which has a streaming broadcast. Right now, actually, (Tuesdays 3:30-6:30 EST) there's a show called "Deep in Tradition" which plays the kind of stuff you're looking for.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 1:43 PM on February 1, 2005

I second Bill Monroe and The Louvin Brothers. I'd also reccomend Fiddlin' John Carson, Frank Hutchison, The Carter Family and Dock Boggs.
posted by jonmc at 1:47 PM on February 1, 2005

Pressed Rat got to WNCW before I did, rats are my nemesis. However you may also want to know that they play straight bluegrass every Saturday from 11 am to 7 pm.

Since you're looking for recommendations I'm going out on a limb & directing you here - this is not a self link, but these guys are close friends as well as fantastic musicians. For more mainstream/modern yet old timey sounding stuff there's Alison Krauss and Nickel Creek (that's a good general site btw; one of these days I'm going to lose my fpp virginity & do a bluegrass post) and you've probably heard all the Garcia/Grisman stuff. More WNC bands here, here, and, in an electric incarnation, here. And then there's NCMAMA a fairly good overview of my local scene.
posted by mygothlaundry at 1:54 PM on February 1, 2005

If you are looking for younger bands playing that type of music check you Yonder Mountain String Band or Hot Buttered Rum String Band. Both play smokin' high altitude bluegrass.
posted by tirebouchon at 1:54 PM on February 1, 2005

A contemporary songwriter who focuses more on the "old timey country" rather than bluegrass is the brilliant and amazing Gillian Welch. Some of her music was in O Brother Where Art Thou.
posted by matildaben at 2:26 PM on February 1, 2005

Trivia fact: There are no true bluegrass songs in O, Brother. Not a one. Amaze your friends!

More current, edgy old-time by the Can Kickers.
posted by Miko at 2:31 PM on February 1, 2005

An old teacher and Old Time devotee had me get Old-Time Fiddle Tunes And Songs From North Georgia by the Skillet Lickers.
posted by rustcellar at 2:49 PM on February 1, 2005

Oh yeah! The skillet lickers are hill-arious. Good rec; I second that.
posted by Miko at 3:01 PM on February 1, 2005

I strongly second Yonder Mountain String Band, although they are not so much traditionalist as a crossover act. I still love em.
posted by rooftop secrets at 4:20 PM on February 1, 2005

Honking Duck is a good place to listen to old-time music
posted by Buck Eschaton at 5:15 PM on February 1, 2005

If you ever want a complete look at any such artist, I've heard that Bear Family's box sets are excellent. You can get new copies fairly cheaply on ebay.
posted by donth at 5:34 PM on February 1, 2005

!!!! Sons of the Pioneers !!! Is all you need to know.
posted by edgeways at 6:31 PM on February 1, 2005

Jolie Holland [mp3, 400k]
posted by holloway at 7:09 PM on February 1, 2005

The Anthology of American Folk Music is great. Also, Lefty Frizell, Sophie Tucker, Annette Hanshaw, Gene Austin, and the Mills Brothers are worth checking out.
posted by rokabiri at 8:04 PM on February 1, 2005

The Waybacks are a contemporary band that describe their own style as 'acoustic mayhem'. Check out their album Devolver especially the tracks Been Around (mp3), and Lickkus Interruptus (mp3). Some of their shows are available for downloading on archive.org.

Donna the Buffalo is another great band in the Americana tradition. You can find their shows on archive.org as well.
posted by euphorb at 9:13 PM on February 1, 2005

For an old timey high lonesome sound to rival (or in my opinion, even surpass) Bill Monroe, check out Roscoe Holcomb. I also second Dock Boggs.
posted by smartyboots at 6:42 PM on February 2, 2005

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