Various Good for What Ails You: Music of the Medicine Show

With a wide variety of acts (most of which wouldn’t live up to our contemporary PC standards) rolling from town to town hocking homemade remedies, medicine shows were the closest approximation of a rock’n’roll tour for early 20th century music fans. For those already familiar with the lauded blues and country artists of the era, this two-disc collection provides a decidedly alternative perspective of the time. There aren’t any gospel inflections on these songs, much less introspective blues. This is music for pure entertainment, and nearly all the performances by these medicine show participants leap as joyously out of the speakers as they surely did on stage. Harry Smith fans will certainly appreciate the mix of cultures, and several old-time icons make appearances, such as Blind Willie McTell, Charlie Poole, Emmett Miller, Uncle Dave Macon, and even Syd Barrett’s hero, Pink Anderson. But as is the case with all great compilations, the value is in the obscurities, and Good for What Ails You offers a plethora of rare gems. A few include "Traveling Man” by fiddler Prince Albert Hunt (shot to death in 1931 by a jealous husband), Frank Hutchison’s version of "Stackalee,” which inspired Dylan’s faithful recreation on World Gone Wrong, and the head-scratching "Beans” by Beans Hambone and El Morrow, one of the oddest recordings ever released. While the overall tone is much more light-hearted than most other old-time collections, Good for What Ails You is an essential document of a world that has long vanished, but provided an integral component to the creation of rock’n’roll. (K7)