Sprigs Of Time: 78s From The EMI Archive is yet another truly odd and interesting compilation of tracks from Honest John's Records. The third in a series of releases that explore some of the earliest 78s in the EMI Hayes Archive (a collection of over 150 thousand that reside in a temperature-controlled vault), it collects thirty tracks recorded between the years of 1903 and 1957, and literally spans the globe in terms of source countries and styles.
The first two volumes of the series explored West African and Iraqi music from the 1920s, and it's that sort of overarching connective feel that's lacking here. In other words, it's completely all over the map, and although that variety is exhilarating at times, it's frustrating at others. After a sound-check sort of introduction track, things get going in earnest with "Lagu Kebiar," a thoroughly beautiful piece from Gamelan Gong (Bali, 1928) that plays out with a vigorous fury that makes the instrument sound like it's going to collapse at times while quieter passages provide short delicate breaths. From there out, everything and anything comes through the speakers, including a great little pop song called "Tembele" from Jean Mpia (Belgian Congo, 1954) followed up with a short segment of people laughing (recording in Madras in 1906) and a street singer from 1908 in London where the compilation gets its title.
In most places, there doesn't seem to be a lot of rhyme or reason for where tracks fall, and so the alternately clanging and quirky "The Moon/Two Green Lotus In A Bitter Prison" by the Cantonese Opera (Hong Kong, roughly 1950s) is followed up directly by a somewhat dirging big-band piece titled "Things Are Worse In Russia" by Sam Mayo (London, 1922). There's also some killer Cuban music (including one that features an uncredited Ruben Gonzalez), and songs from Iraq, Morocco, India, Algeria, Uganda, Spain, and even the United States. Not quite as cohesive as some past releases from the label (or even as much as releases like Victrola Favorites by Dust To Digital), this will nonetheless appeal to lovers of old time music that is completely outside the mainstream set.