Features and Reviews
CD Review: Ragged Rhythm, A Phono-Tronic Collection
By Fred Hoeptner
Seventeen artists perform seventeen Galen Wilkes compositions: Rx Rag," Tom Brier; "The Last of the Ragtime Pioneers," Sue Keller; "Redwood Rag," Reginald Robinson; "Cakewalking Through Kansas," Dennis Pash; "The Streets of Sedalia," Glenn Jenks; "Hollywood Rag," Elliott Adams; "Horsefeathers," Bob Price; "Baltimore Rag," Terry Waldo; "Puppy on The Piano," Tony Caramia; "Daffodil," Frank Marocco; "Spanish Moss," Frank French; "Magnolia Rag," Masanobu Ikemiya; "The Creeks of Missouri," Trebor Tichenor; "The Old Boston Post Road," Clarke Buehling; "Whippoorwill Hollow," John Arpin; "Mephistopheles' Two Step," Mimi Blais; "The Oyster Shimmy," Jeff Barnhart. Retrophone GW2002.
Galen Wilkes, involved in the Southern California ragtime scene for more than 25 years as historical researcher, radio host, musician, composer, arranger, orchestra leader, and producer of authentic balls from the ragtime era, some years ago embarked on a project to produce a CD of some of his compositions. But he didn't do it the easy way. Galen is adept at composing in many ragtime styles including the folk rag, classic rag, and novelty rag subgenres. In typical fashion he optimistically began contacting performing icons in the ragtime world whose styles synchronized with the styles of the tunes that he had selected and asked each to record the tune. Although he received at least one rejection and two of his performers (pianist Wally Rose and organist Lee Erwin) died during the lengthy process, he persevered and finally we have the gratifying result.
Some of Wilkes' compositions are already part of the standard ragtime repertoire and are regularly heard at festivals. Those included on this CD are "The Creeks of Missouri" (1983), "The Last of the Ragtime Pioneers" (1984), "Spanish Moss" (1984), and "Whippoorwill Hollow" (1985). Sue Keller's interpretation of "Pioneers" sets the standard for this sensitive, melodic rag written as a eulogy following the deaths of the last performers from the ragtime era. John Arpin's warm and romantic rendition of "Hollow," a classic rag, and Frank French's "Spanish Moss," weaving together the tango and two-step, are similarly exceptional. Wilkes calls "Creeks of Missouri" his most popular rag. It was composed as an unadorned, austere but compelling melody, in my opinion its main attraction. Although Trebor Tichenor performs it competently, he adds embellishments some of which I believe detract from the charm.
Stringed instrumentalists perform three of the tunes imparting a light-hearted cakewalk feel. Dennis Pash, leader of the former Etcetera String Band, through the magic of overdubbing plays mandolin, guitar, and accordion on "Cakewalking Through Kansas" (1992). How a tune so original, even in its harmonies, can foster the illusion of a composition from the ragtime era testifies to Wilkes' and Pash's genius. A similar comment could be made about five-string banjoist Clarke Buehling's performance of "The Old Boston Post Road," a superb country rag with an unforgettable catchy melody. "Horsefeathers" (1985), played by tenor banjoist Bob Price accompanied by a keyboardist, is another imaginative folk rag.
While I don't mean to slight any of the performances, I'll mention only several more that are favorites of mine. Tom Brier's spirited reading of the folk styled "Rx Rag," obviously inspired by physician Calvin Woolsey's rags from the turn of the century, is dedicated to Darrell Woodruff, retired physician and regular attendee at the Rose Leaf Club, who assisted in producing the project. In the classic style are the "Redwood Rag" performed by Reginald Robinson and "The Streets of Sedalia" by Glenn Jenks. Each strain of Terry Waldo's performance of the tuneful "Baltimore Rag" suggests Eubie Blake. The CD closes with Jeff Barnhart's rendition of "Oyster Shimmy" emulating one of Jelly Roll Morton's more frenetic performances, and even Jeff seems to have trouble maintaining the pace.
Every exciting track on this CD is artistically worthy. If you're a ragtime devotee, you will want it! Available for $20 plus $3 shipping and handling from:
P.O. Box 2176
Van Nuys, CA 91404