The Return of Ragtime

It’s impossible to write about ragtime without mentioning Scott Joplin, who would be proud to know the art form that he popularized is alive and well today. In fact, the 21st century has a resurgence in an abundance of classic American music. The return of ragtime, led by Terry Waldo’s excellent full album and the Hokum High Rollers with their own recent album shows that old art is still relevant. It might not be the kind of music that keep the dance halls humming, but for some of us the relaxation and nostalgic of music from before our time can be endearing and enjoyable.

Terry Waldo’s The Soul of Ragtime is exquisitely named. The album surely captures the soul of the genre. From the opening gospel classic “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” to the patriotic classic “Stars and Stripes Forever” and all the way to the sentimental “Memories of You” it’s evident that Waldo is a student of ragtime. The variety of songs put in exceptional style is truly stunning. It’s easy to hear from this album how ragtime is related to jazz with its improvisational runs and clever phrasing. There’s a lot to love about this album. My favorite of the stand alone rags is the “Paragon Rag” but the best track on the album is definitely “Just a Closer Walk With Thee.” That said, give the whole album a go over lunch or when reading. It’s worth your time, especially if you like historic music. The 1920s have never felt so real.

If Terry Waldo’s style is polished and clean, the Hokum High Rollers are the band from the speakeasy down the street breaking all the prohibition rules. Their performance is stellar, but their style is much more “gang vocals and a bottle of booze” than clean jazz piano runs. Even the title the Get Rich Quick EP is an indication of the direction of the album. It’s about drugs and drinking and cheating. It’s a gritty American jam album. Unsurprisingly this eccentric band hails from New Orleans. Every track has strings and a characteristic gruff vocal quality so raw you can almost smell Bourbon Street. It’s hard to pick a favorite on an album that’s just great from start to finish. It’s evident that this band performs regularly. If I was backed into a corner, I’d take “Ragged but Right” as my favorite, but really it’s a can’t-miss album.

You all need to head out and get both of these incredible albums. They’re a bit off the standard path here, but they’re both classic American music that is really exceptional. Give them a spin, get your toes tapping, maybe even take a spin on the dancefloor. Whether a refined flavor or a gritty southern swing, the return of ragtime is a sweet, sweet experience.

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