Various Artists: Flowers in the Wildwood: Women in Early Country Music 1923-1939

Barbara Flaska

Various Artists

Flowers in the Wildwood: Women in Early Country Music 1923-1939

Label: Trikont
US Release Date: 2003-12-01
UK Release Date: 2003-12-15

Women in America began staking a claim in country music long before recording equipment existed. The women country singers are the ones known as the Flowers in the Wildwood and on this disc they sing their old time country music in high sweet voices with only the sparsest of instrumental accompaniment. Though edging out from folk tradition, this music is made by women who were for the most part commercial country singers, because that's who typically made it onto records and the radio, after all.

This collection dates from the decade before World War II, with a few precious offerings reaching back as far as the 1920s. These 25 rare recordings, released by Germany's quirky Trikont label, seem untouched by modern technology. There of course has been remastering, which allows for the sparkling clarity, but in this case it seems the mid-range has been brought forward again. The end result of such engineering relies on the quality of the original recording; in this case, the physical condition of the 78-rpm used for transfer. So the music here sometimes sounds a bit distorted, or scratchy and hissy; on one track, the needle clicks and skips through a deep scratch. But rather than being a distraction, these flaws just lend to the experience. This is exactly how these old records used to sound, probably when played for the very first time. The listener today, in mind at least, can easily slip into an easy chair in a room lit only by kerosene lamps, being entertained by a record spinning on the hand-cranked Victrola or the nightly broadcast coming out the floor model radio. The music pouring out the speaker is from that distant world.

The range of music here is as wide open as any prairie. From the 1933 Tin-Pan Alley sound of the Girls of the Golden West on "Round-up Time in Texas", complete with pop-styled yodels all the way to the bizarre Dezurik Sisters clucking, clicking, hiccuping, and yodeling their way through "I Left Her Standing There". Both groups were popular radio performers. The Girls of the Golden West had a public persona of having deep roots in the Golden West, and they assumed a twangy "Western" accent in song. There are an awful lot of esses whistled through the teeth for two girls born and raised in Illinois. The Dezurik Sisters can't contain themselves and erupt in a gentle two-voice yodel during their sweet lullaby "Go to Sleep My Darlin" (both songs drawn from their only recording session in 1939). The sisters most likely learned to yodel in Minnesota, where they originated. After the country music circuit dried up for them, they reinvented themselves as a polka band.

The country music pendulum keeps swinging. Some players, deeply rooted in the rural South, offer a chance to hear authentic mainstream old time music. In the ensuing years, their vibrant work has become required repertoire for performing string bands. The Kentucky-bred Coon Creek Girls ("Little Birdie" and "Flowers Blooming in the Wildwood") and Virginia's own Carter Family ("Just Another Broken Heart" and "Walking in the King's Highway") are as integral to the genre as, well, cornmeal is to hush puppies. Others, every bit as genuine, though popular in their time have long since faded from the limelight. Like Samantha Bumgarner & Eva Davis sawing a fiddle, frailing a banjo, and telling us all about that "Big Eyed Rabbit".

Others, even more obscure, provide a fascinating glimpse into the cultures women developed for music in those distant times. The Southland Ladies Quartette ("My Loved Ones Are Waiting for Me") and the Wisdom Sisters ("Prayer") are two sides of the same coin. Each group was recorded in 1927, and while the Wisdom Sisters hailed from Atlanta, Georgia, the Southland Ladies Quartette resided in Indiana. But traditions traveled with the people. Using the Southern religious harmony, both groups are firmly footed in the tradition of Southern singing schools, which taught shape note harmonies.

The compilers unabashedly include two songs that fall in the category of racial characterization, originally released because the record companies recognized where their appeal might lie. The Aaron Sisters with the Song-o-pators singing "How'm I Doin'" could conceivably be regarded as an innocent use of black dialect and slang, but not so easily can "Lorena" by Jo & Alma, the Kentucky Girls. The popular radio stars give a restrained sentimental treatment to this tear-jerking syrup, a song of the old South: "It was way down upon the old plantation / That Massa he owned me as a slave / He owned a yellow gal called Lorena / And we courted where the wild bananas sway".

This compilation moves from the slick cowgirl swing of the great Patsy Montana expressing her love and regard for "My Poncho Pony" to the bald-faced profanity of Louisiana Lou who promptly introduces herself: "I just got out of jail / Leavin' town tonight / Goin' back to the one / Who can make my jelly right" ("With My Banjo on My Knee Blues").

There are too many songs and artists on this rich offering to even sketch. Mr. and Mrs. J.W. Baker present a deceptively simple outline of profound loss "On the Banks of the Old Tennessee". A quick-paced song carried by Mrs. Baker accompanying herself on autoharp, the lyrics ask for no sympathy but explain what has happened to account for her condition in the world. The loss keeps growing with each added verse: Her father, mother, brother, sister, sweetheart, and her friends are all dead and buried along the banks of the Old Tennessee. How's that for being completely alone (and by extension unloved) in what had to have been a cold, cruel world?

While there's no changing some reality, the contributing conditions can be changed. Aunt Molly Jackson presents a short respectful speech before launching into her modal "Kentucky Miner's Wife (Ragged Hungry Blues) Pt. 1". Born Mary Magdalene Garland in 1880, her early experiences with the rural mining industry fueled a lifetime of action against that establishment, and her outspoken songs said as much and more. She recorded only four of her songs in 1931, and only two of those were ever released. By the end of that decade, though, Aunt Molly was recorded extensively by the Library of Congress.

This is altogether a fine collection of music made by women in early country music. An imaginative and respectful treatment of the people and the genre, with luscious packaging to boot, Flowers in the Wildwood deserves a place in anyone's library. While you have to really be in the mood for the music to settle in and listen, if it's handy you can begin drawing the connecting lines between these women in early country music and those who have since followed.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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