Treasury of Library of Congress Field Recordings (Rounder
Undoubtedly, the very best introduction to this material...and
the next thing anyone should (immediately) purchase, after
having fallen in love w/Harry Smiths collection...and,
for those (such as myself) that sadly cant afford
same - this serves equally well as a route into the
old weird America...and its cheap, to boot!
For once, with this material, scholarship takes a back
seat to great music - and, the result is a stunning affirmation
of the key contention of generations of folklorists...that
many of the very best never made professional careers,
despite their undoubted talents - due the vagaries of
temperament &/or more pressing life matters...
Some of this - such as the stunningly beautiful Creek
Lullaby - has no real parallel in my listening experience.
Others tap into deep traditions sometimes well (and sometimes
poorly) represented in other sources...but all are - without
exception - great art...and your life will
be that much poorer if you never get to hear this unparalleled
Now...a trio of more detailed appreciations:
Texas Gladdens One Morning in May is
the - perfect - introduction to traditional unaccompanied
white balladry. The ancestor of Streets of Laredo,
it tells the story of a fallen woman dying
of syphilis...and is heartbreaking in its formal reserve...the
nasal edge to her voice cutting - like a knife - into
the souls of listeners.
Jess Morriss Goodbye, Old Paint is
nigh-on unique...as the document of what a (very) old
white Texas fiddler/vocalist learnt off an old black fiddler
in his youth. Estimating dates in such things is very
chancy...but, I (deeply) suspect that this one carries
us back to well before the Civil War - and, aside from
which, its purely riveting as art...simultaneously
raucous & heartbreaking, it reminds us of all the
great music that we (simply) cant access - and,
implicitly, demands more of ourselves w/in our own creations...
Finally...Charlie Butlers Diamond Joe
is - perhaps - the most purely beautiful holler ever recorded.
I suspect that he was well aware of then current blues
& gospel vocal stylings, and sought to incorporate
what he felt of same into this piece. And, yet, it is
still deeply archaic in spirit, seeped in a much more
raw vocal style that Butler (miraculously) manages to
transfigure into a deeply gentle art.
None of these three ever made a buck out of their music...and
none have, as yet, had their complete recordings made
accessible to we plebs...but, please, hear this - and
help call for same...because, we can always do with (much)
more of such greatness...
John Henry Calvinist