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The Trip to Bountiful: the Mix

Well, and Gentle Readers may have been figuring that if they held out during all the whining and noodling about the show, YHB would eventually come across with the Opening Night Mix. Others may have forgotten all about my tradition of giving the cast a Mix CD on Opening Night, chock full of music appropriate to the show. Or not, if I feel like that about it. The Trip to Bountiful is set in Texas in 1950; I took the Texas part more than the 1950 part, and wound up with an album of country and bluegrass tunes, mostly. This is heavily tilted to the religious music that Mother Watts would have enjoyed (she sings hymns to calm herself when she is angry or nervous), but I have thrown in some stuff relating to some other themes of the show, the collapse of small towns, the rocky marriage of Jessie Mae and Ludie, and the hopefulness of journeying.

Here's a tentative track list:

Will the Circle Be Unbroken (Doc Watson & Clarence Ashley)
Momma Cried (Alison Krauss & Union Station)
Calling My Children Home (Ralph Stanley)
Down To The River To Pray (Alison Krauss)
Cotton Eyed Joe (Bob Wills)
The Devil Made Texas (Hermes Nye)
I Saw The Light (Hank Williams)
Man Of Constant Sorrow (Bob Dylan)
Peace In The Valley (Johnny Cash)
I'm Workin' On A Road To Glory Land (Flatt & Scruggs)
Wreck On The Highway (The Louvin Brothers)
Looking t'ward Heaven (Doc Watson & Clarence Ashley)
Angel Band (Ralph Stanley)
Keys To The Kingdom (The Nields)
Laying My Burdens Down (Willie Nelson)
Travelin' Prayer (Dolly Parton)
Run Come See (The X-Seamen's Institute)
When I Grow Up (Michelle Shocked)
This My Town (Eddie From Ohio)
She's No Lady (Lyle Lovett)
I Just Don't Like This Kind Of Living (Hank Williams)
The Old Woman's Hornpipe (Baltimore Consort)

Now, Your Humble Blogger doesn't know a great deal about country music or bluegrass; I did a fair amount of research and listening, mostly to find things for the album but also to give myself mood music to play in the car whilst driving to rehearsals. So, while there's still time to fix it—what am I missing?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


Bluegrass (and Doc Watson and Clarence "Tom" Ashley, whom some might call bluegrass but are really more traditional) are more Appalachian than Texas, but that's a minor point--really, it looks like a good list to me. In the direction of Texas, I'd recommend the works of Townes Van Zandt, though I'm not certain what specific songs would work best, which makes for a less-than-helpful suggestion. Fred Eaglesmith's "White Rose" is a good one for the collapse of small towns.

You have leaned heavily on country and bluegrass - both of which were popular enough in Texas in the 1950's. But you have chosen modern recordings. I would look for some older, more original recordings which have a different, more historically authentic sound to them.

I would also suggest you find some front-porch music. It was dying out at the time, but it still would have been played in those days, especially at county fairs and what not. In particular, Eck Robertson, a Texas fiddler, is credited with being the very first country music fiddler to ever record and he's one of the best ever. His original recordings are still commercially available, but he was rediscovered by the New Lost City Ramblers and they recorded him in 1968. You can download the album here: http://www.downhomeradioshow.com/2009/01/eck-robertson-famous-cowboy-fiddler-lp/.

The final thing I would recommend is that you consider the music that was popular at the time, and would have been listened to on the radio including Pat Boone, Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Doris Day, and of course Peggy Lee (You Give Me Fever).

Thanks for the tips. The Eck Robertson album is astonishing—and the sixties recording points up the thing I found during my research, that the postwar decade (when the play is set, more or less) is a moment between waves of interest in old-time music. Much of the stuff I listened to in making this was from Folkways albums of the sixties and other, more commercial, albums coming out of the sixties revival. I suspect that the Houston radio stations during the period the play is set would not have played anything that sounded like anything on my list.

And I could have gone the 1950 radio way, made a Jessie Mae playlist, with Peggy Lee and Pat Boone, certainly, and made a fine album, too. But I decided that it would be too much Jessie Mae, and not enough Mother Watts, and certainly not enough Vardibidian. Because after all, the playlist is for the enjoyment of the cast and crew, not the characters. This is the fifth time I've done such a playlist, and I decided from the start that historical accuracy wasn't going to happen. That was The Man Who Swung to Dinner, a kick-ass list, if I say so myself, of big-band stuff (mostly) that spread over decades. For Liaisons, I toyed with doing a playlist from the 1780s, but decided in the end to go with a mix of music from a hundred years or more earlier, simply because that music I like much better. I detailed the Pyggie mix in this Tohu Bohu, lo these many, and then there was an Enchanted April one that was just songs about Spring, one way or another.

What I'm saying is, although bluegrass isn't very Texas, and although the time period is clearly wrong, I'm going with a heavily bluegrass-influenced mix because I kinda like the stuff, and because it seems to meet the sepia-toned mood I'm looking for. More or less.

Also, about the modern recordings—I'm using a lot more of those, partially because I had access to them, but also because in a mix, the difference in recording equipment makes the older stuff (and particularly field recordings, which I was at one point leaning to) sound crappy to my ears. Even within my mix, the difference between (f'r'ex) the Union Station stuff and the Flatt&Scruggs stuff and the Watson&Ashley stuff is distracting. A really good mix could handle that, either technically or by carefully grouping songs so that the listener suffered fewer instances of auditory whiplash, but with one thing and another I'm going to take the easy way this time. Not that I don't appreciate the advice; I am just as grateful as if I were going to take it…


More in the spirit of what you're doing, rather than what I'd do (which is that I'd probably listen to punk, prog, and jazz on the way to the rehearsals, if I were going to be in a play at all, which I'm not): Doc Watson's recording of "Tennessee Stud" from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band anthology, Volume 1, is outstanding. Most anything he did with Bill Monroe is worth listening to, as well.

You might also check out Tony Rice and David Grisman's Tone Poems albums, or David Grisman with Jerry Garcia. I hear Grisman's an asshole, but he's a hella mandolin player.

Finally, you should check out Willie Nelson's cover of "Midnight Rider" from the album Always Will Be, not because it has any relevance, but because Willie's a bad motha-

(Shut yo' mouth!)

I'm just talkin' 'bout Willie!



For old hymns in a country style, I'm very fond of Johnny Cash's album "My Mother's Hymn Book."

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