This double-CD, packing 23 tracks per disc, is loaded with music as far from corporate as can be. A sequel to the acclaimed roots rarities compilation from 2006, The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of, Return is heavy on country styles-Appalachia seems to dominate here, more than anything urban. Whether it’s the swampy lilt of Dennis McGee and Sady Courville’s “Mon Chere Bebe Creole,” the creepy campfire tale of Eck Robertson and Family’s “Texas Wagoner,” or Ishman Bracey’s vocally confounding and brilliant “Woman Woman Blues,” these tunes speak to and from a distant past. This is folk music before it became folklore. Much of it is rural but little of it precisely ethnic. One exception is Karola Stocha and S. Bachleda’s “Koscieliska,” Polish mountain music of vocal lurch and hypnotic fiddle. There are times this dance music, no matter its original purpose, is anything but square.
These acoustic recordings speak of a world in which music meant community. They also speak to the bleak economy of the 1930s, when country-blues masters like Charley Patton and the slyly laconic Robert Wilkins (check out his “That’s No Way to Get Along”) recorded their iconic 78s. And they pay homage to the record collectors who have kept these sounds alive over the decades, many of them name-checked in the lovingly obsessive booklet that accompanies this mini-box. Meticulously assembled, this package is also graphically appealing, its Drew Friedman cover art evoking Ghost World, the 2001 movie that celebrated-among other things-just this type of record collecting. One caveat: It would have been nice to have a track-by-track guide detailing recording date/label/location, etc.
Listen to these cuts any way you choose. Not weighted toward the blues, most evoke a time when music aimed to join people in pleasure-and succeeded. For proof, try “Sail Away Ladies,” Uncle Dave Macon and His Fruit Jar Drinkers’ clattering tour de force. No way to sit through that one.