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Though eclipsed by the media attention given to Smithsonian Folkways’ admittedly deserving reissue of the Anthology of American Folk Music, John Fahey’s new Revenant Records has issued one of the finest collections of vintage 78s to appear in the CD era. The album’s subtitle says it all, since it simply doesn’t come much rawer than this. Familiar names such as Charley Patton, Bukka White, and Jaybird Coleman are included not only for the power of their delivery but to make it possible to market the disc to blues audiences (hence the portrait of Patton on the cover). The real joy of this collection, though, lies in the work of obscure artists who generally recorded only a few sides. Compiled from the collections of Fahey and Gayle Dean Wardlow, the disc presents diverse styles of African-American sacred music by 17 artists such as the Rev. Edward Clayborn, Blind Mamie Forehand, Elder Otis Jones, and the Rev. I.B. Ware. Pentecostal shouts and ring shout-derived chants are included, but much of the disc is devoted to guitar evangelists. Bottleneck playing is the most common form of accompaniment, the slide guitar substituting for a congregational response to the vocal call. The guitar performances are balanced with other instrumental combinations less frequently associated with the gospel music of the 1920s and ’30s: harmonica duets, a fiddle-driven string band, and a unique pairing of pump organ and washboard. Fahey’s liner-note rantings are unnecessary but do
little to detract from a disc that is essential listening for all fans of American roots music, particularly those who
just got started with Harry Smith.