Dust-to-Digital’s ‘Never a Pal Like Mother’ celebrates Mom with collection of photos and vintage 78 recordings

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The double-CD/book of photographs includes recordings from the early 20th century that celebrate all things Mom.

Mom. Mother. Mama. Madre. Mommy. What would we do without her? Who would love us? Who would bake our snickerdoodles, bail us out of jail, mend our favorite trousers, and bake us more snickerdoodles? Mom, that’s who, and it’s been that way since time immemorial. The evidence lies within the music and on the pages of “Never a Pal Like Mother: Vintage Songs and Photographs of the One Who’s Always True,” a new combination double-CD/book of photographs that’s hopelessly devoted to Her.


Compiled by the respected Atlanta-based archival reissue label/publisher Dust-to-Digital, “Never a Pal Like Mother” features 40 songs from the early 20th century culled from vintage 78 rpm recordings.

There’s Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon’s “Mama Don’t Allow It,” a sturdy 1933 brass-and-plucked bass workout in which the saucy Jaxon outlines all the degenerate activities that are prohibited from the house, including hillbilly singin’, gutbucket music, “easy ridin’,” “rough stuff” and boogie woogie. (Much of this kind of debauchery, by the way, finds purchase within the collection.) Or Washington Phillips’ heartbreaking 1927 piano ballad “Mother’s Last Words to Her Son.” The Rev. J.M. Gates’ “You Mother Heart Breakers,” a sermon-cum-chant from 1929, conveys the ways in which a daughter can disappoint her mother: “Why you are out late at night, young ladies, riding in the midnight hour, honking on the highway, in dark corners?” There’s music from artists nearly lost to time, with names like the Georgia Yellow Hammers, Milton Brown and his Musical Brownies, and the Virginia Possum Tamers, as well as more prominent acts such as the Golden Gate Quartet, the Pilgrim Travelers, the Carter Family and Bob Wills.

The selections are housed within a book of vintage photographs of mothers and their children, along with essays from collector Sarah Bryan and singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash. “The songs in this collection wail, grieve, rock, celebrate and worship mother, and occasionally acknowledge her failings,” writes Cash. “We can feel our American past here: how we lived, how hard we worked, how we were a nation of travelers and wanderers, how we held fast to our faith, how great our losses were, how quickly death came, and how often our mothers were the rock and the lighthouse, the home inside our hearts.”

Dust-to-Digital is best known for its landmark 2003 eight-CD collection, “Goodbye, Babylon,” which gathers early spirituals from around the world to create one of the most sacred and spiritually rich releases of the last decade. (Paul Simon recently sampled a piece from “Goodbye, Babylon,” Gates’ “Getting Ready for Christmas Day,” on his new release, “So Beautiful or So What.”)

Label founder Lance Ledbetter says that much of the music on “Never a Pal Like Mother” was drawn from material left off of that earlier release. “‘Goodbye, Babylon’ was such a broad take on gospel music, and a lot of these specialized themes we held off on [including],” he says. “There’s so many great mother songs in the sacred repertoire that we were able to pull from it.” He conferred with musicologists to augment the collection with bawdier secular songs as well, and combined, the compilation travels to places in the heart that words and Hallmark cards could barely touch.


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-- Randall Roberts