The first thing you notice about the Orpheus Supertones’ new CD, “Going To Town” is the bus on the front cover. What? Oh. All right then, flip…it…over. Okay. So–the bus. There’s no driver!!! And the bass is dragging in the dirt, and there are only two wheels, and there’s no door!!! But–you know it’s real because they’re going the right way, following the arrow that says, “Town”, and they’re moving pretty good because the pasture behind them is blurry. You’re dying to know what I’m talking about, so go to http://mudthumper.com/musicrecordings.html and there it’ll be, and you can order your own copy while you’re at it.
The Supertones are Walt Koken (see Old-Time Rambler #3), Clare Milliner, Kellie Allen, and Pete Peterson, with Hilary Dirlam joining them on bass for this album. Here’s the track listing: 1–Going To Town; 2–Beale Street Blues; 3–Jonah In The Windstorm; 4–Over The Mountain; 5–Rimer’s Favorite; 6–Whistling Rufus; 7–Cumberland Blues; 8–Single Girl, Married Girl; 9–Green Corn; 10–Wreck Of The Old 97; 11–Alexander Waltz; 12–Who’s Sorry Now?; 13–Chinquapin Hunting; 14–Portsmouth Airs; 15–Alabama Jubilee; 16–Peace Train (a Walt Koken creation); 17–Liza Jane; and 18–Polly Put The Kettle On.
I put the numbers there because some of the tunes correspond to transcriptions in Walt and Clare’s book, “The Milliner-Koken Collection of American Fiddle Tunes” (see Old-Time Rambler #51). Specifically, track numbers 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 11, 13, 14, 17, and 18. So, if you have the book (and you should, in case you find yourself in an old-time music bar and there are fistfights everywhere over which tuning to use for “Cluck Old Hen”–four are listed in the book, if you want to know– because it weighs in at 7 pounds, is the size of an art history textbook, has 1404 tunes on 888 pages and could easily stop flying knuckles and insulate against being tased), you can listen to the tunes being played to help get the feel of the printed transcriptions. Or, if you don’t have the book, you’ll want to get it to help you decipher tunes on this CD that go by too fast for even a cheetah to hear.
This CD is fun to listen to. Walt’s and Clare’s fiddling is the main mode of transport, but Kellie’s always-there-for-you guitar phrasing and Pete’s elegant and swingy at the same time banjo playing give the ‘Tones such a together and entertaining sound. Throw in Hilary Dirlam’s old-time bass (there IS an art to old-time bass) and this CD is a must-have. You simply must.
The tunes are really brought to life on these tracks, and you can hear how much the band members were enjoying themselves if you listen carefully between the grooves. Wait–it’s LPs that have grooves–should it be “listen carefully between the bytes”? (Note to the under-30s: Ask your grandparents what an LP is.) It’s fun to imagine what happened in the room just as the recorder was switched off each time. Good album notes, too, taking you back to some really early sources, even before that OTHER turn-of-the-century.
And songs: “Beale Street Blues” has this cautionary refrain: “If Beale Street could talk, if Beale Street could talk, most married men would have to pick their beds up and walk.” You’ve been warned. And on “Whistling Rufus” (technically a tune with some words rather than a song), there’s this: “Rufe had a face like an old sledgehammer and a mouth with a terrible scar, but none could touch him in the state of Alabama when he played on his old guitar.” That’s the kind of feller you’ll find in those old-time music bars I was talking about. And I wouldn’t have expected “Who’s Sorry Now” on an old-time CD, but it works, and who knew it appeared in “A Night In Casablanca” with the Marx Brothers?
So get on over to mudthumper.com and see what you can find, and while you’re there consider the other Supertones’ albums as well. Below are links to a couple of clips: “Going To Town”, from Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith, and “Rimer’s Favorite” from Allen Sisson, 1921 Tennessee State Fiddle Champion. For “Rimer’s Favorite” I invite you to take off your shoes so you can count the extra beats in the B part, actually a B-and-3/8ths part. You don’t see that every day.