Walter Smith and Friends / Document Records
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Walter Smith and Friends
Volume 1 - The Bald Headed End of the Broom
Volume 2 - North Carolina Blues
Volume 3 - I'll Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms

Document Records (

These three CD's cover the 1929-1936 recordings of a loosely connected group of musicians hailing from southwest Virginia and northeast North Carolina. Walter Smith (vocal and guitar) is most prominent, but Buster Carter (vocal and banjo), Norman Woodlief (vocal and guitar), and fiddlers Odell Smith and Posey Rorer are very prominent. They belong to the first generation of professional musicians who came from traditional culture and who tried to use records to further their careers. These are relatively polished performers in the class of the Carter Family and Charlie Poole, though much less prominent.

The more than seventy pieces serve as an antidote to the overemphasis on fiddle and banjo instrumentals by most current old time revivalists. (There are only three instrumentals here.)

Most of the pieces are commercially composed tear jerkers, sacred-theme songs and comic numbers (many of all three categories in waltz time) from the latter part of the Nineteenth Century, so-called "parlor music." Most are sung as duets in the style that presages the brother duets that were popular in the Southeast by the time of the last recordings of these sets. Much is remindful of either the repertoires of Poole or the Carters, with a bit of Jimmie Rogers thrown into the 1936 session. For me, the most fascinating pieces are of minstrelsy or folk origins like "Old Johnny Bucker," "Cat's Got the Measles and the Dog's Got the Whooping Cough," "We'll Talk About One Another," and "Lazy Farmer Boy" (a.k.a. "The Boy Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn"). These are where the performer's traditional roots shine through. Smith also was a composer, most notably, of "Otto Wood, the Bandit" which lives on in the repertoires of folks like Doc Watson.

There are a few cuts that are among the earliest recordings to prefigure bluegrass in their drive and singing style, such as "Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms" and "It's Hard To Love and Cant' Be Loved."

While many of the heart songs sound much alike, there is a great deal of fine music here that every lover of old-timey music would love to have in their collections. The accompanying notes have improved greatly over earlier Document reissues. - Stacy Phillips

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