Sara & Maybelle Carter
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This renowned reunion of Sara and Maybelle Carter (with Sara's ex-husband A.P.'s son Joe filling in on guitar and bass vocals) marked the finest recording made by members of the Carter Family since their 1944 dissolution. Recorded in the mid '60s for Columbia, the disc ranges from sanctified "holiness songs" to proverb-inspired traditionals, white-blues-type songs, and even an anti-Vietnam tune written by Tom T. Hall, "I Told Them What You're Fighting For." The typically detailed liner notes by scholar Charles K. Wolfe denote the diverse sources for each tune on the disc. Sara was 69 and sister-in-law Maybelle 59 when this album was made, but their hands were still nimble on the autoharp and guitar. Their voices are weathered and not always able to hit every note, yet they are still capable of true beauty--perhaps made all the more potent because of the ragged, inexact quality. Note: 11 of the 24 tracks on this import appear on the domestically issued An Historic Reunion: Sara and Maybelle: The Original Carters. --Mike McGonigal
Top customer reviews
friends were screaming for Elvis. I liked him too, but learned to hide my secret love. Now I'm thrilled to hear Momma Maybelle and Sara and the songs I'd never heard. My grown grandkids first complained when they'd walk in my house and hear either the Carters, Bill Monroe, ect, or Tchaikovsky, Brahams, ect, ect. But over time they quit complaining and ask, "Now who was that, Grandma?" So happy these legendary ladies made this album.
Now this is what I call music.
For anyone who doesn't know, Sara and Maybelle Carter were two thirds of the original Carter Family. Together with Sara's first husband, A. P. (Alvin Pleasant) they made some of the very first country records. They were discovered on the same day and at the same amateur music audition as Jimmie Rodgers, long known as the Father of Country Music. I often say that if Jimmie was the father, then Sara and Maybelle were surely the mothers of early country music. They made their first records in 1927, when the recording industry was in its infancy. Their partnership lasted until about 1943, when they ceased recording completely. By performing and recording with her three daughters, June Helen and Anita, Maybelle kept the Cater Family name alive for many more years after the original trio broke up. In the original liner notes for the LP of An Historic Reunion, June's husband, Johnny Cash, says that, for him, the first time he met Mother Maybelle Carter was like meeting the Queen of England. Country royalty, indeed.
Many people find the vocal style of the original Carter Family somewhat jarring. Their sound is totally non-commercial, and the "arrangements" to their songs are minimal, stark and simple. Unlike commercial superstars, whose sound was molded by the demands of the record buying public, the Carter Family sang pretty much they way the did the first time A. P. heard Sara singing on her family's porch in the mountains of Virginia. Theirs is a professional, but not polished, sound. But the sound is true, original and home-grown, and the charm and simplicity of their heartfelt vocals were both consistent and sincere.
The reissue of these tracks are exciting for folk and country music enthusiasts alike. I am always thrilled to hear anything by Mother Maybelle, and I suspect the presence of her character in the film "Walk the Line" will pique the curiosity of many about her life and music. The actress who plays Maybelle in the Johnny Cash biopic is positively spooky in her resemblance to the real Maybelle, and one colorful incident related in the film (there's a scene where Maybelle - shotgun in hand - and her husband chase a drug dealer from Johnny Cash's property) is sure to generate renewed public interest in her story.
But the music is the point, of course. Although I love the 1965 tracks by Mother Maybelle, let me point out a few highlights from the Sara and Maybelle session.
The album opens with a rousing gospel number, Higher Ground. Of course, country gospel is far more subdued than that of the African-American variety, but just as spirited, nonetheless. Higher Ground boasts a wonderful melody, but any melody that passes through Sara's guitar or Maybelle's autoharp has to come out sounding wonderful. Sara handles the lead vocal on this and all the other "Reunion" tracks, with Maybelle filling in harmony and background vocal as appropriate. "Lord, lift me up, and let me stand, my faith on Heaven's stable hand. A higher plain than I have found, Lord plant my feet on higher ground". Their simple, heartfelt sincerity will send chills though you with each guitar chord. Sara plucks her guitar with the famous Carter lick, a sound often imitated but never exceeded by anyone. And Maybelle plays her autoharp (Maybelle is credited with being the first musician to pick individual notes on the autoharp, rather than simply strumming the melody) with all the skill she showed in 1927, and then some. Sara and A. P.'s son, Joe also sings harmony on several tracks, "To fill in the gap left by his father". Another highlight is yet another favorite of mine, which the original Carter Family recorded in 1941, The Happiest Days of All.
But the standout of the album, for me, is a tune called "While the Band is Playing Dixie (I'm Humming Home Sweet Home)" an old-fashioned piece about a soldier dying in battle after penning a farewell letter to his sweetheart. It may sound hokey to some, but it gave me chills the first time I heard it, and it still gives me chills today. The songs borrows a device that Sara used on the Carter's original recording of The Homestead on the Farm (one of my favorite songs from the hundreds they recorded between 1927-1943). During the instrumental portion, Sara blends the melody to "Home Sweet Home" into the chorus of While the Band is Playing Dixie, so skillfully that you're almost unsure of where one starts and the other leaves off. Meanwhile, Maybelle's harmonizing on the chorus is absolutely breathtaking.
They found it in his pocket, a blood-stained little note
A bullet hole had pieced it through and through
It began with, "Darling Mary, if I don't come back again
Just remember that my last thoughts were of you".
While the band is playing Dixie, I'm humming Home Sweet Home
It takes me back to Georgia, though I'm far across the foam
Once again beside the river with my Mary dear I roam
While the band is playing Dixie, I'm humming Home Sweet Home
Be it ever so humble, no place like home...
And there's no sound quite like Sara and Maybelle, the original Carter's.