Recently, the Mullet River Boys, a trio of oldtime vaudevillean minstrels, saved what was, for me, an otherwise iffy show, The Ukulele Gala. I was surprised to find that they're a local group I'd never heard of. In terms of the kind of music I love, I'm more familiar with Memphis 80 years ago than with my own town today. I need to do something about that.
I first realized this a few years ago when I stumbled across another Twin Cities group, The Crush Collision Trio fronted by Lonesome Dan Kase. Lonesome Dan (LORD, what makes that Dan so LONESOME?) is an oldstyle accoustic bluesman — I mean an even older style than you're probably picturing.
The usual image people have of the accoustic "country" blues tends to come, I think, from people like Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker, and Skip James as an old man. But when these guys learned to play the blues, they were kids in at least the late 1920's or later, and they were playing what was, at the time, a new approach. It was slower, sadder, with sometimes irregular rhythms not meant for dancing. Their lyrics were often pretty grim.
But among the first round of solo bluesmen recorded in the 20's were older men who played an older style that grew up in house parties, dance joints, and medicine shows. Their rhythms were more often steady and lively, their lyrics were geared toward crowds of mixed gender, age, and race, and they tended to play in a range of different styles, including religious tunes. I'm thinking of Charlie Patton, Mississippi John Hurt, Henry Thomas, and Jim Jackson. Many of their songs, verses, subjects and styles were shared by older white songsters recorded at the same time, such as Uncle Dave Macon. A few of these older black songsters were recorded playing banjos.
This is the terrain that Dan Kase has claimed for himself. His band includes a mandolin (by Matt Yetter) and a washboard (Mikkel Beckman), and when I corner these guys in bars, they each seem to confirm my admittedly shaky grasp of this storyline. (Still, I can't speak for them, of course.) A high-ranking, unnamed source assures me that if I like the Crush Collision Trio, I'd love a guy who lives in Duluth named Charlie Parr. We'll see — Dan's music, with or without his Trio, always makes me feel pretty damned right with the world.
All these Minnesotans seem to be in their twenties or thirties. Clearly, this evidence from Minnesota — together with more familiar national acts like the Old Crow Medicine Show, Jolie Holland, Gillian Welch (etc., etc., etc.) — suggests that the "Folk Revival" that started in the 1990's is bearing fruit. Suddenly, there's a reason to see live music.
As an aside, The Crush Collision Trio named themselves after a publicity stunt. In 1896, William George Crush staged a head-on collision of two locomotives on the Missouri-Kansas-Texas train line ("The Katy"). Forty-thousand spectators watched the smash-up somewhere between Waco and Hillsboro, Texas. Unexpectedly, both trains' boilers exploded shortly after impact, killing two spectators and mutilating several others. (Crush Collision Trio shows tend to work out a little better.)