OLA BELLE REED AND THE SOUTHERN MOUNTAIN MUSIC ON THE MASON-DIXON LINE—BY HENRY GLASSIE, CLIFFORD R. MURPHY, AND DOUGLAS DOWLING PEACH—Dust-to-Digital DTS-40. Hardcover, 256 pp., two CDs included, $31.50. (Dust-To-Digital, PO Box 54743, Atlanta, GA 30308, www.dust-digital.com.)
Ola Belle Reed was a presence to be reckoned with. Her voice was commanding, her playing sufficient and her songs legendary. Two of her songs show up in the repertory of countless bands—“High On A Mountain” and “I’ve Endured.” She wrote many more powerful songs in a style that drew heavily from traditional mountain music. Her delivery was direct, deliberate, and heartfelt. She was a major part of the music scene along the Mason-Dixon line for many years. Home to many Appalachian folk looking for a better life, her music was their music.
This book is less scholarly and more of a personal look by the authors. It’s made up of three sections: one about Ola Belle, the second about the music scene in the region, and the third is a listing with extensive notes on the performances on the two CDs included. Henry Glassie recounts his meeting and recording of Ola Belle for the first time. He describes her upbringing and lets her words from the many hours of recorded interviews tell the story of her life.
Clifford R. Murphy describes the music scene in southeast Pennsylvania, northeastern Maryland, and Delaware. It was the new home for folks from the South, and they brought their music with them. Bands like the New River Ranch Gang, the North Carolina Ramblers, Ted Lundy, Bob Paisley & the Southern Grass, and the Debunk-Weaver Family were all part of the scene which also included Del McCoury & the Dixie Pals. The region was a hotbed of bluegrass and old-time music.
The section of the book by Douglas Dowling Peach provides the liner notes for the two CDs. The first CD is of Ola Belle’s music. We get to hear Ola Belle solo and with her brother Alex Campbell and Johnny Miller, their long-time fiddler. They cover some of the old mountain standards such as “My Home’s Across The Blue Ridge Mountains” and “Bringing In The Georgia Mail.” She teams up with Burl Kilby for more songs, many of which are old sacred numbers that she adapted to her style. We also hear some early versions of “I’ve Endured” as she works out the (as of yet) unfinished lyrics and arrangement. She does a fine version of “Undone In Sorrow” and some songs she would later record with her husband Bud Reed and son David.
The second CD has some great moments where we’re treated to the trio of Danny Paisley with son Ryan and long-time fiddle cohort, T.J. Lundy. They recap some of the finer tunes and songs these families have recorded over the years. There are cuts by members of the Debusk-Weaver Family and Hugh Campbell, along with banjo tunes from David Reed and Burl Kilby.
The book and recordings are solid, especially the first CD. The book provides insight into Ola Belle’s life and the music scene that helped shape her music. Ola Belle Reed was a rock, a powerful woman in a music that did not have many power women at the time. There’s a discography, a bibliography, and the liner notes include all of the lyrics. Attention has been paid to every detail. While this book is a good effort, those who knew her will be left wanting. There was more to her than is portrayed here. She was a force to be reckoned with, and her place in our music today is undeniable.RCB