“Tell It to Me” was released by Germany’s Bear Family Records, an internationally acclaimed record company specializing in painstakingly curated documentary releases of historical American music. The album was produced in conjunction with the 90th anniversary celebration in October 2019, marking the influential recording sessions conducted in downtown Johnson City by Columbia Records producer Frank Walker during October 1928 and October 1929.
Featuring performances of regional music by a range of musicians from across Appalachia, the Johnson City Sessions were first collected in 2013 by Olson, a professor in ETSU’s Department of Appalachian Studies, and British scholar Tony Russell for the Bear Family Records boxed set “Can You Sing or Play Old-Time Music?: The Johnson City Sessions, 1928-1929.” That set, which included a hardcover book and 100 recordings on four CDs, received critical praise from reviewers internationally, but was not widely heard locally or regionally.
Bringing that music story to a broader audience, “Tell It to Me” compiled 26 highlights from the original boxed set onto one CD and included Olson’s newly written liner notes assessing the impacts of the Johnson City Sessions recordings upon historical and contemporary roots music. In a March 2020 review on the Bluegrass Today website, critic Lee Zimmerman declared that “Tell It to Me” is “as revelatory and enlightening as it is engaging. Consider it an essential addition to every bluegrass enthusiast’s collection.”
In part for his pioneering recording work in Johnson City and in other Southern locations, Frank Walker was posthumously awarded the prestigious Grammy Trustees Award in 2020.
For the past two decades the Independent Music Awards organization, based in New Jersey, has annually tasked music industry judges to determine the best international albums and songs released by independent record labels internationally across the full spectrum of music genres.
Two previous albums produced by Olson have received Independent Music Award commendation: “On Top of Old Smoky: New Old-Time Smoky Mountain Music” was named Best Tribute Album for 2016, and “Big Bend Killing: The Appalachian Ballad Tradition” was selected Best Compilation Album for 2018. Both of the latter albums, featuring recent recordings of traditional music by various artists, were released by the Great Smoky Mountains Association to raise funds for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.