This is flavored bluegrass, incorporating little tastes of ragtime, blues, and the Holy Modal Rounders thrown in for fun. Most notably, a muted trumpet adds its doleful Cab Callaway sound. Furious fiddling, bedizened banjoing, gallivanting guitaring, mellifluous mandolining, canorous keyboarding, and fulsome four-part harmonizing.
This song “Merchant’s Lunch” tells a purportedly true story about a horrifying eatery in Tennessee. The lead singer’s story is punctuated by comical responses by the background chorus, to which I would apply the term, “suggestion and elaboration.”
I took a walk (he was walkin’ up and down Broadway)
I was hungry (had an eye out for a swell cafe)
I was searchin’ (he was soundin’ for a bite to munch)
I found a spot (he took a table at the Merchants Lunch)
Oh the Merchant’s Lunch, it was an ocean of gloom
It looked like half past midnight in the afternoon
The upshot of the story is that our hero is assaulted by Broadway Brenda, a grisly obese hoyden with green teeth, dishpan hands, and “Krakatoan hips,” who informs him, “It’s the custom here at Merchants Lunch to entertain the queen.” He instantly absquatulates, bounds into his rig, and roars away at 80 miles an hour, never to return.
(He’s a driving fool) the interstate belongs to me
But I’m never going back (into the state of Tennessee)
Along with all its other influences, this song incorporates country swing, drawing on the happy sounds of Bob Wills. The vocal harmonies on this album are perfect, but differ dramatically from the resonant acapellas of someone like Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver. The Ramblers are more old timey, more nasal, more floating, more irreverent, piercing through and sailing out over all the exuberant picking, strumming, blowing, and bowing.
Mike Craver, C.W. Thompson, “Merchant’s Lunch,” Flying Fish Music (BMI) (1977). From Red Clay Ramblers, Merchant’s Lunch, Flying Fish Records, FF055 (1977). Album design – Chris Baker; Photography – Cece Conway.