You may have never heard of Estil Cortez Ball and his wife, Orna, but people living among the Blue Ridge Mountains between the 1950s and mid-1970s are likely familiar with their brand of what Root Hog or Die’s Nathan Salsburg describes as “not just hymns or country gospel — traditional, borrowed, or of their own devising – but play-party songs, blues, ballads, self-composed comic numbers and E.C.’s sui generis guitar instrumentals.”
Ball died back in 1978, but the legacy and influence of his Friendly Gospel Singers has lived on among fans of Appalachian music. Now the Tompkins Square Label is releasing Face A Frowning World: An E.C. Ball Memorial Album, an album featuring traditional country gospel songs and a few Ball originals sung by New Mexico’s The Handsome Family, fiddler/singer Rayna Gellert, ex-Mekons drummer (also: Sadies, Old 97’s collaborator) Jon Langford, Catherine Irwin, Jolie Holland, and—my favorite living songwriter—Bonnie “Prince” Billy.
Nathan Salsburg curated, performed, and wrote an eloquent intro to the album, which will benefit the Blue Ridge Institute, a non-profit started in the 1970s “to document, interpret, and present the folk heritage of the Blue Ridge region.”
I highly suggest you head thataway for Salsburg’s writeup, descriptive track list, and free MP3 downloads for most of the original recordings.