Orange Blossom Jug Five: A Miss-named Blues

Orange Blossom Jug Five: A Miss-named Blues

What an odd and wonderful record. If you’re me – and thankfully, you’re not – the word skiffle immediately summons the concept of pre-Beatles England in which loads of bands were working on odd combination of acoustic blues and a primitive idea of what ensemble playing should have been. Apparently, though, the word skiffle was in use Stateside prior to the sixties’ folk and blues explosion gave way to psychedelia. So, the fact that the only recording released by the Orange Blossom Jug Five was titled Skiffle In Stereo is probably less surprising than initially believed. The weird thing is, though, that the disc was one of, if not the first stereo albums released in the US. And yeah, it’s even more bizarre because of what sort of music this is.

It’s not quite blues or folk, though, both elements are solidly in place because of the cover material here as well as the inclusion of Dave Van Ronk in the group’s lineup. And the jug band tag, while applicable seems a bit over stated. Granted, “Ice Cream” is all jug and harmonica. But there’re just as many efforts over Skiffle in Stereo’s run time that this might as well just be auld tyme music.

Either way, the most successful, or at least most gritty, efforts are those helmed by Van Ronk. “Trouble in Mind” sounds as if Louis Armstrong could have recorded it in New Orleans – there’s some suitably shaky trumpet playing here. And while Van Ronk croaks out the lyrics, the Jug Five drop time for a minute, but grab it back in time for the break. While Van Ronk’s singing is, as it always was, on the froggy side, most of this particular composition was given over to the simple rhythm and a few different solos by group members. To say it sounds charming is like telling an old man he’s in good shape, he’s spry. It’s something of a backhanded compliment. But there’s really nothing to criticize here.

Released in 1958, the Orange Blossom Jug Five predated the sixties’ folk fervor. And while music as dated as this wouldn’t come to impact the Bob Dylan’s of the world – at least in his music as opposed to what he listened to – it still ranks as an important thing to hear. Whether or not it warrants revisiting is partially up to how much you’ve listened to the Memphis Jug Band and how much more fair of that nature, though, turned in by white folks, you need to hear.