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Music Review: Hamper McBee – The Good Old Fashioned Way

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Hamper McBee was a man and artist of an America which has mostly disappeared. He was a moonshiner, carnival barker, comedian, and singer of songs.

As I listened to this album, in some ways I was reminded of the early Delta blues artists whose music was recorded by John and Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress during the thirties and forties. These field recordings are now an important part of American music history. Hamper McBee’s music is folk and country but he also tells stories and interprets traditional songs of many countries. He may be from the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee but his songs tell the story of America just as surely as those of the early blues artists.

He was first discovered by folk musician and musicologist Guy Carawan during 1962. The result was the long out of print album Cumberland Moonshiner released on the Prestige label during 1965. His only other studio album was Raw Mash: Songs and Stories of Hamper McBee released during 1978 by the Rounder label.

Hamper passed away in 1998 but he was not forgotten.The Good Old Fashioned Way is his first album in over three decades and the first time his music has been released in CD form. It combines music from his Rounder album, twelve unreleased tracks, and some stories that will never receive radio play.

He sings without any instrumental backing whatsoever. It is just his voice and the song. As such, the focuses are on the story and as he explains all his songs tell a story. He has a traditional folk voice. It is raw and from the mountains. His musical heroes range from Woody Guthrie to Burl Ives.

Songs such as “Streets Of Laredo,” “Black Jack Davy,” “John Hardy,” “Dark As A Dungeon” all are presented at their stripped down and basic best. Interspersed among the music are his stories. Responding to questions he gives a virtual autobiography of bits and parts of his life and of the culture of the Smokey Mountains. Drinking and Sheriff Bill Malone’s patrol car is a classic and funny example of his style and life.

Listening to Hamper McBee is a trip back in time when a song and its lyrics were not only the important thing but the only thing.The Good Old Fashioned Way is not a modern album but is an interesting one as it provides a document of an important part of American music history and culture.

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