Twisted Laurel

Eugene Chadbourne, All Music Guide:
Standing at a crossroads of old-timey music and the kind of progressive thought patterns and creativity that emerge in college towns such as the band's home base of Chapel Hill, the Red Clay Ramblers created a discography that is as much about making records as it is making music. The two biggest influences on this project seem to be the culturally rich results of pioneer recording efforts in American music in the '20s and '30s and the much later explosion of musical creativity in the '60s, when every garage band got to make a big artistic statement. As much as Twisted Laurel would never have been possible without old-time hillbilly music, it also could not exist without the example of albums such as the Band's Music From Big Pink or the refined album efforts of John Prine. It is a meticulously crafted piece of work which, if anything, could use a bit more looseness and edge in its occasional stuffy moments. Sometimes the good-timey numbers will prompt a listener to turn the volume down; it can be just too much hyper energy, despite the brilliance of the recorded sound. Yet the band seems to know when to pull back, following up the overdone pseudo-swing of "The Corrugated Lady" with a marvelous solo vocal and fiddle tour de force by Bill Hicks. The instrumental numbers such as "Flying Cloud Cotillon" are masterful, the piano playing of Mike Craver an absolute delight. The recording date is listed as 1967 on some copies of the album; however, be assured that even the nervous Flying Fish label wouldn't have waited nearly a decade to release this.

  • Green Man Review of Twisted Laurel and Merchants Lunch "...a unified masterpiece, not the least through the sheer enthusiasm and top-notch musicianship of the Ramblers themselves."  Webgal's note: The entire review is no longer available on the website, but we recently salvaged this much of it to give context to the above quote: "Brendan Foreman found a true treasure: Red Clay Ramblers' Twisted Laurel/Merchant's Lunch. Our reviewer says '...this CD, a compilation of two albums from way, way back in 1976 and 1977, spans practically the whole Americana gamut from the New England sound and old-time country to cathouse jazz and vaudeville, and even a little bluegrass here and there. Rather than coming across as a chaotic patchwork, though, this collection of music feels like a unified masterpiece, not the least through the sheer enthusiasm and top-notch musicianship of the Ramblers themselves.' This review garners an Excellence in Writing Award." 
  • And another opinion on Twisted Laurel - "The Red Clay Ramblers," The Unicorn Times, January, 1977, by Terence Winch
Twisted Laurel Facts:
  • Recorded in June, 1976 (not 1967 as is on the cover!)
  • Engineered by Bill McElroy at Bias Recording Company, Falls Church, Virginia
  • Produced by the Red Clay Ramblers with Alice Gerrard, Bruce Kaplan, and Bill McElroy
  • All arrangements by the Red Clay Ramblers
  • Jacket design and illustration by Raymond Simone, Solar Plexus Enterprises
  • Photos by Cece Conway; photograph of Jack Herrick by Barbara Williams
  • Flying Fish FF 030 (1976)
  • RCR: Bill Hicks, Jack Herrick, Jim Watson, Mike Craver, Tommy Thompson
Songlist: Blue Jay/The Girl I left Behind Me, Twisted Laurel, The Hobo's Last Letter, Rockingham Cindy (not on CD version), Mississippi Delta Blues, The Telephone Girl, Will You Miss Me, The Ace, The Corrugated Lady, When Bacon Was Scarce/Ryestraw, I Was Only Teasing You, Fifty Miles of Elbow Room, Flying Cloud Cotillion, The Beale Street Blues

Outtake of the shot on the back cover - photographer Cece Conway
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May 30, 2010