Saturday, February 18, 2012

ARKANSAS TRAVELER - Michelle Shocked

YEAR: 1992

LABEL: Mercury

TRACK LISTING: 33 RPM Soul, Come A Long Way, Secret To A Long Life, Contest Coming (Cripple Creek), Over the Waterfall, Shaking Hands (Soldier's Joy), Jump Jim Crow/Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, Hold Me Back (Frankie & Johnny), Strawberry Jam, Prodigal Daughter (Cotton Eyed Joe), Blackberry Blossom, Weaving Way, Arkansas Traveler, Woody's Rag

BONUS TRACKS: (In 2004, a special edition of the cd was released with the following bonus tracks): Worth the Weight (Live at Mountain Stage), Come A Long Way (acoustic studio demo), Blackberry Blossom (Live at Steamboat Springs), Weaving Way (alternate version), Down In the Arkansas (Live at the Folk Music Hall of Fame), Introducing Dollar Bill (Live at Vienna), C-H-I-C-K-E-N (The Way To Spell Chicken)

IMPRESSIONS: Here we have a major Papa Razzi album. A girlfriend/co-worker at the time was heavily into this album and introduced me to it. The album was spectacularly unsuccessful sales-wise no doubt because of its "hillbilly" sound and the "Appalachian Mountain" album cover. However, I thought it was pretty good! It was certainly unlike anything else being released at the time and I was a fan of old folk/country/country blues music typified by what was found on Harry Smith's monumental "ANTHOLOGY OF AMERICAN FOLK MUSIC". So I was predisposed to like it. My absolute favourite songs on the album are the exquisite "Come A Long Way" and the bluesy funk of "33 RPM Soul" featuring the distinctive guitar work of Pops Staples. This album is also something of an all-star affair with every track seemingly bursting with major talent from the folk, blues, country and bluegrass world.

MY FAVOURITE TRACKS: 33 RMP Soul, Come A Long Way, Secret to a Long Life, Contest Coming (Cripple Creek), Over the Waterfall, Shaking Hands (Soldier's Joy), Strawberry Jam, Prodigal Daughter (Cotton Eyed Joe), Blackberry Blossom, Arkansas Traveler, Woody's Rag

GUEST ARTISTS: Pops Staples (on "33 RPM Soul"), The Band (on "Secret to a Long Life"), The Red Clay Ramblers (on "Contest Coming"), Hothouse Flowers (on "Over the Waterfall"), Uncle Tupelo (on "Shaking Hands"), Taj Mahal (on "Jump Jim Crow"), Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown (on "Hold Me Back"), Doc Watson (on "Strawberry Jam"), Mark O'Connor (on "Strawberry Jam"), Alison Krauss and Union Station (on "Prodigal Daughter"), Norman Blake (on "Blackberry Blossom"), The Messengers (on "Weaving Way"), Jimmy Driftwood (on "Arkansas Traveler" and "Down In the Arkansas"), Dollar Bill Johnston (on "Woody's Rag" and "C-H-I-C-K-E-N"), The String Cheese Incident (on "Blackberry Blossom (Live)")

FACT SHEET: ARKANSAS TRAVELER is Michelle Shocked's fourth album. The album received critical acclaim at the time -- the word "ambitious" was often used -- but didn't sell well. There was a great deal of controversy at the time due to Shocked's assertion that American music today derives a great deal from blackface minstrelsy; in fact, Shocked originally wanted to appear on the album cover in blackface. In her own words: "Why remind people of a painful, shameful past? Here's two reasons: American music today is still being created from the rich traditions of blackface minstrelsy...also, for many, putting on blackface was, and still is, an opportunity to express a soulfulness their own culture couldn't provide..." Whatever. Whether or not you buy the "blackface" rationale, the music here is indeed a celebration of "old-timey" music by an artist who obviously loves it and obviously has the best, most respectful intentions. "Woody's Rag" is a cover of a song by Woody Guthrie.

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