Posts Tagged ‘Carl Jackson’

‘Orthophonic Joy’

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

The border between Tennessee and Virginia runs along State Street in the city of Bristol, and it was in the Tennessee portion of that divided city that the recording sessions often called the Big Bang of country music took place during the summer of 1927.

Ralph Peer of the Victor Talking Machine Company set up a portable studio and over the course of two weeks recorded seventy-six songs (some with multiple takes) by nineteen acts, including the first recordings by the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. I’ve long had my eye on a five-CD box set of the complete Bristol Sessions, but with prices for a new copy currently at about ninety dollars these days, looking is all I’ll be doing for a while.

The wish for the box set ties in with my general tendency to dig back further and further into the history of American music, an effort that I hope brings me greater understanding of the roots of the rock, blues and R&B that I love. I’ve mentioned that tendency in connection with one or more blues and R&B box sets that have made their ways here over the past couple years, and even though I’m nowhere near to exhausting my exploration of blues and R&B, I’ve nevertheless added country music to my list of necessary explorations.

That exploration of country is in a nascent state. Over the years, I’ve found at one place or another six of the tracks Peer recorded in Bristol that summer (as well as many other early recordings of country music). As many vintage recordings are, they’re often hard listening, combining tales that are all too often sad and/or brutal with an unfamiliar musical aesthetic and the technological limitations of early remote recording.

I’d assume that, if I ever acquire that five-CD box set, the notes will provide a guide to its 123 tracks. So would notes in other sets of the Bristol material more limited in their scope, I assume, but where to start? And then I came across Orthophonic Joy. Subtitled “The 1927 Bristol Sessions Revisited,” the two-CD set was released last year by Bristol’s Birthplace of Country Music Museum (an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution), the Bristol Chamber of Commerce and the tourism offices of the states of Tennessee and Virginia.

The set’s title, Orthophonic Joy, comes from a promotion by the Victor Talking Machine Company for its new orthophonic Victrola, the first electronic record player, in which consumers are advised, “Don’t deny yourself the sheer joy of orthophonic music.”

The two CDs offer new recordings by current artists of eighteen of the songs recorded during the original 1927 sessions. There are also nineteen spoken interludes giving some of the history of the 1927 sessions, focusing on the artists who original recorded those eighteen songs.

As an example, here’s what historian Dr. Cindy Lovell had to say – as read by Eddie Stubbs – about the traditional tune “Pretty Polly” and the two recordings of it at hand, the 1927 version by B.F. Shelton (playing in the background) and the new version by Carl Jackson:

And here’s Jackson’s version:

The remakes, as fine as they are (and I’ve been enjoying them), are not the originals, of course, and the big box set – or perhaps several of the smaller collections – remain on my list. But in the meantime, well, I will not deny myself Orthophonic Joy.