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Charlie Poole

You Ain't Talkin' To Me: Charlie Poole and the Roots of Country Music – 2005 (Columbia/Legacy)

Reviewed by Brad San Martin

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CDs by Charlie Poole

Unflinching, defiant, and brash, singer and banjoist Charlie Poole is one of the iconic figures of the stringband era - a man and musician of such intensity that no one was terribly surprised to hear he was dead by age thirty-nine, a victim of wanton spirit that made his recordings so astonishingly powerful. Though he recorded only between 1925 and 1930, his influence on bluegrass and country music has proven to be titanic, both in terms of his brazenly outspoken attitude and his very distinctive take on stringband tradition and repertoire.

Poole's no stranger to modern-day record bins - there is a fine three volume survey of his recordings still in print on County Records, and more extensive four-CD boxed set on the British JSP label. Even though most of Poole's recordings heard on this ambitious three-CD are available elsewhere, You Ain't Talkin' To Me is absolutely essential listening for anyone interested in the origins of country and bluegrass music.

Compiler Henry Sapoznik has taken a great risk, eschewing a complete set of the Poole's work for a collection that mixes Poole's recordings with those of both his influences and his imitators. The gamble works brilliantly, generating a sense of context not even in the most extensive career surveys can provide. Including samples Poole's source material - an odd yet endearing mix of parlor music, blues, vaudeville, minstrel songs (from which Poole would often expurgate the cloying black-face elements and perform in a more immediate, personal style), and turn-of-the-century pop - is an especially revealing maneuver by Sapoznik. Through smart sequencing, You Ain't Talkin' To Me conveys both the radical nature of Poole's high-velocity, hell-bent music and its immense effects on fellow country/bluegrass musicians.

The core of the set is a choice selection 43 of Poole's finest moments. Hard-driving and streamlined, his music anticipates the rhythmic fury Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs would unleash upon string band music nearly twenty years later. Poole's furious banjo break on "Flop Eared Mule" is enough to demonstrate how ahead of his time he really was. While it may not contain every side the man laid down, You Ain't Talkin' To Me is indeed the definitive portrait this legendary artist.