Down in the Basement - Joe Bussard's Treasure Trove of Vintage 78s, 1926-1937
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Down in the Basement
Joe Bussard's Treasure Trove of Vintage 78s, 1926-1937

Old Hat Records (

cd cover Absent shellac fanatics, our sonic world would be a dreary place. Down in the Basement promises "24 rare gems from the king of record collectors." That would be Joe Bussard, a cigar-chomping jug-band renegade, DJ, record producer, musical polymath, raconteur and enthusiast extraordinaire of old-time music.

A social product of the hand-wound Victrola, schooled on Gene Autry soundtracks and the music of Jimmie Rodgers, Bussard began collecting in 1947 at the age of 12, and set up his own pirate country music station at 14, broadcasting from his parents' Virginia basement. He soon moved to commercial radio, and hasn't discarded a single disc over the past 55 years. Listeners should pay heed to Bussard, the visionary curator of a cellar full of quirky period commercial recordings dismissed by professional archivists and casually forsaken by the companies that originally produced these wondrous, weird old sounds.

Culling two dozen tunes from a collection of 50,000 78s is a fool's errand, to be sure, but there's no arguing with producer Marshall Wyatt's choices. While the sound has been digitally scrubbed, the scratchy warmth and bright, gritty panache of the original grooves survive. A bonus is the 72-page booklet, with archival photographs, peculiar record covers, bibliography, and extensive track notes.

You probably haven't heard of most of these artists, but some superb takes of the better known also appear: Reverend Gary Davis's growling declaration, "You Got to Go Down," Gene Autry's louche "Atlanta Bound," Blind Blake and Charlie Spand's saucy "Hastings Street," one of six known versions of Charley Jordan's "Keep It Clean," "Uncle Dave's Beloved Solo" (Dave Macon), and a ringing Big Bill Broonzy guitar solo, "How You Want It Done?"

Lesser known, and all the more astonishing, are such as Luis Russell and His Orchestra's "The (New) Call of the Freaks," featuring a celestial vibraphone and some fine 1929 New York jazz, Fess Williams and His Royal Flush Orchestra's brassy, shack-a-lacka "Hot Town," Gitfiddle Jim's rapid-fire slide guitar on "Paddlin' Blues," a finger-poppin', lickety-split "Runnin' Wild" by James Cole's Washboard Four, the racy "Get the 'L' on down the Road" by Bill Johnson's Louisiana Jug Band, and from the wilds of 1929 Dallas, the Corley Family's polyphonic vocal marvel, "Give the World a Smile." There's more, of course, for as Bussard hears it, "Music is a word for something that no longer exists." Here's evidence of that trenchant paradox. - Michael Stone

CD available from cdRoots

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