Excepting those preternaturally drawn to trawling auctions and flea markets for old crates of 78s, most traditional country fans haven’t heard much of the Red Fox Chasers, a four-man string band from the northwestern corner of North Carolina, deep in the Appalachian mountains. I’m Going Down to North Carolina is the first complete anthology of the band’s work, which consists of less than 40 sides and a handful of bootlegging skits, recorded between 1928 and 1931. It’s a raucous, revelatory collection of old-time mountain music. The four neighbors and pals – vocalist and harmonica player Bob Cranford, vocalist and banjo-strummer Paul Miles, guitarist A.P. Thompson, and fiddler Guy Brooks – sing, strum and wail with high, Appalachian aplomb.
The band’s biography is riddled with folksy details — Miles’ first banjo was made from a meal sifter! Brooks bought his fiddle with money he saved up from selling hand-collected chestnuts for a dollar a bushel! They all learned to sing at a two-week shape-note singing tutorial led by an itinerant teacher! — but the music transcends any aw-shucks trappings. A mix of minstrel tunes, Tin Pan Alley cuts, disaster songs, ballads and tracks made more famous by Charlie Poole (“May I Sleep in Your Barn Tonight, Mister?”), the Carter Family (“Little Sweetheart, Pal of Mine”), and Uncle Dave Macon (“Sweet Bye and Bye”), I’m Going Down to North Carolina is a comprehensive introduction to string band music, and a testament to the Chasers’ dexterity and glee. Like any good mountain band, there’s a healthy tension between the sacred and the profane, and the band’s liquor-soaked “Virginia Bootleggers” – sung to the tune of “The River of Jordan,” an old gospel song – even got poor Guy Brooks kicked out of his church. Which is possibly the highest endorsement of all.