In the words of one old song, "IŽll get drunk on Saturday
night and go to church on Sunday.` The hills and valleys of the rural
Southern states of Ž20s and Ž30s America were no different to anywhere
else, with the repertory of songsters frequently reflecting the dual aspects
of sin and redemption.
Tales of drunkenness, the despair of imprisonment, betrayal and cold blooded
murder, sit edgily alongside visions of the gloryland and eternal bliss.
The road may be beset with temptation, alienation, and visions of eternal
damnation, but it is also possible to embrace spiritual comfort and social
Appropriately enough, trains bound in both directions - up to Heaven,
down to Hell - are represented here. In addition to many of the greats
of old time music our roster includes a number of more obscure but no
less worthy performers.
Prayers From Hell... is a checklist of string bands (Byron Parker & His
Mountaneers, The Dixon Brothers and white blues artists (Frank Hutchison)
who felt the push and pull of a 'sinful' career in music versus sacred
obligations. Dock Boggs experienced this opposition more deeply than most.
His career trajectory saw him forsake coal mining for notoriety as a banjo
player of freakish talent and a singer of scalding intensity. During the
first wave of enthusiasm for his music, Boggs quit his career in 1930
at his wife's insistence that he was being led down the wrong path. Interest
in his work was stirred by the inclusion of tracks such as "Sugar Baby"
and "Count Blues" on Smith's Anthology, these and others (included here
as well) led to Boggs's return to performing three decades later, a welcomed
presence at 60s folk festivals. Homebrewed musical physicists, The Monroe
Brothers accelerated the quantum particles of the shape note hymns and
square dance music on which they were raised. Bluegrass was the eventual
result of their high-speed renditions of religious (I Am Ready To Go")
and secular material, though none of Bill Monroe's later solo work would
touch the feral verve o tracks such as these.
the wire, may 2002
The Carter Family
The Dixon Brothers
The Monroe Brothers
Cliff & Bill Carlisle