Charlie Poole 

You Ain't Talkin' to Me: Charlie Poole and the Roots of Country Music

This weighty three-disc, 72-track box set with R. Crumb artwork aims to place original country-music outlaw Charlie Poole right at the foundation of American folk. Though more noted as an interpreter (rather than writer) of tunes, advance ads suggest that Poole is "to country music what Robert Johnson was to the blues." And if that's overshooting it a bit (as the music press has been known to do), then at least no one gets hurt since all the principals, and likely their children, were buried decades ago.

Like Johnson's, Poole's résumé is the stuff of legend: He was a hard-living former mill worker and baseball player -- his three-finger banjo-picking style was reportedly compensation for a thumb injury on the diamond -- with a taste for drink; dead by 1931, forever shy of forty. And while the music he interprets doesn't exactly render the recklessness of youth, it certainly paints a picture of the time. Like an open car on an untamed, dusty road, Poole's renditions follow a hiccuping path -- speeding-to-town dances lagged by sickly-sweet fiddle before abruptly slowing to stiff-necked, trebly tales of working-class heroes -- tamping the trail for those who would follow.


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