"You Ain't Talkin' To Me": Charlie Poole And The Roots Of Country Music

"You Ain't Talkin' To Me": Charlie Poole And The Roots Of Country Music

Alt-country comes in at least half a dozen distinct permutations, none more insidious than the version that has clever kids in overalls drawling smart-ass songs about roadkill and moonshine. (For a particularly odious recent example, check out Scott H. Biram's The Dirty Old One Man Band.) Banjo-playing troubadour Langhorne Slim initially seems like one of the jokesters, with his nasal voice and songs like "Mary," about a robust affection for the mother of Christ. But "Mary" is more pretty than snarky, and by the end of "In The Midnight"—the unforced, sincere opener of Langhorne Slim's second LP, When The Sun's Gone Down—it's obvious that the singer-songwriter owes more to the steeped-in Americana of The Band and Bob Dylan than the kitsch-country of The Meat Purveyors.

Accenting his fleet banjo-picking with tambourine, trap drums, and organ, Langhorne Slim channels the of-the-moment ecstasy of a revival meeting or hootenanny into brisk affirmations like "Hope And Fullfillment," in which he advises that everyone should be content with the problems they've got. When The Sun's Gone Down is patched together with artful snippets like the offhanded instrumental "Hanshaw Shuffle (Drunken Horse)," but the record's bread and butter is grubby-but-sweet bounders like "Loretta Lee Jones," a hum-happy woo-pitching in which Langhorne Slim repeatedly lets it slip that he's got "a home by the seashore." It's part come-on, part fantasy, and all delightful.

Anyone who questions Langhorne Slim's authenticity should spend some time with the three-CD box set "You Ain't Talkin' To Me": Charlie Poole And The Roots Of Country Music. Poole barnstormed through the South in the late '20s, putting on high-spirited bluegrass shows full of contemporary popular songs, folk tales, drunken confessionals, and dirty jokes. He was a shameless appropriator, playing to the crowd, but finding some personal truth along the way. As a recording artist, Poole was hit-or-miss, but "You Ain't Talkin' To Me" breaks up the monotony of his nasal voice and bleary picking by including songs that either inspired Poole or were inspired by him. Hearing Arthur Collins' bandstand-ready 1906 version of "Moving Day" followed by Poole's dusty 1930 take is like hearing the scattered seeds of pop sprouting wondrously in fertile rural ground.

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