Various Back Roads To Cold Mountain


The demand for olde tyme music may have faded since the O Brother phenomenon. Proof of that was in the relative failure of last year’s film adaptation of Charles Frazier’s Civil War-era novel Cold Mountain to build on the momentum. Still, that hasn’t prevented this release, a compelling collection of period music that inspired Frazier while writing the book. Like all Smithsonian releases, it is awash in reverence, but there are enough appearances by essential artists who first recorded these songs, such as Dock Boggs, Roscoe Holcomb, Fiddlin’ John Carson, the Stanley Brothers, and Bill Monroe, to raise the album beyond a mere history lesson. In fact, Boggs’s "The Bright Sunny South,” from a crisp 1963 recording, is pure magic, as the harshness of his more lauded 1920s recordings is tempered by experience that transcends not just four decades, but centuries. With performances such as this, along with a chilling selection of gospel styles, the album quickly becomes mesmerising for anyone even remotely interested in early American song. Excellent liner notes, including commentary from Frazier relating to specific parts of the novel, make this a much better companion piece than the film ever could have been. (Smithsonian Folkways)