Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Clarence Ashley

  • The Music of Clarence "Tom" Ashley 1929-1933: Greenback Dollar [County, 2001] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Music of Clarence "Tom" Ashley 1929-1933: Greenback Dollar [County, 2001]
Always a card, singer-comic-guitarist/banjoist Ashley was still blacking up with the Stanley Brothers in the '40s. He had such a good ear that his 1962 arrangement of the then obscure "Amazing Grace" eventually made it the best-known song in America. Well before then, in his thirties, he recorded one of Harry Smith's greatest hits, "Coo Coo Bird," and the rest of these three-minute songs. All are traditional, not to say deliberately archaic, with Ashley's droll musicality shielding them from nostalgia. He believed in entertainment, that was his trade, but not if he had to get mushy about it. Folk music that means to be folk music--as defined, for once, by one of the folk. A-