Uncle Cuckleburr's
Champion Possum Carvers,
The Ozark Sheiks
(May Apple, 2004)

When artists have a name like the above, you can safely bet that you're not going to hear classical string quartet music. No indeed, Uncle Cuckleburr's Champion Possum Carvers offers up old-timey and backwoods music with just a trace of contemporary attitude. This is raw, unvarnished, unpainted stuff, and often sounds like the tree itself before somebody took a saw to it.

UCCPC is made up of Adam Posnak and Blaine Whisenhunt, both of whom amazingly enough have a background in punk music. They play mandolin, banjo, kazoo, jug, harmonica and guitars, among others, and sing with throats that sound torn by liberal amounts of the roughest moonshine whiskey and the harshest tobacco. From the first track, there's a sense of authenticity about their performances. It's like being hurled back to the turn of the century to the porch of some piney-woods cabin after it's too dark to work. You sit around and pass the jug and listen to the boys let 'er rip.

"We'd like to make people nervous and squirmy at how real and RAW this stuff is, like stumbling upon a dead animal during a nice stroll in the woods." I don't know about you, but that statement from the duo strikes me as a damned valid aesthetic. They go on: "Keeping the vital spark and spirit of the music alive is more important than a whole library of essays and sheet music. Basically, we want to play this type of music the way it was played, instead of mimicking what was recorded...." And that's what gives The Ozark Sheiks its charm and its edge. There's no sour odor of musical sanctity here, but instead the funky, raunchy scent of passion for the music.

The intensity with which the UCCPC play and sing is incredibly powerful, and it's all the more impressive when you consider that they are essentially song-and-dance men creating an illusion. They're not really fresh from the backwoods, but when you put them up against any of the old recordings done in the '20s of such bands who wandered out of the hills and laid down a few tracks for Ralph Peer, you'd swear they were the real thing. Without knowing their backgrounds, you might also think they were African-American, since their vocals are so tinged by the sense of the blues and smack strongly of the early Delta bluesmen.

There's a wide variety of music here, though all within the tradition. There are frailing one-chord Uncle Dave Macon-style songs, a cappella songs, murder ballads, jug-band tunes, rowdy old-time songs and blues. There are also a few tracks performed live, and though it seems impossible that the duo could be any more energetic, the audience brings out even more from their performances. Also of note is the fact that the band wrote five of the generous 20 tracks on the CD, and that their originals sound just as real in every way as the actually aged-in-wood numbers.

UCCPC is one helluva band, and they make enough ragged but right noise to satisfy even the most discriminating fan of old-time and traditional music. Highly recommended for all those who realize that in the primitive we often find the pure.

- Rambles
written by Chet Williamson
published 22 January 2005

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