Roots of Everything

Yazoo's Time Capsule Project

The other Yazoo anthologies fall into two broad categories: those determined by sound, and those by sense. Times Ain't Like They Used To Be is a hodgepodge; its organizing principle is that it is made up of rural music. This may not differentiate it from most of the other collections here— on the other hand, so what, since it contains, e.g., Richard "Rabbit" Brown's "Sinking of the Titanic" and Uncle Dave Macon's "Sail Away Ladies." The gravel-voiced Brown nearly flips out of the blues category altogether; Uncle Dave is the oldest punk ever recorded. My Rough and Rowdy Ways is similar but contains exclusively songs about cutting up and getting high and fucking around. The Rose Grew Round the Briar is similar but contains exclusively love songs. Hard Times Come Again No More is similar but contains exclusively songs about poverty. All of these collections stir together blues, proto-blues, mountain ballads, breakdowns, and the odd gospel number or Tin Pan Alley stray. Their artists and songs range from the famous to the deeply obscure, and usually include at least one or two numbers that fans had heard of but could previously only find on expensive import collections.

The recent Yazoo lineup also comprises anthologies of urban and rural women's blues (I Can't Be Satisfied), jug bands (Ruckus Juice & Chittlins), cowboy songs (When I Was a Cowboy), country gospel (How Can I Keep From Singing), piano rags and blues (Mama Don't Allow No Easy Riders Round Here and Shake Your Wicked Knees), and early jazz (Jazz the World Forgot), as well as two sets of early Cajun music. All of these compilations— indeed, nearly everything on Yazoo— derive from commercial 78 rpm records made between roughly 1924 and 1936.

Unknown band, circa 1890
Courtesy of Shanachie Entertainment
Unknown band, circa 1890

The label's cohesion proceeds from the fact that this was a transitional period of gigantic importance, especially in the countryside, where recording technology had only just arrived but oral tradition had not yet been forsaken. This is just about the most fertile of conditions for mass creativity. New information, arriving from the world outside, one droplet at a time, is seized upon, enlarged, applied to what is already known, turned upside down, imaginatively interpreted, reinterpreted, misinterpreted. Right now conditions are pretty nearly the exact opposite, in the sense that information new, old, and in-between is everywhere all the time, as tangible as a wall, and maybe as inhibiting. But maybe in 75 years the products of our era will have retrospectively achieved the grandeur and poignancy of these records.

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