Various Artists
My Rough and Rowdy Ways, Vols. 1 & 2
Yazoo (

What a fine idea to theme a compilation of old-time country and blues music around bad living: drugs, liquor, gambling, whores, outlaws, all the things that make life interesting. On the 46 tracks bursting from these two CDs you'll encounter old lags like John Hardy, Jesse James and Billy the Kid, and get drunk or high in the company of some of the great singers and musicians of the twenties and thirties, as well as some of the more obscure. The blues tracks include Big Bill Broonzy's rollicking "Good Liquor Gonna Carry Me Down" with Black Bob outstanding on barrelhouse piano, Clifford Gibson's wistful "Bad Luck Dice" with it's delicate and terrific guitar picking, and Robert Wilkins' rasping and rhythmic "Old Jim Canan's." The white musicians include an array of wonderful string bands like the Georgia Crackers, the Grant Brothers and the Dixie Entertainers (delivering a marvelous "Nobody's Business"), great old-time instrumentalists such as Clarence Ashley ("Little Sadie" accompanied on banjo) and fiddler Jilson Setters, as well as smooth ballad singers including Vernon Dalhart and the improbably named Haskell Wolfenbarger. Just one woman, Eva Davis, performs "Wild Bill Jones" with banjo. Then there's blues-tinged mountain music from the incomparable Dock Boggs, and a burst of soulful black jug band music from Cannon's Jug Stompers. Although the black and white musicians are dealt with separately in the accompanying booklet, the musical distance between them isn't huge. My only complaint, incidentally, is over the notes, which are the same for both volumes and so arranged that it's difficult to check them against the track listings.

Occasional overlap between songs means you can indulge in comparisons between, say, Mississippi John Hurt's definitive "Frankie" and an excellent string band version from Dykes Magic City Trio, or The Fruit Jar Guzzlers' driving "Stackolee" and David Miller's mellow and tuneful version. Really though, this collection is for enjoyment rather than analysis and, although aficionados of this sort of stuff will probably have several of the tracks in their collections already, it's a hugely entertaining program. - Brian Peters