Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Dust Busters with John Cohen – Old Man Below

Old Man Below
Smithsonian Folkways

In 1958, when he would have been 25 or 26 years old, John Cohen got together with Mike Seeger and Tom Paley and founded the New Lost City Ramblers. At a time when most of the folk revival-era groups – think Kingston Trio, etc. – were smoothing the rough edges out of folksongs to create a folk-pop music for pre-boomer college students, the New Lost City Ramblers dedicated themselves to reviving and preserving the rougher, decidedly rural old time country music recorded in the “golden age” of the 1920s and ‘30s – the kind of music assembled a few years earlier by Harry Smith on his monumental Anthology of American Folk Music.

With just one personnel change in 1962 when Tom Paley left and was replaced by Tracy Schwarz, the New Lost City Ramblers played together and recorded lots of Folkways albums for about half a century. All of the revivalist groups striving for that ‘20s and ‘30s authenticity playing old time music over the past half-century have followed in footsteps of the New Lost City Ramblers. (One of my favorite folk festival memories was being there for a rare reunion of the original group when John, Mike and Tom, all booked as solo artists, played together at the 1997 Champlain Valley Folk Festival in Burlington, Vermont.)

The Dust Busters, three young musicians in their 20s based in Brooklyn, are the latest group following that trail blazed by the New Lost City Ramblers in the 1950s and ‘60s.

Many of the old time artists whose 78 rpm recordings inspired the New Lost Ramblers were still alive and playing in the 1950s and ‘60s and they were able to learn directly from some of them in addition to the old records. That’s not possible for today’s young musicians in groups like the Dust Busters, but they can and have been learning from first generation revivalists like John Cohen and Peter Stampfel (whose Holy Modal Rounders played a bent and twisted version of old time music informed by beat poets and ‘60s culture) in addition to the old records (which have never been as easily accessible as they are now in the digital age).

Not only have they learned from John Cohen, John collaborates with them throughout  their first album, Old Man Below, an album that sounds like it just as easily have been a Ramblers LP from 50 years ago.

The Dust Busters – Eli Smith on banjo, guitar, mandolin, harmonica, jew’s harp, pump organ, manjo; Walker Shepherd on banjo, guitar, bantar, fiddle, manjo, piano; Craig Judelman on fiddle, piano; with John Cohen on guitar, banjo, mandolin; and Frank Fairfield on fiddle on two songs; and Eli, Walker, Craig and John trading lead and harmony vocals –repertoire on this entertaining CD is highlighted by such numbers as “Black Jack Daisy,” Dillard Chandler’s variant of “The Gypsy Laddie” and “Black Jack Davy,” “The Roving Gambler,” “Free Little Bird,” and “Baby, Your Time Ain’t Long.”

Another highlight, and the most contemporary song in that it dates from the 1940s, is Butch Hawes’ “Arthritis Blues.”

These are songs that have slipped into tradition because they’ve stood the test of time and because successive generations have brought their own sensibilities to them. I look forward to hearing more from the Dust Busters.

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1 comment:

  1. this is not the first recording John and the Dust Busters have done together...they did one a few years ago..entitled Prohibition is a Failure as i recall. Dust Busters have been around for at least 3 years, I think.