Charlie Poole & the North Carolina Ramblers were one of the most popular string bands of the 1920s. If they didn’t have the foot-stomping exuberance of their chief competitors, Georgia’s Skillet Lickers, they offered a debonair precision that was equally infectious. Infused with ragtime and pop, their music almost seemed to swing at times (even though the use of that word to describe music was still several years in the future). Poole strongly influenced later banjo players, including those who would become the creators of bluegrass.
Loudon Wainwright III’s new CD set, High Wide & Handsome, is a tribute to the to this legend. Like other songwriters, Hank Williams included, Wainwright fell under the influence of Charlie Poole, a prolific hitmaker of the 1920s whose “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down” was arguably the first country smash. This 2-CD homage to Poole includes covers of his hits – a jumble of string band blues, hymns, comedy numbers and sentimental vaudeville songs like “Mother’s Last Farewell Kiss” – alongside Wainwright originals on the life of the hell-raising banjo player. Beautifully played, with the extended Wainwright clan guesting, the record is both a compendium of early American music and an affectionate, funny tribute to an overlooked pioneer. (The Observer)
Notes by Greil Marcus. Release date 08/18/2009