In tribute to old-time musician, hard drinking womanising banjo playing vocalist Charlie Poole (1892-1931), American folk legend Loudon Wainwright once married to fellow folk artist, Kate McGarrigle and father of Rufus and Martha Wainwright who are now forging careers of their own dips back in time for material on this album. Plus, along with songwriter-producer Dick Connette written nine new songs to go with the other twenty on the twin-CD set.
Poole and the North Carolina Rambler’s legacy is a fine one. The recent four-CD Properbox collection underlining the fact, and for lovers of old time string-band music in general it is a remarkable set of recordings. You would not think they were made 80 years ago!
Among those who have recorded material of his catalogue you can list Grateful Dead leader, Jerry Garcia, Tom T Hall, The Chieftains and has seen the musical heritage of his and the NC Ramblers carried forth by the likes of The New Lost City Ramblers and The Red Clay Ramblers —and there have been others too.
Wainwright, know for his humour and sometimes caustic wit has long since had the mark of genius has a wonderful, natural voice for rambling ballads, and if he lived in another time he could well have been just like Charlie Poole. Poole who lived a fast and free life (his drinking binges could last weeks and not days) and by all accounts was cheated more ways than one out of his money Loudon would not have had to change much. However, to some degree he has arguably gone on to form an even greater legacy than Poole. Few could embrace the music of Poole any finer than him. Although North East born Martin Stephenson now living up at the top of Scotland did a superb job a few years ago when, he headed a cast for the stage enactment of the life and times of Poole. That was made into a DVD; where there is scope for an update and additional people brought in to give a little more light on the rambling’ boy, maybe from descendants of ol’ Charlie? Hope you are listening to this, Sean and Ben at Echo Productions who did such a good job the first time around.
Helping out Wainwright on the project apart from Connette you have Chaim Tannenbaum, David Mansfield, Erik Friedlander, Rob Moose, Matt Munisteri are never far away, likewise Rufus, Martha, Lucy Wainwright Roche, David Roche, Suzzy, Terre and Maggie Roche (also see the fabulous biographical tale ‘Man In The Moon’ —it is through songs like this the listener obtains a true grasp of how Charlie, who once worked in the local textile mill earning $3 for a sixty hour week) lived his life and on ‘The Great Reaping Day’ Tannenbaum do himself and Poole justice as they lend some splendid vocals. Talking of vocals, Loudon is in great form on ‘No Knees’, a song that like his love ballad ‘Rowena’ and the title cut ‘High Wide And Lonesome’ tell much about someone who made a huge impression of Wainwright when he first started out music 40 odd years ago.
Loudon’s loose and easy as an old shoe approach fits neatly alongside the pickers who, if not from the world of folk but of jazz roots and when he latches on to a melody to suit his vocal tone. Like Poole when he went his week or month long drinking binges he is unstoppable! Some of the instrumental work is smart too, as mandolin genius Chris Tile along with fiddler Dana Lyn and Rob Moose on rhythm guitar lends support to ‘Ragtime Annie’. It being one of many where the music accompanying Wainwright is particularly melodic. The harmony vocal adorned ‘Old And Only In The Way’ for one is worthy of praise of a highest order, but it is as a body of work and the story told by LW 111 that the greatest joy and achievement by someone who —as a young, aspiring act started out doing the music of Poole and who isn’t to say there are won’t be others following his ways.
Poole’s infamous rambling is highlighted on the delightful ‘Awful Hungry Hash House’ and what about the dobro, fiddle of Mansfield and banjo of Tannenbaum to go with the fantastic traditional lyrics that despite the hard times it relates it also contains some wonderful humour. A one time moonshiner and an entertainer and, of whom Columbia records recognised his unique talent and paid him good money he influenced the likes of Wainwright, his then wife Kate McGarrigle and Tannenbaum to perform the ‘If I Lose’ along London’s Portobello Road. How about ‘The Man Who Road The Mule’ as a memento of a man who defied logic and the rules of life for the thirty-nine years he walked this earth and though not the ideal husband (as Wainwright identifies in his superb co-write with Connette ‘Charlie’s Last Sing’) he could not only drink but make great music.
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