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Music Review: Various Artists – The Return of the Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of [2-CD Set]

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The Series, The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of, originated from a love of record collecting, which in this case means rare 78 RPM discs. The enclosed booklet is not only a history of the music presented in this two-CD set but is also a look at the history of record collecting as told by some of the more serious vinyl collectors to ever walk this earth. The title of the series is about the eternal search for rare discs.

The first volume in the series was an eclectic affair, as it focused on songs taken from some of the rarest recordings to be found, or to be more precise, not found. The Return Of The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of is more cohesive as it presents 46 recordings from the 1920s.

The third decade of the 20th century was pivotal in the history of American music. Those old brittle shellac 78s were being produced and sold in the hundreds of millions during the decade. Jazz, acoustic blues, and hillbilly music would form the foundation upon which rock and roll would eventually be built.

In many ways this set will appeal to a niche audience. Music historians and collectors looking to fill in some holes in their accumulations will find the set not only interesting but invaluable. The sound has been cleaned as well as modern technology will allow, but the performances were recorded close to 90 years ago and as such are limited by the technology of their era. In some ways, the rawness of the recordings is part of their charm and serves to enhance their original intent.

Early blues legend Charley Patton is represented by “High Water Everywhere – Part 1.” His sound and style is ground zero for many of the blues artists who would follow him during the 1930s. His intense and impeccable guitar style set a standard that few have been able to match. When you add in such tunes as “I’ll Lead A Christian Life” by Elder Golden P. Harris, “Roll and Tumble Blues” by Hambone Willie Newburn, “John Henry Blues” by Earl Johnson & His Dixie Entertainers, “Woman Woman Blues” by Ishman Bracey, “Rolling Log Blues” by Lottie Kimbrough, plus a second Patton song, “Some These Days I’ll Be Gone,” and you have an early history of American blues.

Many of the performances came from the byways and pathways of rural America. Artists would record a few sides and then disappear. “The Letter That Never Came” by the Blue Ridge Mountain Singers, “Fort Smith Breakdown” by Luke Hignight & His Ozark Strutters, “Milwaukee Blues” by Charlie Poole & The North Carolina Ramblers, “Stack-O-Lee” by the Fruit Jar Guzzlers, and “Old Molly Hair” by Fiddling Powers & Family had a sound and style that would eventually evolve into rockabilly, western swing, and country music.

The liner notes name “Sail Away Ladies” by Uncle Dave Macon & His Fruit Jar Drinkers as the greatest record of all time. I may not go that far but it is a microcosm of everything that was good about music during the 1920s. There is passion and technical prowess, which coalesce into a joyous celebration.

The Return of the Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of is a historical taste of some of the best of the 1920s. It is a fine overview of a bygone era. It is also a labor of love that works.

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