January 8th - Camp Has a Ball

Camp Has a Ball - Red Camp, 1954

A few days ago I kind of referenced the fact that Folkways Records was it's own distinct entity before being folded into the Smithsonian; likewise, today's offering was originally released on Cook Records. Emory Cook was an audio engineer and inventor who seems to have been one of those mad geniuses that midcentury America produced. Aside from developing the first stereo records and a widely-used manufacturing process wherein records were actually pressed at the point of sale, Cook released 140 records ranging from nature sounds to jazz to a live recording of a burlesque show.

Notes on the album cover 

Notes on the album cover 

Cook was very interested in capturing live performances, and Red Has a Ball is one of his "Road Recordings," consisting of an impromptu, late night jam session at the Plaza Hotel in Laredo, Texas. There is very little biographical information available about Red Camp, the pianist who assumably grins maniacally from the back of the LP, but he plays piano like water running. When he sings, it's perfectly suited to the material - half in earnest and half ironic - and the album just feels like you're sitting in a hotel bar on the wrong side of 1 a.m. Everyone is exhausted and half-drunk and should have gone to sleep hours ago, but you're staying propped up for a few more drinks - it's the party that Tom Waits was always at the night before. The version of Stars Fell on Alabama that he lumbers through at the end is fantastically grotesque, and has to be an attempt to make everyone close their tabs. This is an album that perfectly captures how good it feels, sometimes, to feel really shitty.

This may not sound like a rave review but believe me - I love this album. If nothing else, check out The Woman I Marry and Refugio Blues.

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Click here to read liner notes and purchase this album from Smithsonian Folkways