This World Would Be All Sunshine
By Bill C. Malone
And I also like his choice of songs. They come from the golden age of country music (what we used to call hillbilly), those years before the second world war when the music breathed with the passion, spirit, and eccentricities of working-class America. Singers like Charlie Poole, Jimmie Rodgers, Cliff Carlisle, and the Carter Family (all special favorites of Jim Watson) conveyed the impression that before they committed their lives to fulltime entertainment, they really had worked on the railroad, on the farms, in textile mills and coal mines, or in some other kind of blue-collar work. This may have been a carefully-calculated illusion in some cases, but these entertainers nevertheless sang with an almost-tactile sense of having lived the lives they sang about. The lyrics of their songs conveyed many emotions, ranging from outright nonsense to serious resolve, and Jim Watson has sampled most of them. But it is clear that he has a decided preference for sentimental material--tender expressions of love, heart broken laments about love gone wrong, or relationships sundered by war, and songs about wandering boys, abandoned firesides and, of course, dear old mother at home. These song choices are not simply Watson's personal preferences; they were also the cherished expressions of millions of hard-working Americans who wore their hearts on their sleeves. Of course, you wouldn't necessarily know this if you looked at most of the published folk song collections of the past. The compilers of these volumes too often let their own person prejudices affect their song choices, and consequently ignored or dismissed songs like "Mother's Last Farewell," "The Little Rosewood Casket," or "Daddy and Home" that were deemed to be too bathetic or commercial for inclusion in a "serious" folk song book.
Young folk music revivalists who emerged in the mid-1960s and thereafter were intrigued by string band music and by the pulsating rhythms of the fiddle and five-string banjo. Too often, that's all that captivated them. These young bands made exciting music, but they too often ignored vocal styles and song texts, and unwittingly gave misleading impressions about the breadth of old-time music. Thank goodness for Jim Watson. For many years, in his solo LPs and CDs and earlier as a founding member of the Red Clay Ramblers, he countered this misperception by reminding listeners about the beauty and diversity of old-time songs. This newest collection -- This World Would Be All Sunshine (Dreams of Home Sweet Home) -- continues that outstanding mission. ---Bill C. Malone.
December 14, 2008