Saturday, June 25, 2005

Are You From Dixie?

To listen to the Blue Sky Boys of Hickory, North Carolina, is to hear some of the purest, most starkly beautiful country harmony singing ever recorded. Bill, the tenor-voiced mandolin player, and Earl, the guitarist-baritone, cherished the moments when their parents would take out the family hymn book and sing together, and as they grew into their teenaged years, both brothers felt the call to perform. At 16, Bill was a featured member of fiddler Homer Sherrill’s Crazy Hickory Nuts; a year later, in 1934, younger brother Earl joined him on front of the radio microphones. While influenced in varying degrees by a number of other duet teams of the day (the Delmores, Mac and Bob, and, most notably, Karl Davis and Harty Taylor), the Bolicks’ soaring, plaintive harmonies were completely their own. By the time they showed up for their 1036 audition that led to their recording contract, the company was so laden with brother acts that it was suggested the Bolicks find a group-like name. Taking “Blue” from the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains and “Sky” form the area’s slogan, “Land of the Sky,” the Bolicks became known from that day forward as the Blue Sky Boys. Their popularity was quick in coming, and long lasting as well – for fifteen years, in a career that included 124 Victor recordings, their soft ballads and lilting melodies kept them in audience’s hearts. It was mainly the desire to enjoy more of the home life they treasured so as children that led to the Bolocks’ decision to retire from full-time performing and recording in 1951.

All three of the Blue Sky Boys selections found here are classics: Both “I’m Just Here To Get My Baby Out Of Jail,” the story of an aging mother seeking just a glimpse of her wayward, imprisoned son before she dies, and “Katie Dear,” the timeless folk tragedy of star-crossed lovers, epitomize the Bolicks uncanny ability of drawing the deepest, truest emotions out of the lyrics and melodies of a song. Listening to these tracks, one cannot help but marvel at the way the brothers’ individual voices rise and fall in direct relationship to each other’s pitch, volume, and rhythm, at the way their very souls seem to meld together as they sing. As for “Are You From Dixie?,” the Bolicks’ radio theme (and a tune that effectively spotlights Bill’s stately mandolin work), it seems a fitting farewell to this collection of music by artists whose roots lay deep in “Alabama, Tennessee, or Caroline – any place below the Mason-Dixon line.” They all are from Dixie, and as you share in the joy of their rare recordings, I suspect that no matter where you may geographically may come from, you’re from Dixie, too. -- And that wraps up Billy Altman's notes to ARE YOU FROM DIXIE?, hope you enjoyed it!


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