Until a few days ago, I hadnâ€™t even heard of the Blue Sky Boys, never mind heard anything by them. But, prompted by some superlatives in the recent obituary thread for Bill Bolick, I took a chance on this bulk purchase. 5 CDs was more than I wanted, but it was cheap (though not cheerful).
Charlie described the music of the Blue Sky Boys as the â€˜motherlodeâ€™ and thereâ€™s certainly a load of mother songs here. â€˜Angel Motherâ€™, â€˜Little Mother of the Hillsâ€™, â€˜A Motherâ€™s Smileâ€™, â€˜Shake Hands With Your Mother Todayâ€™, â€˜I love Her More Now Motherâ€™s Oldâ€™. My hopes were raised briefly by â€˜We Buried Herâ€™, but sheâ€™s a tough old cookie and continues to feature in â€˜Hymns My Mother Sangâ€™, â€˜Mother Went Her Holiness Wayâ€™, and â€˜Since the Angels Took My Motherâ€™. When it comes to mother, mum isnâ€™t the word. For variety, we get â€˜Iâ€™m Going To Write To Heaven (For I Know My Daddyâ€™s There)â€™.
The song titles tell you that weâ€™re not dealing with the raucous side of country here. Thereâ€™s no boozing or loose women here (probably scared off by mother). So far, I havenâ€™t come across any intentional jokes. This is dead straight, down beat country and god-fearing gospel, mostly from the 30s and 40s. Instrumentation is guitar and mandolin, with an added fiddle on the later recordings. And the sound is dominated by the glorious harmony singing. But there isnâ€™t a great deal of variety here, with the mood running the full gamut of emotions from M to M (maudlin to mournful). Listen and weep. Just donâ€™t stick it on your party mix.
But there is actually a lot to enjoy here. This is subtle and intense music and it takes a while to acclimatise to the jolly glum lyrics Yes, it is musical melancholy, but that rather appeals to me. And thereâ€™s a great deal of finesse and beauty about the harmony singing. I donâ€™t know anything about the origins of these 121 songs, but Iâ€™m very confident that thereâ€™s some Scottish DNA behind all this dismal doom and gloom. Based on a fairly quick run through this massive set (it would take weeks to absorb the full range of depression), â€˜Turn Your Radio Onâ€™ is the most immediately attractive track. But there are plenty of other treasures. I was also struck with â€˜Down On the Banks of the Ohioâ€™, a song Iâ€™ve only heard before from the fragrant Olivia Newton John. The Blue Sky Boyâ€™s take is genuinely chilling, with its matter of fact delivery.
I would still have preferred to have found a more concise single CD set. But, at around Â£15, Iâ€™m not complaining. Mother probably wouldn't approve of folks that complain.