Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still

The Warner Collection, Volume 1 - Various performers

Appleseed APR CD 1035

1. House Carpenter - Rebecca King Jones, Crabtree Creek (near Raleigh), NC, 1940;  2. Tom Dooley - Frank Proffitt, Beech Mountain, NC, 1940;  3. Single Girl - F Proffitt, 1940;  4. Freight Train Blues - Richard O Hamilton, b. W. VA. NYC, 1941;  6. I Went to See My Molly - Lee Monroe Presnell, Beech Mt., NC, 1951;  7. River of Life - Buna Vista ("Buny") Hicks, Beech Mt., NC, with daughters Hattie and Rosa Presnell, 1951;  8. Babes in the Wood - Dorothy Howard, b. Texas. Cooperstown, NY, 1949;  9. I Dropped the Baby - Dorothy Howard, 1949;  10. Solas Market - Edith Perrin, b. West Indies. NYC, 1941;  11. Wakes in the Morning - Edith Perrin, 1941;  12. Where Did You Get That Hat? Edith Perrin, 1941;  13. Mail Day Blues - J B Sutton, Elizabeth City, NC, 1941;  14. Nobody Knows - Sue Thomas, Elizabeth City, NC, 1941;  15. Gilgarrah Mountain - Lena Bourne Fish, East Jaffrey, NH, 1941;  16. Somebody's Waiting for Me - Charles K 'Tink' Tillett, Wanchese, NC, 1940;  17. Bony on the Isle of St Helena - Charles Tillett, 1940;  18. Come Love Come - Eleazar Tillett, Wanchese, NC, 1951;  19. Hey, Get Along Josie - Tom Smith, b. Cuyandotte, W VA. NYC, 1952;  20. Days of '49 - 'Yankee' John Galusha, Minerva, NY, 1941;  21. Springfield Mountain - John Galusha, 1941;  23. The Jolly Thresher - Eleazar Tillett, 1951;  24. Chimbley Sweeper - Rebecca King Jones, Crabtree Creek, NC, 1940;  26. Barbara Allen - Rebecca King Jones. 1940;  27. Mohawk Chant and War Cry - Louis Solomon, Hogansburg, NY, 1940;  28. Old Woman in the Garden - Frank Proffitt, Beech Mountain, NC, 1960;  29. James Campbell - Frank Proffitt, 1960;  31. Lowland Low - Frank Proffitt, 1959;  32. There Was an Old Woman All Skin and Bones - Anon., Poplar Bluffs, Iowa (?), 1941;  33. Two Little Blackbirds - Elda Blackwood, b. Jamaica, W. I. NYC, 1947;  34. Uncle Ned - Elda Blackwood, 1947;  35. Tommy - Martha Ann Midgette, Mann's Harbor, NC, 1941;  36. Hold My Hand, Lord Jesus - Sue Thomas, Elizabeth City, NC, 1941;  37. Jolly Roving Tar - Lena Bourne Fish, East Jaffrey.NH, 1940;  38. Castle by the Sea - Lena Bourne Fish, 1940;  39. Deep Elm Blues - Richard O Hamilton, b. W. VA. NYC, 1941;  40. Farewell to Old Bedford - Lee Monroe Presnell. Beech Mt., NC, 1951;  41. Sometimes I'm in this Country - Lee Munroe Presnell, 1951;  42. Top of Mount Zion - Buna Vista Hicks, Beech Mt. NC, 1966;  43. A Poor Wayfaring Pilgrim - Linzy Hicks, Beech Mountain, NC, 1966;  44. Been to the East - Steve Meekins, Kitty Hawk, NC, 1940;  45. Lass of Glenshee - John Galusha, Minerva, NY, 1941;  46. Irish 69th - John Galusha, 1941;  47. The Cumberland and the Merrimac - John Galusha, 1941;  48. Lonesome Valley - Curt Mann, Manns Harbor, NC, 1941;  49. Grandmama's Advice - Mrs Wolf, Kentucky, 1941;  50. Kiss Me, Oh, I Like It - Edith Perrin, b. West Indies, NYC, 1941;  51. When I Die - Edith Perrin, 1941;  52. Young Beham - Roby Monroe Hicks, Beech Mt., NC, 1951;  53. Poor Ellen Smith - Homer Cornett, Beech Mt., NC, 1959;  54. Johnson Boys - Frank Proffitt, Beech Mountain, NC, 1959;  55. Little Maggie - Frank Proffitt 1959;  56. Palms of Victory - Linzy Hicks, Beech Mountain, NC, 1966;  57. Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still - Eleazar Tillett and (sister) Martha Etheridge, Wanchese, NC.
This volume and the other (others?) to follow will help to correct a seriously neglected part of the story of the collecting of folk songs in the USA.  The position of Anne and Frank Warner deserves to be up there alongside Cecil Sharp and the Lomaxes.  Why has their importance been neglected?  The Warners were unfunded amateurs and enthusiasts.  They had no Library of Congress, no EFDSS to puff their importance.  Cover pictureThe recordings sampled here recordings they made travelling from their base in New York at weekends and on summer holidays.  Rather than reproduce a biography here, I would refer you to Chris Nickson's article on them in the July 2000 edition of fRoots.  Unlike a lot of other collectors, they seemed to have no preconception of what they were after.  Their informants include a wide range of black, white and native American singers and musicians and the result is a wide eclectic mix of the many strands that make up American folk culture.  What they do have is an uncanny ear for authenticity.  Every one of these recordings sounds like the real thing.

As well as the wide range of songs and tunes, the album contains many clips of them talking to their informants and displaying incredible sensitivity to the people they are working with.  They are every bit as interesting as the songs themselves.  We hear them in turn being deeply respectful, particularly towards their religious singers, gently teasing where it is appropriate and full of interest, thanks and enjoyment at what they are hearing.  We are also given a lesson on how to elicit songs from a singer, when they have little knowledge of the repertoire.  Importantly, I feel we also hear them making arrangements to re-visit their informants.  Clearly they were in the business of building a relationship with these people.  Anne keep journals of all the recording trips, interviewed the women and got family lineage etc from them.  Frank usually broke the ice at a meeting by singing first himself.  They both handled the recordings and took a wide range of photographs, which seem to have a great social historical importance in themselves.  Many of these are reproduced in the excellent 36-page booklet.

If you've looked through the long listing of tracks, you may be thinking, as I did, "56 tracks in 73 minutes.  Are we only being treated to edited highlights of each song?"  It's worth quoting their son Gerret's booklet comments on this "Especially in the early years, a modest budget and primitive recording technology allowed the Warners to collect only song fragments, with Anne writing down the text of the whole song in shorthand.  Presnell pictureLater complete songs and conversations were recorded.  All songs have been included here in the same length as the original field discs and tapes."

Amongst the many recordings, there is some extraordinary stuff.  The difficulty in choosing sound examples is deciding what to leave out.  Even where the performances are not of the very highest quality, there is great interest in the material.

play Sound ClipThe initial impression was of how much there is in common in style and repertoire with what was being recorded in Britain in the same years.  Charles Tillett (sound clip - Bony on the Isle of St Helena) is typical of those who sound particularly English, play Sound Clipwhilst at the other end of this particular spectrum is the very emotional singing of 'Uncle' Lee Monroe Presnell sounding like the archetype of Appalachian song (sound clip - Sometimes I'm in this Country).  The instrumentals also present surprises and delights.  Frank Proffitt's banjo-playing is perhaps the best known, play Sound Clipbut somehow, one does not expect to hear the melodeon in North Carolina, certainly not playing a Harry Lauder item, but that's what 'Tink' Tillett is offering. (sound clip)  play Sound ClipThere's also some fine fiddling from Steve Meekins.  The items that give this reviewer the greatest thrill is hearing those snatches of the great ballads; a great lost heritage surviving in isolated pockets.  Here are two of the loveliest examples; play Sound ClipLena Bourne Fish's Castle by the Sea (sound clip) is a version of Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight and from that richest of veins for collectors, Beech Mountain in North Carolina, Roby Hicks offering Young Beham, a version of Lord Bateman (sound clip).

This exceptional album has broadened and deepened my understanding of the English language traditions of the Eastern seaboard of the USA.  The Warner children maintain the enthusiasm and diligence of their parents in the way the booklet notes are presented; Garret writes a biography of Anne and Frank and Jeff provides all the recording details and song references.  Jeff Davis profiles the singers and there is an eloquent essay by Tim Eriksson of Cordelia's Dad on his reaction to these recordings.  It deserves a long quotation to give its flavour:

If we wear the feathers of an eagle will we acquire her speed?  If we collect field recordings will we attain 'tradition'?  The idea that such things are possible is esoteric magic, and is as old as Adam.  The value in this music, however real it may be, can't exist outside of perception and experience.  It simply can't be preserved or materialized - though the recordings contain it's echo, calling it to mind.  It seems to me the only reliable way to keep something alive is to live it, thinking less about what we have and what we know and more about what we do with it.  I doubt we can keep the past alive any more than it already is, and what we call 'tradition' is probably our most durable storage format.  Everything we live will become something, and everything we set in stone will remain there until it becomes nothing, or someone makes something of it.  In ten million years the English language is likely to have turned into something, though unfamiliar, but all the books we know, along with this CD, are likely to have gone to nothing (though not without making their contribution).  The cool thing is that this music is present, it's perceivable, and it's ready to live if we give it a home.  We can even sing these songs and, with diligence, sing them well.
Plans are afoot for a volume 2 of selections from this archive - concentrating on later recordings, complete songs and longer extracts from the interviews, possibly even a volume 3.  I will be awaiting them with avid interest.

Vic Smith - 28.6.00

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