Theme Time Radio Hour (Seasons 1-3) – Various Artists (Ace)

These three double-disc sets are based on Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour. No, you can’t hear Dylan intro the songs on these compilations, but there is still plenty to get excited about.

Apparently Dylan chooses a “theme” for each of his programmes, such as “Truth & Lies”, “Goodbye”, “Night”, or “Madness” and then scours the last 100 years of recorded music for songs that fit the theme. The result is an amazing collection of eclectic music reaching back to the 1920s and going up until very recently. The styles of music range from r&b to zydeco to ska to country to jazz to blues to folk, rock and everything in-between.  The artists range from the likes of Fred Astaire to Nirvana.

Each of the three volumes contains 50 tracks, most are fairly obscure although there are a few hits scattered about…Elvis Presley’s Little Sister, Dionne Warwick’s Do You Know The Way To San Jose, The White Stripes’  Seven Nation Army are tucked in amongst such chestnuts as Leroy Carr’s 1930 recording of Papa’s On The Housetop, Red Ingle & The Natural Seven’s Cigareets, Whuskey And Wild, Wild Women (1948) and Cripple Clarence Lofton’s Strut That Thing (1935).

The tracks seem to be randomly arranged. Season 3 starts with a Bobby “Blue” Bland soul scorcher from 1962 into the Western Swing of Cliff Bruner’s 1938 track Bring It On Home To Grandma and then to folkie Jessie Winchester’s Payday, produced in 1970 by The Band’s Robbie Robertson.

The tracks range from the musically sublime…O.V. Wright’s A Nickel And A Nail….to the ridiculous…Jimmie Lunceford’s I’m Nuts About Screwy Music.

The good folks at Ace Records have included a generous booklet with each edition featuring plenty of cool photos and a write-up about each of the tracks. The result is three of the coolest mixtapes you could ever hope for and a mini history of popular (and not so popular) music of the past 100 years.

Marty Duda

Click here to listen to Papa’s On The Housetop by Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell from 1930: