Album Review

Charlie Poole - Husband & Wife Were Angry One Night

Charlie Poole

Husband & Wife Were Angry One Night


Release Date: December 9th, 1929

Words by: Laurence Rosier Staines
June 4th, 1962


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Charlie Poole was a hard-drinkin', banjo-playin' baseball star of a bandleader, and one of the most successful purveyors of old timey music in the late 20s. Husband & Wife Were Angry One Night provides a very welcome window into the world of this now-overlooked musician.

Poole wasn't a songwriter so much as a collector, but he inhabits each and every one of these songs as if he'd built it himself as a reflection of his own life and times. The material here covers the 1904 Baltimore Fire, the 1901 assassination of President McKinley, domestic discord, loneliness, love, the march of fate, recklessness, drinking and growing old. He sings as an outlaw, a concerned father, a romantic no-hoper, an itinerant alcoholic, an advisory friend and a moralizing narrator, who visits rural shooting ranges, bars, two-bit hotels and railroads.

All this is done in a nasal tenor voice with both the sincerity and the detached dry humour that characterise the best country music. He's travelled the world and played cards with the King and the Queen (and the ace), but despite all this he ain't got nobody, and hell, if nobody cares for him he'll just go back to his farm already.

While the anthropological value of these songs is undeniable, the music itself is nothing to scoff at either. Far from playing the rough and rowdy stuff you might expect from a guy who died at 39 after a two-week bender, his trio is understated, disciplined and relentlessly tuneful. Poole's banjo is mostly textural, with the fiddle becoming the solo instrument when one is needed, but the goal is definitely the no-nonsense presentation of the songs.

The best may be the opener 'Shootin' Creek', a merry jaunt that does the old country thing of almost passing for an ancient British Isles dance tune, but many of these you will have heard before in some respect: 'Ramblin' Blues' was later given the sultry Catwoman treatment by Eartha Kitt as 'Beale Street Blues', and the tragicomic 'Took My Gal A-Walkin'' has been redone countless times as the less countrified "I Took My Girl Out Walking". Even where you don't recognise the songs themselves, the style has essentially become canon and it's pretty impressive how many different melodies can be wrangled out of the same couple of cadences. There's a lyrical straightforwardness to everything on here that makes it clear why some of these records sold so well (e.g. 'Don't Let Your Deal Go Down' with over 100,000 copies).

This collection re-establishes Poole as an important figure who synthesised so much arcane Americana that came before him and laid the bare foundation for the crazier bluegrass of the 1940s. Good listenin'.

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