Cindy Hill/CD Reviews
Extraordinary recording, tight driving American folk at its populist roots
In the time of legends, Spring, 1963, four young fraternity brothers calling themselves the Cumberland Trio (math majors they ain't)brought down the house at a University of Tennessee campus band showcase with their tight-driving all American blend of bluegrass, gospel, and seeds-of-rock, and landed a contract with RCA, where their 1964 Nashville recordings were produced by the legendary Chet Atkins. The group has re-released this extraordinary original recordings together with several self-produced tracks from the same era.
Reflecting the times is a sense of political courage, and an unwavering presumption that music belongs to the people who work the fields, sail the ships, and dig the mines, transforming "Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya" into a universal plea for peace, and "John Henry" into a tribute to all men and woman who work by the sweat of their brow. The powerful sound The Cumberland Trio has not only survived the decades, but been reborn, emerging like a breath of fresh air into today’s folk-pop music scene that has drifted far from its populist roots.
Buy the disc for yourself, and one for your parents so they can remember, and one for your kids so they don't forget. Read my complete review at www.cdreviews.com
The Fiery Heart
The four albums by The Cumberland Trio plus the one by Jerre Haskew and his family are among my all-time favorites. During my long convalescence, their recordings have stayed beside my stereo, giving me inspiration and healing.
All of these albums have the beautiful and engaging harmonies reminiscent of The Chad Mitchell Trio. In addition, they feature a wide range of styles. For example, Andy Garvarick’s version of an Earl Scruggs classic, “Shuckin’ the Corn,” shows you what great playing you hear on these albums. Likewise, the dobro artistry of Louis Wamp is warm and sweet. Similarly, the dobro, banjo, and mando playing of Michael Headrick is amazing.
Moreover they cover tunes from many genres. For example, they go from blues tunes like Mississippi John Hurt‘s “Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor,” to country songs like Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors.” They even do a subtle protest song, “I Wish I Were a Babe”:
They call me Christian,
Call me Black or Jew.
When they call for me,
They call for you.
They also do children’s songs every bit as charming as Pete Seeger’s “Riding in My Car” and Peter, Paul and Mary’s “The Marvelous Toy.” Also, they can be as funny as the Smother’s Brothers, for example, “Old Dogs (Can Still Bury a Bone).“
One of their specialties is to combine songs into fabulous medleys. For instance, their version of “Sloop John B” starts with the Kingston Trio’s opening lick, then develops the harmony of the Beach Boys’ version, then merges wonderfully into “Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffet. Just when you are reeling from all of that, they end by sliding back into “Sloop John B.”
The albums to look for are the two early ones, “The Cumberland Trio: Lost and Found,” which was recorded in New York City, and “The Cumberland Trio,” which was recorded in Tennessee and produced by Chet Atkins. As you might expect, the Atkins version is recorded better. In addition, it contains all of the tunes from “Lost and Found.“ But each gives you the excitement that the Cumberlands generated back in the early 1960‘s, plus detailed liner notes.
There are also the two double-live albums, The Cumberland Trio: “Reunion Concert” (recorded in 2001) and The Cumberland Trio: “Back Where We Began” (recorded in 2004). You need to get both of these because they are equally impressive, and each contains some songs that aren’t on the other one.
As fine as those are, the real corker is the recent one, “Songs from the Fiery Gizzard: The Music of the Haskew Family.” It has all of the brilliance of the other ones, but the melodies and chord progressions are simply transcendent. Moreover, the lyrics would do Dylan, Prine, Lightfoot, Cohen and Waits all proud:
God must cry himself to sleep.
I can’t play anymore, but if I could, this is what I’d play, and this is how I’d play it.