Friday, April 27, 2007

Flatt & Scruggs - "Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms"

It's not like I have a ton of bluegrass records, so the choice for Friday's track basically came down to Bill Monroe vs. Flatt & Scruggs. Due respect to Monroe, but I'm a banjo guy, and I can't finish out the week without throwing Earl in there.

Keep in mind, the banjo was traditionally a rhythm instrument, used essentially to fulfill the function of percussion in old-time mountain music while other instruments like the fiddle or the mandolin carried the lead melody line. Scruggs took it to the forefront as a member of Bill Monroe's band, playing melodies while maintaining the instrument's propulsive drive. Listen to him rolling across those strings, spraying out, like, 128th notes, all within the frame of a catchy melody.

The other aspect of this track, and of Flatt & Scruggs' music in general, that just kills me is the vocals. They seem so casual and yet so completely in control of their sound. It seems as though their note perfect harmonies just came out that way the first time they practice the tune, and they kept on singing it just the way it happened. This is, of course, completely imaginary; bluegrass singers are notoriously meticulous in their arrangement of vocal harmonies. But the illusion of spontaneity they manage to conjure is what makes the sound that much more infectious.

I don't know much about the album whence this track is taken. It was released by Everest Records but not this one. They describe themselves as an "Archive of Folk & Jazz Music". The liner notes say the record was previously released on Mercury Records, which makes me think it's a reissue of a studio album (another hint: it's one of those dreaded simulated stereo records), but doesn't have it listed in their discography. The cover says both "Flatt & Scruggs" and "Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs"; I can't even tell which is supposed to be the title. A Google search for the catalog number turned up what looks to be a copy of the same record on eBay if you're interested, but truth be told I think there are far better Flatt & Scruggs records to be had. The $3.99 price tag makes me think I wasn't looking for anything definitive anyway.

Buy it... on vinyl.

From my deck to you: Flatt & Scruggs - "Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms"

Listening to players with chops this tight makes me wonder why there isn't more of an overlap between bluegrass fans and metalheads. Next week I'm posting some shred-o-phonic guitar wankery.

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