The Bristol Sessions, vol. 1

In the apocrypha of musical Americana, Victor Records talent scout Ralph Peer’s 10-day trip to Bristol, Tenn., in July of 1927 is up there with the day Elvis walked into Sam Phillips’ recording studio in Memphis decades later. Peer, who’d inserted a clause in a music store’s newspaper ad saying he was looking for new music acts from the sticks, managed to turn up the Carter Family and Jimmy Rodgers. This set collects 18 cuts from those sessions, two apiece from the Carters and from Rodgers. They’re great, but it’s the obscurities that make this worthwhile: B.F. Shelton’s murder ballad “Pretty Polly,” with its haunting banjo backing; Alfred G. Karnes’ “Called to the Foreign Field,” an off-key Bible-thumping blues shout; and a Blind Alfred Reed cut that begins, “You fashion-loving Christian, you will surely be denied / You must unload.” It’s a fine window into what writer Greil Marcus has called “old, weird America.”