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Music Review: Various Artists – Drink House To Church House: Songs & Stories From The Roots Of America Vol. I & II

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There are fewer and fewer living connections to our musical past still alive today. Of those many are living lives of quiet desperation, struggling to hang on with meager social security pensions and no medical insurance. Some months that might mean having to choose between having their electricity shut off and eating.

These aren't people to whom retirement planning was a serious consideration. You show me a musician who thinks beyond their next gig, even when they're in their sixties, and I'll be surprised. It's just not in their nature to believe they'll ever stop playing, because they don't want to. Music has defined their existence for so long that living doesn't seem possible without it.

Tim Duffy, founder of the Music Makers Benefit Fund, said something in an interview on the DVD part of their recent release Drink House To Church House: Songs & Stories From The Roots Of America Vol. l that confirms that. He talks about the artists on their label who haven't performed – sometimes in forty years – getting up on stage and blowing away the other acts.

It won't matter how long it's been since they've played in front of an audience, that's what they were born to do is make music, and given even half a chance that's what they would do until they are carried off the stage with their toes in the air. I've had the privilege of knowing one or two people like that in my life, and watched one of them grow despondent when his health prohibited him from playing.

It can be a vicious circle for these people when they can't perform; the longer they go without being able to perform, whatever the reason, the worse they feel. The worse they feel the harder it is for them to get up and do the very thing guaranteed to make them feel better — perform music for an audience. Any kind of music for any kind of audience, but in the case of the artists working with Tim and Denise Duffy of the Music Makers Relief Fund, it's primarily the Blues.

The Music Makers Relief Fund has given numerous musicians the opportunity to not only get back on stage in front of audiences but to record their music as well. While any of us can get our hands on these recordings, either through Amazon or the Music Makers website, very few of us are probably every going to have the chance to see any of these artists in concert.

Thankfully, there is a partial solution to that problem — parts one and two of Drink House To Church House: Songs & Stories From The Roots Of America. If I've understood things correctly, these are the first two of a four part CD/DVD series featuring the artists associated with the Music Maker record label.
Captain Luke copy.jpg
Some of the performers, Captain Luke for instance, on Volumes I and II of the series have already gained some notoriety around the world through tours of Europe and Argentina. But some of the others aren't even known in their own backyards nor have they been seen performing by anyone but their neighbours and friends in the last twenty years.

So these discs work both ways; for the performers they let people know who they are and for us they let us see the people whose voices we've been listening to on CD. How else am I ever going to get a chance to see Drink Small perform, watch John Dee Holeman play his guitar, witness a performance by the incomparable Adolphus Bell (you haven't lived until you've seen the leader of a one man band introduce the band), Pura Fe sing Gershwin's "Summertime" accompanied by Cool John Ferguson and his band, or Haskell "Whistlin' Britches" Thompson to name just a few of the amazing talents crammed within these two sets of music.
Whistlin Britches.jpg
Of course some images are stronger than others. There is no way I'll ever forget the feelings generated the first time I watched Captain Luke sing "Rainy Night In Georgia". Looking at this small black man and almost crying from the beauty as I wondered where that smooth as silk baritone voice is coming from is not something I want to forget, to be honest. Thankfully I now have a permanent record of it that I can watch over and over again.

And that's the thing that makes these discs so special; they are permanent records of one-time-only moments. None of the recordings on either the CD or the DVD are done in a studio, they are all done on location, and all live. No shots from three different angles with multiple cameras, just one camera, a microphone, and whoever is going to be performing at that moment.

Sure on occasion the sound quality might suffer on both the CD and the DVD, but the compensations far outweigh that drawback. In some instances it's like the camera, and by extension the viewer, are another guest at a jam, hanging out and playing some tunes. How many times are you going to get invited over to watch Pura Fe play and sing outside in a clearing in the woods? Or go to a dance where the above-mentioned duet of Cool John and Pura Fe takes place?

Moments like these are treasures that can't be replicated or replaced by anything. Listening to the Alabama Slim recounting in story/song how he and Little Freddie King escaped the flooding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina is a piece of modern American history that will never be written down in books. But it relates the reality of so many people's experiences far more accurately than any book could ever hope to.
Alabama Slim  & Little Freddie King.jpg
Some people when they see or hear about these collections, Drink House To The Church House: Songs & Stories From The Roots Of America Volumes I & II, may just think of them as a collection of music and videos. But I think they are of far more cultural importance than that. These productions are oral histories of the Southern United States from before the turn of the nineteenth century until the present day.

Each day that these people are among us and singing about their lives, another day of America's history is being told whether anybody is listening or not. Drink House To Church House is one way we can at least attempt to hear the that story.

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.
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