Album Review: Doom & Gloom – Early Songs of Angst and Disaster 1927-1945

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Think you’re having a bad week? When a little perspective is in order, pop in this new compilation from Trikont (via Light in the Attic in the USA). As 1927-1945 predated the era of made-for-tv movies, the job of chronicling disaster was left to the writers of popular song. I have to admit, what attracted to me to this record was the subtitle; as I owned no “angst” compilations (shouldn’t every collection have at least one?), this seemed like just the ticket.

At its core, the CD is what you’d expect, both from the time period and the subject matter — a folk/country/blues record. A quick skim of the performers bears this out: Big Bill Broonzy, Bessie Smith, Charley Patton, the Carter Family and Roy Acuff, among others. “The Modern Age,” says the liner notes, “driven by science and technology, made a promise to put an end to the evils of the past, once and for alll” Riiiiiight. Needless to say, that’s not quite how it turned out; regardless of the time period, science is a fairly wacky and unpredictable beast. The iPod and the electric toothbrush have worked out nicely. The Hindenberg, the Titanic and Hiroshima… ah, not so much.

For an album that focuses squarely on gloom, misery, poverty, and suicide (not in that order, unless you play it on shuffle), it can be a bit odd how downright jaunty some of these tracks are. Karl and Harty tackle the tragedy of “When The Atom Bomb Fell” by pinning it to a spiffy little tune you can even sing along to.

Like most collections, it’s uneven — the abovementioned slab of sub-“Mighty Wind” tofurkey pales in comparison to stellar tracks by Blind Willie Johnson and Roy Acuff. Just goes to show that a disaster (or even just a dollop of angst) doesn’t in and of itself guarantee a compelling song — it’s all in the telling, and some tell it better than others.

Kansas Joe & Memphis Minnie – When The Levee Breaks

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Roy Acuff & His Crazy Tennesseans – Wreck On The Highway

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One Comment

  1. R. Tickitumbo
    Posted January 21, 2008 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    Yeah this CD is pretty awesome. It’s odd to think that morbid songs about disaster and death from the 1920s and 30s could be entertaining, but they really are.

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