Roscoe Holcomb; Jean Ritchie 

An Untamed Sense of Control; Ballads from Her Appalachian Family Tradition

Roscoe Holcomb has been cited as a favorite performer not only by other traditionalists, but by such pop icons as Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton. Even the Stanley Brothers asked Holcomb about the "right way" to sing some of the old songs. As John Cohen puts it in his excellent accompanying notes to An Untamed Sense of Control, "For those on the path to discovering American roots music, Holcomb's sound seems to be the end of the line." Few performers in any genre could ever match the sheer intensity of Holcomb's vocals, and his abilities as a banjo-picker and guitarist were considerable. Even his one harmonica solo here is striking: He manages to convey more feeling in this minute-and-a-half track than most mouth-harp players do in a lifetime. Like many mountain singers, Holcomb combined the British tradition with a strong shot of the blues. This spectacular collection combines Folkways recordings not included on the compilation released a few years ago, along with a few previously unreleased tracks.

Just as exciting for traddies is the long-overdue CD appearance of Jean Ritchie's ballad recordings, which represent the finest work of this important singer's long career. The songs here are all drawn from the body of narrative songs that folk purists consider the crown jewels of the oral tradition. Ritchie's beautiful, strong, yet delicate voice soars through the stories that her own family and countless others told around their hearthsides over the hard centuries of farm life in the old country. Ritchie usually sings a cappella, but occasionally backs herself on the dulcimer, proving that in the right hands this oft-maligned instrument is as every bit as effective as the guitar or banjo for accompaniment. It really doesn't get any better than this.


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