Preserving America's musical heritage
Almost 40 years ago, veteran folk music chronicler Alan Lomax (son of John Lomax, also a prolific recorder of folk music) set out with a portable tape recorder to capture America's indigenous musics before they disappeared. He had spent time abroad recording in England and Ireland, but had returned home to try to preserve America's native music before it was swallowed up by television and the interstate highways. Over a two-year period (1959-60), he recorded 80 hours of folk music in the South, where much of America's folk styles gospel, blues and bluegrass, to name just three had been born and still resided.
Rounder Records is reissuing many of Lomax's recordings in a series of themed collections; the first, with half of its CDs out now, is titled "Southern Journey." Six discs are out now, with another seven yet to come.
Sold individually, the six discs cover both black and white traditions, and span the South both geographically and culturally.
Some of the more interesting recordings came about when Lomax paired white and black musicians together for a TV project on colonial times; he rolled tape during rehearsal, and the results show how closely related white and black rural musics are. But perhaps the highlights come during the spoken introductions to some of the songs where Lomax asks the musicians to talk about themselves.
The first volume, "Voices From The American South Blues, Ballads, Hymns, Reels, Shouts, Chanteys And Work Songs," is kind of an overview over the entire Southern Journey series, with tracks representing the other discs. It is a good place to start exploring this collection. As with all the discs, the accompanying booklet contains vast amounts of biographical information of Lomax and the individual performers many of them lost to history but for these recordings.
© Copyright Jim Trageser
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