Saturday, September 10, 2011

276. Anthology of American Folk music. A folk-load of tunes

Album: Anthology of American Folk Music
Artist: Various
Year: 1952
Genre: Folk


Volume One: The Ballads

  1. Dick Justice – Henry Lee
  2. Nelstone's Hawaiians – Fatal Flower Garden
  3. Clarence Ashley – The House Carpenter
  4. Coley Jones – Drunkard's Special
  5. Bill And Belle Reed – Old Lady And The Devil
  6. Buell Kazee – The Butcher's Boy
  7. Buell Kazee – The Wagoner's Lad
  8. Chubby Parker And His Old Time Banjo – King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O
  9. Uncle Eck Dunford – Old Shoes And Leggings
  10. Richard Burnett And Leonard Rutherford – Willie Moore
  11. Buster Carter & Preston Young – A Lazy Farmer Boy
  12. Carolina Tar Heels, The – Peg And Awl
  13. G.B. Grayson – Ommie Wise
  14. Kelly Harrell And Virginia String Band, The – My Name Is John Johanna
  15. Edward L. Crain – Bandit Cole Younger
  16. Kelly Harrell And Virginia String Band, The – Charles Giteau
  17. Carter Family, The – John Hardy Was A Desperate Little Man
  18. Williamson Brothers, The And Curry (2) – Gonna Die With My Hammer In My Hand
  19. Frank Hutchison – Stackalee
  20. Charlie Poole And The North Carolina Ramblers – White House Blues
  21. Mississippi John Hurt – Frankie
  22. William And Versey Smith – When That Great Ship Went Down
  23. Carter Family, The – Engine 143
  24. Furry Lewis – Kassie Jones
  25. Bently Boys, The – Down On Penny's Farm
  26. Masked Marvel, The – Mississippi Boweavil Blues
  27. Carolina Tar Heels, The – Got The Farm Land Blues

Volume Two: Social Music

  1. Uncle Bunt Stephens – Sail Away Lady
  2. Jilson Setters – The Wild Wagoner
  3. Prince Albert Hunt's Texas Ramblers – Wake Up Jacob
  4. Delma Lachney And Blind Uncle Gaspard – La Danseuse
  5. Andrew And Jim Baxter – Georgia Stomp
  6. Eck Robertson And Family – Brilliance Medley
  7. Hoyt "Floyd" Ming And His Pep-Steppers – Indian War Whoop
  8. Henry Thomas – Old Country Stomp
  9. Jim Jackson (2) – Old Dog Blue
  10. Columbus Fruge – Saut Crapaud
  11. Joseph Falcon – Acadian One-Step
  12. Breaux Freres – Home Sweet Home
  13. Cincinnati Jug Band, The – Newport Blues
  14. Frank Cloutier And Victoria Cafe Orchestra, The – Moonshiner's Dance Part One
  15. Rev. J. M. Gates – You Must Be Born Again
  16. Rev. J. M. Gates – Oh Death Where Is Thy Sting
  17. Alabama Sacred Harp Singers – Rocky Road
  18. Alabama Sacred Harp Singers – Present Joys
  19. Middle Georgia Singing Convention No. 1 – This Song Of Love
  20. Rev. Sister Mary Nelson – Judgement
  21. Memphis Sanctified Singers – He Got Better Things For You
  22. Elders McIntorsh And Edwards' Sanctified Singers – Since I Laid My Burden Down
  23. Rev. Moses Mason* – John The Baptist
  24. Bascom Lamar Lunsford – Dry Bones
  25. Blind Willie Johnson – John The Revelator
  26. Carter Family, The – Little Moses
  27. Ernest Phipps And His Holiness Singers* – Shine On Me
  28. Rev. F.W. McGhee – Fifty Miles Of Elbow Room
  29. Rev. D.C. Rice And His Sanctified Congregation – In The Battlefield For My Lord

Volume Three: Songs

  1. Clarence Ashley – The Coo Coo Bird
  2. Buell Kazee – East Virginia
  3. Cannon's Jug Stompers – Minglewood Blues
  4. Didier Herbert – I Woke Up One Morning In May
  5. Richard "Rabbit" Brown – James Alley Blues
  6. Dock Boggs – Sugar Baby
  7. Bascom Lamar Lunsford – I Wish I Was A Mole In The Ground
  8. Ernest And Hattie Stoneman – Mountaineer's Courtship
  9. Stoneman Family, The – The Spanish Merchant's Daughter
  10. Memphis Jug Band – Bob Lee Junior Blues
  11. Carter Family, The – Single Girl, Married Girl
  12. Cleoma Breaux And Joseph Falcon – La Vieux Soulard Et Sa Femme
  13. Blind Lemon Jefferson – Rabbit Foot Blues
  14. Sleepy John Estes And Yank Rachell – Expressman Blues
  15. Ramblin' Thomas – Poor Boy Blues
  16. Cannon's Jug Stompers – Feather Bed
  17. Dock Boggs – Country Blues
  18. Julius Daniels – 99 Year Blues
  19. Blind Lemon Jefferson – Prison Cell Blues
  20. Blind Lemon Jefferson – See That My Grave Is Kept Clean
  21. Cleoma Breaux And Ophy Breaux And Joseph Falcon – C'Est Si Triste Sans Lui
  22. Uncle Dave Macon – Way Down The Old Plank Road
  23. Uncle Dave Macon – Buddy Won't You Roll Down The Line
  24. Mississippi John Hurt – Spike Driver Blues
  25. Memphis Jug Band – K.C. Moan
  26. J.P. Nestor – Train On The Island
  27. Ken Maynard – The Lone Star Trail
  28. Henry Thomas – Fishing Blues
There are some albums on this countdown that have been a breeze to review. Not long ago I heard a new Beach Boys album which was so short I could knock it off four times in the course of a day's commuting. One day is often all it takes to go from total ignorance of an album's existence to being able to hum most of the tunes. But the American Anthology of Folk music was a much bigger investment of time. Six CD's full of folk tunes. A week of dedicating listening on the train wasn't even enough to hear it all the way through once. In anticipation of the size of this task I started listening to the anthology months ago. It's fair to suggest I'm happy to see the back of it now.

I was fascinated to hear The Anthology mainly because it's impossible to read about Bob Dylan without this coming up. Bob was basically obsessed with the Anthology and according to some reports even broke into a friend's apartment to steal a copy. Along with the works of Woody Guthrie, these discs (or the original 12 sides of vinyl) formed the basis for Dylan's musical heritage. This is what he listened to, studied and learned from. These discs gave us Bob so we owe them a debt of thanks- but do they hold up today?

Most people will find the Anthology a pretty hard slog. The tracks are one take, low-fi recordings of performers crowding around a lone microphone. The Anthology wasn't compiled from the original studio masters but from old records that archivist Harry Smith managed to track down. Far from being a polished collection of well crafted studio productions these are badly preserved snapshots of the only time these performers set foot in the studio. It's rough and raw in every sense of the term. It's also folk. Not folk/rock or any other variant, it's the music of the people which is ironic because today not too many people actually want to hear it.

Make no mistake about it folk can get pretty demanding after a while. The recording process hasn't done a lot of the voices any favours and many of the singers come across as thin, reedy and nasal. The lone singers often come off the best but the larger groups (usually someone named Reverend with a bunch of backing singers) suffer from a mono mix that makes it them sound more like sentient air-conditioners than human beings. The subject matter can also become pretty draining after a while. Suffering plays a large part in the folk singer's life and they're determined to share the experience with us in every possible way. The definite highlights of the collection are the blues tracks. Blind Lemon Jefferson might have an extremely silly name (how many lemons aren't blind?) but he was a true bluesman in every sense of the word. 

The Anthology of American music is an important release. It's a vital collection of songs that might otherwise be lost to us and it was instrumental in turning a young Robert Zimmerman into Bob Dylan. An edited highlights package might make a pleasant listen but unless you're a real folk enthusiast the entire package is probably best avoided. Listening to all six discs in a row might be enough to make you write a blues song of your own.

Influenced by: Live music. Nobody on this disc was learning songs from their CD players.
Influenced: Bob.

Highlight: The Blues tracks
Lowlight: The length.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "let me just say that listening to the anthology of american folk music was a big contributor to my decision in switching my college major from sculpture to ethnomusicology."

-I'm guessing it doesn't really matter which of those two he finally graduated in, he probably ended up in the same career path. 

So is six discs of folk more than you can bear or not nearly enough? Let me know below.

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