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Songs of the Pioneers

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Album Review

Jimmie Driftwood (or Jimmy, as his name sometimes appears) was a one-of-a-kind folk singer who is known more for the songs he wrote — "The Battle of New Orleans," "Tennessee Stud" — than his own recordings, which are uniformly excellent. Bear Family issued a three-disc box set, Americana, containing all of Driftwood's RCA sides, and the Australian Omni label has stepped up to reissue most of his Monument recordings. Voice of the People is a 28-track anthology that encompasses Driftwood's 1963 album of the same name as well as his 1964 album Down in the Arkansas, and about half of the 1966 LP The Best of Jimmy Driftwood, a collection of re-recordings of songs he previously cut for RCA. The two albums of original material are stunners, featuring some outlandish and highly entertaining songs addressing everything from phantom limb syndrome ("Straighten out My Laig") to post-apocalyptic apes ("The Lonesome Ape.") Driftwood's humor and imagination are at their apex on these songs, but not all of the material is offbeat; he also tackles serious subjects including patriotism, racism ("What is the Color of the Soul of Man?"), and religion ("My Church.") Like Bear Family, Omni is devoted to reissuing obscure and unusual vintage country music without the usual commercial considerations, and it is only through the munificence of such labels that overlooked but worthy recordings like those on Voice of the People are given a second chance in the marketplace.


Born: 20 June 1907 in Mountain View, AR

Genre: Country

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s

Jimmie Driftwood was almost an anachronism in the years he was at his commercial peak, from 1957 through 1961. A schoolteacher by training, he originally started writing songs as a way of helping his students learn about history, and subsequently composed (or collected and re-composed) over 5,000 songs, many of them dealing with some element of America's past and its history, telling old folk tales, or preserving some aspect of the daily lives of the people who sang them. Only one modern figure in...
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Songs of the Pioneers, Jimmie Driftwood
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