That laughter may ensue when city slickers and country bumpkins (or country slickers and city bumpkins) chance to meet was hardly news in the years after World War II, but there was an explosion in the number of those encounters right then — with a proportional rise in comedy often forgotten by now. It was the day of Li’l Abner-derived “Sadie Hawkins day” dances, of the “Hatfield and McCoy” feud cartoons — and of the crossover of country music onto mainstream charts.
All 25 cuts in this unusual and imaginative collection depend on the increasing knowledge the city and the country have of each other after the travel and time spent together during the war. It serves as an entertaining and surprising reminder of novelty music of the time — and may even furnish some new material for today’s performers still working this timeless subject.
Questions of whether the “rubes” are being laughed at by some of the more polished urban performers, or what it means when it’s the rural folk (or formerly rural folk) doing the satirizing, are as pertinent here as they would be in the heyday of “Hee Haw” and the “Beverly Hillbillies” — or when yet another “dress up” alt-country band takes to the stage to the “Yeee Hawww!” of city frat boys.
The country performers’ growing status is kidded in a terrific Hoosier Hot Shots number that notes of wealthy chart-topping twangers: if “They’d been hanging around the mountains all those years, singing songs about the train wrecked engineers”…but…”them Hillbillies Are Mountain Williams Now!”
While little of the music here is actually country, it’s not that far in sound from similar material Ernest Tubb was glad to do with the Andrews Sisters, and it’s pretty clever pop, some even written by the likes of Rodgers & Hart.
Later mass television stars such as the Southern-bred Arthur Godfrey and Dinah Shore (accompanied by Spade Cooley, no less) offer some commentary on hillbillies in town, as does Zeke Manners and His Swing Billies (“Leave It Up To Uncle Jake”), one of a number of performers who worked this material for country or western swing audiences.
The star and, for many no doubt, revelation of the collection is the singular Ms. Dorothy Shay, an attractive Jacksonville, Florida, girl who made it big in New York in the late ’40s as “The Park Avenue Hillbillie,” singing knowing songs for sophisticated cabaret audiences and sending up both urbanites and rurals caught up in the new confusions.
Shay gets prominent treatment in Mary A. Bufwack and Robert K. Oermann’s history of women in country, 1993′s Finding Her Voice, but her many recordings have been unavailable for years except in hard-to-find import collections. Such gently comic numbers as “Feudin’ And Fightin”, “Joan Of Ark-ansaw” and “What Fer Didja?” will still tickle and sting. Gently.