Exceptional talent springs out of the most unlikely places. Thomas Fraser, one of the most fascinating country music discoveries in years, was a lobster fisherman and crofter from Burra Isle, Shetland, which is very remote relative to Europe, let alone to the United States. Fraser, who died in 1978 after an accident at sea, was smitten by music at a young age. After listening to American country music, possibly on U.S. Armed Forces radio, he began to avidly collect 78rpm records, which had to be brought in through special orders. In 1953, shortly after electricity came to the island, Fraser bought himself an expensive Grundig reel-to-reel recorder, and in 1961 he bought himself an expensive Levin guitar. He turned out to be as meticulous a sound technician as he was a performer.
Although Fraser was a very shy man who was reluctant to perform in public, he recorded a couple thousand songs, none of which he wrote; approximately 600 survived. Several years ago the tapes were passed on to Karl Simpson, the singer’s grandson, who seems to have inherited the perfectionist trait from his grandfather. Simpson painstakingly transferred the old fragile tapes to CD format with the help of a BBC technician, and in 2002, 50 years after Fraser began recording himself, and 25 years after his death, Simpson released a 25-song collection called Long Gone Lonesome Blues, which garnered rave reviews in Europe. You And My Old Guitar, the sequel, is another enthralling 25-track collection which, like its predecessor, comes with an attractive booklet and interesting annotation.
Countless singers have tried to emulate the Jimmie Rodgers style, but very few have managed to sound as authentic as Thomas Fraser. The new collection includes eight songs by Rodgers, including three blue yodels: “Cowhand’s Last Ride”, “Yodelling Cowboy” and the title track. Fraser was a first-class yodeler, with a style that was both beautiful and spare, but he also excelled on fiddle, as he demonstrates on two reels. Whether Fraser sang country, blues, old jazz or pop songs, he was never less than totally convincing. You And My Old Guitar also features such well-known tunes as “Abilene”, “Little Old Wine Drinker Me”, “Lovesick Blues” and “Lonesome Town”.
“Tis’ Sweet To Be Remembered”, the album’s penultimate track, has acquired added meaning in view of the singer’s new standing in some circles. There was a heartfelt and playful quality to Fraser’s art; the fact that he sang for the sheer joy of it, untainted by any sense of self-promotion, gives the performances a warm, endearing quality. His small but growing cult following is undoubtedly awaiting further installments.