Various Fonotone Records (1956-1969)

The brainchild of Joe Bussard, generally regarded as the greatest collector of rare 78 rpm records in America, Fonotone became his outlet for new recordings by himself and fellow "old time” music aficionados like John Fahey, Mike Seeger and Stefan Grossman. Brussard also recorded many previously unknown regional acts he had personally discovered, making Fonotone the last label to exclusively release 78s. Fortunately, this magnificent five-disc set, packaged in a cigar box and including a bottle opener, has been put together using Brussard’s original master tapes for pristine sound quality. For die-hard purists, the absence of an occasional scratch might take away from the old-time feel, but the performances are never less than stellar. Most intriguing are those by guitar wizard Fahey, his first recordings in which he appeared under different guises (Blind Thomas; one half of the Mississippi Swampers). This was of course the time of America’s great "folk revival,” but these recordings have little in common with the earnest, politically-charged sounds commonly associated with that era. Bussard and co.’s dedication to preserving the pre-war aesthetic is remarkable, and long-lost takes like Lee Moore’s "Boweavil,” and Milo Way’s "We Need More Rattlesnakes,” are a revelation. If you’ve committed the Harry Smith box to memory, it’s probably time to take a trip to Joe Bussard’s version of the old, weird America. (Ibex Moon Records)