The long lack of accessibility to Charlie Poole's seminal recordings has allowed his reputation as a insatiable drunk to overwhelm his reputation as a master of string-band music. The southern string band, that rollicking grandfather of the bluegrass combo, is a curious creature. More reserved and concise than bluegrass's rambunctious hurtling, string band music drew from a multitude of traditions (including minstrelsy, European folk music and Tin Pan Alley), forming the basis for a uniquely American synthesis.
These recordings are an ideal introduction to the genre. Featuring Poole on banjo and vocals accompanied by guitar and fiddle, the 16 tunes are arranged without regard to chronology. While this may hamper an understanding of Poole's artistic growth, it demonstrates the coherence of his vision quite well. His reedy voice is clear and strong, and his three-finger banjo technique is a fascinating predecessor to Earl Scruggs' more fiery technique. Poole's flare for showmanship and cheeky sense of humor is well in evidence.
Unlike many vintage recordings liberated from aging '78's, this is as fun to listen to as it is to consider academically.