To purchase MEETING IN THE AIR
JIM WATSON, TOMMY THOMPSON, AND MIKE CRAVER - Meeting in the Air
Barker B/Sapsucker SAP 2326 (2004)
The Original Carter Family's 1920s-30s recordings are among the most important and best loved of early country recordings, and for the most part they stuck closely to a simple formula that depended on two or three part harmony singing over guitar and autoharp accompaniment. When the original group finally broke up in 1945, it was Mother Maybelle who carried on the Carter Family name, but the recordings she made with her daughters are of scant interest to fans of old-timey music.
Sara and A.P. Carter's daughter Janette, on the other hand, has kept a low profile while championing the real Carter sound. Bear Family already has reissued a great record Janette made with her brother Joe, and now it has added another excellent title that's sure to please old-timey fans. Here are 31 tracks featuring Janette in a variety of simple settings, drawn form recordings made between 1968 and 1973 for several different labels. Whether she's singing the songs her parents made famous, other old standards, or her own compositions, Janette scores consistently.
One of the best of the many tributes to the Carters that have appeared over the years was recorded in l980 by three members of that unique and wonderful outfit known as the Red Clay Ramblers. It's interesting neither Jim Watson, Tommy Thompson, nor Mike Craver play very much on mandolin, banjo, or piano here, though Thompson does pick up the five-string at times. The main instrument is the guitar, which both Watson and Craver handle nicely in the appropriate Carter style. The main focus is on the vocals, and they are just gorgeous. The leads are heartfelt, the harmonies just right, and the blend reflects all the years these guys had worked together. A variety of approaches is used, and all reflect a deep understanding of and feeling for the music.
Can 25 years really have passed since this record was made? Has Tommy Thompson really, truly gone on, perhaps to sing his parts with Sara, Maybelle and A.P.? Well, we have to believe it, apparently, which makes the reissue of Meeting in the Air that much more welcome. When it first appeared, everyone agreed that this was a great record. Now it seems something more that that, a classic.
Duck Baker, London, England
"Meeting in the Air" is a reissue of a 1980 album of Carter Family songs by the original Red Clay Ramblers. This disc, originally on Bruce Kaplan's Flying Fish label (later subsumed by Rounder), features 14 tracks originally recorded by A. P., Sarah, and Maybelle, including several from fairly deep in the Carter songbook.
Accompanying themselves simply on guitars and banjo, with an occasional autoharp or piano, these three fine musicians capture the essence of the great Carter Family songs. All three swap lead vocal duties, with Mike Craver taking the highest vocals, Jim Watson mostly the middle-range and Tommy Thompson A.P.'s baritone parts.
Starting off up-tempo with the gospel song "Anchored in Love," the album covers a good range of Carter song types. These include homages to their Southern homeland ("When the Roses Bloom in Dixieland," "My Dixie Darling," "The Winding Stream"), sentimental memories of old times and school days ("The School House on the Hill"), gospel ("Meeting in the Air," "Anchored in Love"), and love songs both happy ("Lulu Wall") and sad ("One Little Word," "Are You Tired of Me My Darling"). Additional topics are covered in fun numbers like "Give Me The Roses While I Live," "I Ain't Going to Work Tomorrow" and "A Stern Old Bachelor." A real tear-jerker is "While the Band Is Playing Dixie," which turns out to be a letter home to a sweetheart from a soldier who fell in the Civil War. Beautiful harmonies abound.
The Ramblers give the music an extra note of authenticity by maintaining the rhythmic hooks the Carters wove into their songs. In a good percentage of their songs, whether they're four-beat numbers like "Bachelor" or in waltz-time like "The Winding Stream," there's often an extra two beats tossed in or subtracted, at the end of a phrase or before the chorus. It's a common device in hillbilly music, but one that most versions of "Keep On the Sunny Side" and other Carter standards smooth out.
This is a nice package all the way, with good but simple liner notes, a dedication from Alice Gerrard and mostly the songs, performed with grace, wit and verve. ---Gary Whitehouse
KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL:
The Carter Family was more than the "First Family of Country Music." The group's influence resonates through singer-songwriters and musicians of all stripes. The group preserved folksongs that were common in the Appalachians and composed originals that have endured as classics. The trio was made up of A.P. Carter, his wife, Sara (the two were divorced during the group's run), and Maybelle Carter (a cousin to Sara and sister-in-law to A.P.).
With a new compilation of the Carters, a new all-star tribute and a long-overdue re-release of one of the best Carter tribute discs, there's no better time to celebrate the music of the group.
Start with "RCA Country Legends" (RCA) -- 16 of the Carters' most essential recordings, including "Wildwood Flower," "Keep on the Sunny Side," "Little Darling Pal of Mine," "Worried Man Blues" and "I'm Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes."
The group's music is sweet and simple and captures the fears, faith and philosophies of rural people in the early 20th century -- much of which applies just as well today. And, although the sound quality is lacking (the tracks are taken from vintage 78-rpm discs), the new compilation remedies the irritating, high-pitched hiss that marred some earlier transfers of the music to CD.
"The Unbroken Circle: The Musical Heritage of the Carter Family" (Dualtone) features John Prine, Willie Nelson, George Jones, Sheryl Crow, Emmylou Harris, the Del McCoury Band and others in a fine and respectful tribute to the Carters. The most touching contributions, though, come from those with true Carter connections. John Carter Cash, the son of Maybelle's daughter June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash, produced the disc. In some of their last recordings (both died in 2003), Johnny covers "Engine One-Forty Three" and June performs "Hold Fast to the Right." A.P. and Sara's children, Janette and Joe Carter, perform "Little Moses." All three performances are filled with a dignity and grace that comes only from aged voices. And Rosanne Cash (Johnny's daughter from an earlier marriage) delivers a gorgeous version of "The Winding Stream."
Yet, the stars assembled cannot top the more modest "Meeting in the Air: Songs of the Carter Family Played and Sung by Jim Watson, Tommy Thompson and Mike Craver of the Red Clay Ramblers" (Barker/Sapsucker).
The disc, originally released in 1980, bristles with life and captures the sweetness and fun of the Carters' songs. Jim Watson, (the late) Tommy Thompson and Mike Craver were in folk music's most vibrantly eclectic band, the Red Clay Ramblers, at the time this was recorded, and the energy of the Ramblers helps to bring these songs back to life. The membership's banjos, guitars, autoharps, piano and other acoustic accoutrements sparkle; Thompson's voice is as friendly as an old buddy's handshake, while Watson provides a twangy contrast. And Craver's take on the lament "Are You Tired of Me My Darling" is delicate and beautiful.
The Family's treasures have never been in better hands.
"Meeting in the Air is not only the best Carter Family
tribute I've ever heard, but one of my all-time favorite albums.
I've been waiting for years to see it reissued on CD, and I'm happy
to say that it sounds as wonderful as ever. I love it!"
--Bob Blackman, host, "The Folk Tradition" on WKAR-FM, East Lansing, MI
In 1980, Jim Watson, Tommy Thompson, and Mike Craver – original members of Chapel Hill’s Red Clay Ramblers - made a critically-acclaimed, 14-song collection of Carter Family standards. Called “Meeting in the Air,” this splendid recording has long been out of print. Now comes a newly released CD version that sounds as fresh and inviting as the vinyl did.
Poignant and sweet, melancholy and gay, the songs on “Meeting in the Air” (Barker/Sapsucker Records) play like the soundtrack for the lives of a generation of rural Southerners who came of age during the Great Depression. And this trio captures their spirit with a production that is both graceful and sparse, melding distinctive vocal styles with brilliant, discerning old-time musicianship.
Instruments include guitars, banjo, piano, and autoharp, played solo or in combination, providing perfect accompaniment to such Carter Family classics as “One Little Word,” “My Dixie Darling,” “When the Roses Bloom in Dixieland,” “I Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow,” and “Anchored in Love.”
Fans who heard the Ramblers perform at the Cat’s Cradle, Rhythm Alley, and other Triangle nightspots will enjoying hearing again such concert favorites as “A Stern Old Bachelor,” sung with a perfect combination of defiance and irony by Thompson (who also plays banjo on the track), Watson’s urgent plea, “Give Me the Roses While I Live,” Craver’s guitar-and-vocal gem, “Are You Tired of Me My Darling,” and his wistful rendering of “The Winding Stream.”