Saturday, November 21, 2009

Hutchison's Blues

Frank Hutchison- Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 1 (1926-1929)

Album Review:
"Almost everything Frank Hutchison recorded can be found on this disc (the rest is collected on Old-Time Music From West Virginia). Because of this, Volume 1: 1926-1929 presents the most complete picture of the type of performer he was and the sort of material he performed. A singer, guitarist, and harmonica player, his repertoire included bottleneck showcases, fingerpicked rags, and old-time dance numbers. In Hutchison's time, such versatility was an advantage, improving chances for work and a longer recording life. Much of the material here was fairly conventional for the time. Typical of even the most successful performers, Hutchison wasn't afraid to rework a tune slightly and call it a new composition. "The West Virginia Rag" is just an instrumental version of "Coney Isle," while a similar backing is used again on "Old Rachel." His original take on the story of the Titanic, however, is the sort of thing that could occasionally place him above his contemporaries. "The Last Scene of the Titanic" is almost cinematic, managing to capture the optimism of both the crew ("How's your machinery?/All right!/How's your compass?/Still on New York!") and passengers. He continually returns to scenes of people dancing, breaking in and out of dance rhythms on guitar for effect. Hutchison's story leads up to the ship's wreck, choosing to leave out the tragedy that follows. Volume 1 is also notable for the inclusion of at least three classic folk-country-blues songs. "Worried Blues" is a fantastic slide guitar performance recorded at his very first session. Strangely, as the liner notes point out, after that first date, Okeh seemed just as satisfied having Hutchison record more forgettable material like "C&O Excursion" (a novelty song with Hutchison imitating train sounds on his harmonica) and "Long Way to Tipperary" (an innocuous dance piece). Also recorded that first day, however, was "Train That Carried the Girl From Town," one of his best compositions (later a staple for Doc Watson). The song would be paired with "Worried Blues" as a single for Okeh. There is also a rendition of the "Stackalee" legend. The story had been told by everyone from Furry Lewis to Mississippi John Hurt (and would continue to fascinate everyone from Neil Diamond to Nick Cave). Harry Smith would choose Hutchison's version for his Anthology of American Folk Music. Following the label's standard format, all the songs on Document's Volume 1 (1926-1929) are arranged in chronological order by recording date. Thankfully, while there is a small degree of song repetition, alternate takes of the same piece never run back to back."

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