A forerunner of bluegrass but not as fancy, old-timey music isn’t just for old-timers – although songs about moo cows, bowlegged roosters, and Jennie Jenkins, who won’t wear white because the color’s too bright, aren’t exactly the stuff of MTV.
The songs on this 1959 album were old even before the New Lost City Ramblers – Mike Seeger, Tom Paley, and John Cohen, with their fiddle, banjo, guitar, and autoharp – recorded them. Sources cited in the accompanying booklet include such quaintly named bands as Earl Johnson’s Clodhoppers and Fisher Hendley and his Aristocratic Pigs. Most of the tunes are humorous, although not as funny as those names.
Vocally, the trio is adequate; instrumentally, the trio is more than adequate but not at all polished. The Ramblers (who are no longer together) may have suspected as much. ”You will not find slick commercial arrangements on this record – you can hear that kind of pap on the jukebox,” Paley wrote in the liner notes.
What you’ll never hear on the jukebox in this decade (and didn’t in the ’60s) is Seeger’s gorgeous autoharp playing on ”Chewing Gum,” a Carter Family tune that, corroborating every teacher’s suspicion, presents the chewing of gum as an authority-defying act. The song also lampoons the legal and medical professions, all in a few simple verses. ”Beware, Oh Take Care” and ”Soldier, Soldier Will You Marry Me, Now” depict men as wholly untrustworthy; women get theirs on ”Jennie Jenkins,” a song about extreme sartorial indecision. Fair is fair and this is fun.