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CSUMC Friends Newsletter, Spring 2004, Vol. 2, No. 1 Become a member of the CSUMC Friends CSUMC home page Contact us Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures Home Page

Documentary Discs: Swissconsin and Midwest Ramblin' reissued

Downhome Dairyland cow logo
From the mid-1980s through the early 1990s the Wisconsin Folk Museum, founded by Phil Martin, produced an award-winning series of LP and cassette recordings documenting various musical traditions from Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest. Two of these titles, Swissconsin and Midwest Ramblin’ are available once again, this time as CDs, each accompanied by a booklet with photographs, biographies, and annotations. Likewise the Down Home Dairyland Recordings, derived from two score half-hour radio programs produced during the same era, are a newly minted CD set.

Swissconsin, originally produced in 1988, presents Wisconsin Swiss musicians from in and around Monroe, New Glarus, and Madison where virtuoso yodeling, alphorn melodies, alpine dance bands, button accordion tunes, and choral singing have thrived from the 1840s to the present. Eleven of the seventeen tracks were recorded especially for this production, including the final recordings of Rudy Burkhalter who barnstormed through Swiss America with the legendary Moser Brothers in the 1930s. The remaining pieces, ranging from the 1920s to the 1960s, feature the Mosers, Louis Alder and His Swiss Yodelers, and the Swiss Family Fraunfelder who all made 78 rpm recordings for national labels, as well as tracks by the Edelweiss Stars and Rudy Burkhalter’s Dairyman first waxed for Sauk City’s Cuca Records. The result is a rare sonic glimpse of continuity and change within an enduring ethnic tradition.

Bill C. Malone, country music’s leading historian, began chapter seven of his recent Don't Get Above Your Raisin’ by observing: “I had to move to Madison, Wisconsin, to find a survival of the kind of stage shows that once characterized country music. For several decades a wonderful trio of musicians named the Goose Island Ramblers have delighted Midwestern audiences with a marvelous blend of solid musicianship, a wide variety of songs, and zany stage humor.” From the 1960s through the turn of the twenty-first century, Madison’s Goose Island Ramblers favored a uniquely Upper Midwestern string band/squeezebox or “polkabilly” fusion of old time Anglo-American and European immigrant sounds that drew on the richly varied experiences of members Wendy Whitford, George Gilbertsen, and Bruce Bollerud. Midwest Ramblin’, originally produced in 1991, features twenty-six performances including yodels, comic dialect songs like “There’s No Norwegians in Dickeyville,” old time waltzes, polkas, and schottisches, topical ballads, novelty numbers like “Black Mountain Rag” rendered on the electric toiler plunger, and a good deal more.

The 200-plus programs in the “Down Home Dairyland” series on Wisconsin Public Radio embraced the traditional and ethnic music of Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest, with the first forty installments richly chronicling that scene through a combination of field and commercial recordings, interviews with performers, and commentary by the producers, folklorists Jim Leary and Rick March. Now available on twenty cassettes, or on twenty CDs with cues for individual tracks, the Down Home Dairyland Recordings distill a definitive presentation of regional traditional music, from Ojibwe drums to Norwegian fiddles, from polka to salsa, from African American gospel choirs to southeast Asian rock bands. In the words of Nick Spitzer, producer of the syndicated American Routes radio series, “This astounding compendium is the quickest way to get a comprehensive grasp of the roots music of a major American region.”

The Down Home Dairyland Recordings are accompanied by Down Home Dairyland: A Listener’s Guide, by Leary and March, which provides an essay matching each of forty programs, along with photographs and complete references. Leary’s book Yodeling in Dairyland: A History of Swiss Music in Wisconsin similarly serves as a companion to Swissconsin. All titles are available through the University of Wisconsin Press.

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Last updated: August 11, 2003

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