"What a joy to hear this live-in-concert recording in glorious digital sound. My vinyl copy has some nasty scratches from some long forgotten party in the last century and this reissue on Rounder/Flying Fish is long overdue. For those new to old-time music or others who've simply forgotten, the Red Clay Ramblers were tireless practitioners of American music. They were formed in Chapel Hill, North Carolina during the late '60s old-time revival. From the outset they were lumped in with the other old-time bands of the time, but they really went far beyond the simple fiddle tunes and novelty songs from the so-called "Golden Age" of old-time music. The band included three fine song writers in Mike Craver, Tommy Thompson, and Bill Hicks. The Ramblers fashioned a repertoire from many sources and used a variety of instruments, including brass and piano. The variegated nature of their instrumentation and repertoire is very evident on Chuckin' The Frizz, a live recording made in February 1979 at The Cat's Cradle in Chapel Hill.

The set opens with "Fourth of July at a Country Fair" from the playing of the Georgia Yellow Hammers. The rollicking vocals of Jim Watson and his equally fine lead guitar takes the band through a series of vignettes featuring the ill-fated exploits of three unfortunate souls. Mike Craver's "Thoroughly African Man" follows, and here is where the Ramblers simply blow away all competitors. Mike's compositions are representative of classic American songwriting and always have a complexity requiring arrangements that are tight and well-rehearsed but never stuffy. This could have come from a classic Marx Brothers film from the 1930s and the Ramblers' performance is spot-on perfect.

"Cabin Home" from the Golden Melody Boys (with an additional verse from "Electric" Bill Hicks) is up next. Just hearing Tommy Thompson's strong vocals once again brings a tear on this sentimental chestnut. It is highlighted by Jim Watson's mandolin lead. One of the tunes from this recording that has lived on is Tommy's "Hot Buttered Rum." Written about those dreadful days just after the Christmas holidays, its lyrics are never far from my mind as I travel the streets in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania after the magic of the season has long past.

The Ramblers return with a Bill Hicks instrumental "Three Bells Road" where we are treated to Tommy's banjo and Bill's energetic fiddling. Tommy Thompson and Bland Simpson's "Baby Grand" is a song reminiscent of Van Dyke Park's with Mike Craver on piano and vocals. This once again reinforces the American music band moniker alluded to earlier in this review. This piece could have been written by any of the great songwriters of the early 20th century, and it previews Simpson's involvement in later editions of the band. Probably the other tune which has had the greatest shelf life from this collection is Bill's "Play 'Rocky Top'" concerning the age-old need for female companionship and a good time. The trio of tunes "Santa Anna's March"-"Fine Times at Our House"-"Donegal Reel" from Frank George, John Summers and Francis O'Neill highlights the band's versatility as they seamlessly take two great American fiddle tunes and morph them into a classic Irish tune, all in the span of less than three minutes-talk about a tight band!

The set continues with Si Kahn's classic "Aragon Mill," "Wahoo, Wahoo, Wahoo" from Bill Boyd, Bessie Smith's "Tilly Take Your Time" and "Paddy Won't You Drink Some Cider" from Lowe Stokes. For those who caught this classic configuration of the Red Clay Ramblers, this will be a welcome walk down memory lane sans scratches. For those just discovering the band, this is what they really sounded like, no fooling. It's great to have Chuckin' The Frizz back."

review by Tom Druckenmiller

OLD TIME HERALD, Feb., 2007