Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Essential Jimmie Rodgers

Born in 1897, Jimmie Rodgers is known as the Father of Country Music, The Singing Brakeman and the Blue Yodeler, all fairly accurate titles. Jimmy was one of the first to move "hillbilly" music toward more modern "country" music, though this is still a far cry from what is considered country these days. To my ears, the tunes here are more Americana and folk with hints of bluegrass and blues - all styles that Jimmie absorbed in his youth.

Plagued by tuberculosis, he nonetheless worked on the railroad - most often as a brakeman, hence one of his nicknames - traveled extensively, and learned the guitar from other railroad workers and hobos. His first hit came in 1927 with "Blue Yodel No. 1 (T for Texas)" and he continued his recording career right up until his disease took his life in 1933 at the far too young age of 35.

While "essential" is always subjective, this is a fine collection of 20 of his better known songs, from "In the Jailhouse" (re-done for O Brother, Where Art Thou - and as with the Carter Family, this man was obviously used as a basis for the music in that movie), "The Brakeman's Blues", "Frankie and Johnnie", "Pistol Packin' Papa", "Blue Yodel No. 8 (Muleskinner Blues)" and the autobiographical "T.B. Blues". I love the style and performances, except that the yodeling gets on my nerves after a while. I understand that this was his trademark and it was expected of him, but since it is in almost every one of these 20 songs - and the yodel has few variations - it gets a little monotonous. Of course, when these songs were initially released, they were singles and not meant to all be played back-to-back, but personally, I would have preferred if he didn't rely on this quite so much.

Regardless, as with the Carter Family, Rodgers is an essential link in the evolution of modern American music. The CD comes with an extensive, high-quality booklet making it a well-rounded package.