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  • Cool-Water MusicLiner Notes
  • Joshua Guthman, Music Editor (bio)

“Satan is Real,” asserted the title of an old Louvin Brothers record, though the album cover’s red plywood devil would seem to suggest otherwise. Of course, the Louvins’ audience probably needed no persuading of the Archfiend’s tangibility. In the South, Satan endures. Which is why so many have sung “Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down,” though none of them quite like Murry Hammond, whose incantatory version suggests nothing so much as evil’s intimacy, the fact that Satan’s deathly kingdom looms like a brown fog in one’s own breast. Son Thomas, a gravedigger by trade, knew as much. Thomas said the blues he played was “nothing but the devil.” And it is true that his “Cool Water” upended Jesus’ water-into-wine miracle in a particularly demonic way: “I asked for water, she give me gasoline.” But the blues, Thomas’s included, never simply reflects iniquity but transcends it. Listen to Pura Fé’s “Going Home” if you harbor doubts that such music documents pain in order to rise above it. Or, in a different idiom, consider Nimrod Workman—coal miner, union man, veteran of the 1920s-era mine wars—eighty-seven years old in 1982 when Mike Seeger’s microphone captured his gnarled voice. Workman’s “42 Years” is, as Mike’s half-brother Pete would have it, a “serious song” chronicling Workman’s underground labor, his “broke down” lungs, the company that refused any responsibility for his ill health, and the doctors who told him that he would soon die. But Workman’s song is more than a register of sorrow. This is why Mike Seeger has said that in Workman’s music he hears a sound at once so common and so special that it feels sacred. This is music as transfiguration.

Now, even those keen to dwell on matters of ultimate significance must sometimes contemplate life’s more ordinary pursuits. Here Charlie Louvin, nearly fifty years removed from his battles with Satan, finds a more familiar tormentor: a woman. His rough voice moistened by the tear-stained tones of George Jones, Louvin begs for a moment of respite that his ex refuses to allow: “You’ve already put big old tears in my eyes/Must you throw dirt in my face?” A similar anguish stalks Schooner’s “Married,” where reverb, gauzy harmonies, and a pedal steel guitar’s liquid whine serve as an audible record of heartache. The musicians in Schooner are some of the many artists included here from our own backyard. The tunes by Michael Holland, Midtown Dickens, Thad Cockrell, and the Sinful Savage Tigers certainly owe something to venerable southern roots traditions that one hears, say, on “Virginia Bootleggers,” recorded in the late 1920s by North Carolina’s own The Red Fox Chasers or Cecil Barfield’s hypnotic “Georgia Blues,” unearthed by the Grammy Award-winning label Dust-to-Digital. But these contemporary musicians, along with The Rosebuds and The Kingsbury Manx, also show how Southern Music is a category whose walls are now remarkably and productively porous. They are, shall we say, leaky. But the cool water that seeps through them proves just as refreshing as always. [End Page 145]

Cool-Water Music: Track List

  1. 1. | “Georgia Blues” cecil barfield 5:12

    Art of Field Recording Volume II: 50 Years of Traditional American Music Documented by Art Rosenbaum, Dust-to-Digital,

  2. 2. | “Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down II” murry hammond 3:46

    I Don’t Know Where I’m Going But I’m On My Way, Hummin’bird Records,

  3. 3. | “Must You Throw Dirt In My Face” charlie louvin & george jones 2:32

    Charlie Louvin, Tompkins Square,

  4. 4. | “Married” schooner 3:18

    Hold On Too Tight, 54°40′ or Fight! ,

  5. 5. 5 | “Lighten Up Angel” michael holland 2:43

    Tomorrows American Treasures, Sit-N-Spin, ,

  6. 6. 6 | “Waiter” captain luke & cool john 3:32

    The Last & Lost Blues Survivors, DixieFrog/Music Maker,

  7. 7. | “Sweet Little Angel” macavine hayes 2:35

    Came So Far, Music Maker...


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pp. 145-146
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