Monday, November 26, 2012

Review: The South Memphis String Band- Old Times There

The opportunity to audition an album without harboring any preconceived notions doesn't come around much anymore.  Yet a copy of Old Times There mysteriously found its way into one of my MP3 players.  Aside from the artist's name- The South Memphis String Band- I had no insights or clues into what I was hearing as I attempted to liberate some fat from my gut.

Sit-ups hurt.  The ensemble's concept made me even more uncomfortable.  It's one thing to appreciate Gus Cannon's 1920s performances of "Turnip Greens" and "Can You Blame the Colored Man?".  It's another thing entirely to hear faithful renditions of the songs that contain language and a worldview that are wholly unacceptable in 2012.  An unironic version of "Jimbo Jambo Land" is similarly squirm-inducing.  The material and the performances contained on Old Times There are undeniably great, but the misogyny and bygone racial backdrop are deeply disconcerting.

Who are these daring musicians and what are their subversive intentions?  As sweat dripped onto a keyboard, I learned that the South Memphis String Band is tthe all-star trio of Luther Dickinson, Alvin Youngblood Hart and Jimbo Mathus.  Wow!  Why didn't any of you jerks tell me about this band?

The project's disquieting themes have likely prohibited it from garnering more attention.   But that's precisely why the rough-hewn Old Times There is "important."  What place do "land of cotton" conventions have in contemporary society? The South Memphis String Band is fearlessly exploring those divisive boundaries.

Anyone with an affinity for Furry Lewis, Document Records and greasy skillets is advised to get hip to the South Memphis String Band.

Austin Peralta has died.  (Tip via BGO.)

Call me a sap, but I'm actually looking forward to listening to Alicia Keys' new album.

Kansas City Click: Mark Lowrey plays at the Majestic every Monday.

Abel Ramirez's big band appears every Tuesday at Finnegan's Hall.

Crosscurrent performs Wednesday at Kill Devil Club.

The Faceless serve as Thursday's headliner at the Beaumont.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

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