Collecting The Treasury

Rounder's recent releases of field recordings on CD
CD 1500 - A Treasury of Library of Congress Field Recordings
CD 1700 - The Alan Lomax Collection Sampler

Southern Journey:

CD 1701 - Vol. 1 - The American South: Blues, ballads, hymns, reels, shouts, chanteys and work songs
CD 1702 - Vol. 2 - Ballads And Breakdowns: Songs from the Southern Mountains
CD 1703 - Vol. 3 - 61 Highway Mississippi: Delta Country Blues, Spirituals, Work Songs and Dance Music
CD 1704 - Vol. 4 - Brethren We Meet Again: Southern White Spirituals
CD 1705 - Vol. 5 - Bad Man Ballads: Songs of Outlaws and Desperadoes
CD 1706 - Vol. 6 - Sheep, Sheep, Don'tcha Know The Road: Southern Music, Sacred and Sinful
CD 1707 - Vol. 7 - Ozark Frontier: Ballads and old-timey music from Arkansas
CD 1708 - Vol. 8 - Velvet Voices: Eastern Shores Choirs, Quartets, and Colonial Era Music

Prison Songs: Historical Recordings From Parchman Farm 1947-48

CD 1714 - Vol. 1 - Murderous Home
CD 1715 - Vol. 2 - Don'tcha Hear Poor Mother Calling

Caribbean Voyage:

CD 1716 - Vol. 1 (?) - Brown Girl In The Ring: Game and pass play songs, sung by children and adults from Trinidad, Tobago, Dominica, St. Lucia, Anguilla, Nevis and Carriacou


CD 1718 - Vol. 1 (?) - Fred McDowell: The First Recordings

Suddenly, a great number of field recordings of folk music are on the market featuring sides supervised by Alan Lomax, or his father John A. Lomax.  Over the years, Rounder have been active in producing LPs and CDs that epitomise the wealth of Lomax and other recordings held at the Library of Congress Archive of Folk Culture.  This purpose is now extended to a CD series that will examine every phase of Alan Lomax's career as a field researcher, since he first assisted his father in 1933, until the last decade.

In parallel, the company has just released Stephen Wade's 'Treasury' of Archive recordings, originally issued by the Library from 1942 (first 78-rpm albums) to the 1970s.  This aptly titled anthology is indeed a treasure trove of high quality accomplishment collected between 1934 and 1946, mostly whilst the Lomaxes were associated with the Archive - Alan left its employ in 1942.  The Treasury serves, therefore, as an enticing introduction to the Lomax series, as well as an eminently enjoyable selection of prime performances by high calibre North American folk musicians.  With judgement disciplined by prior availability in the Library's releases, Wade's objective differs from that of the Alan Lomax Collection.  It represents, however, a fascinating related sample from the first phase of Alan's career and provides a special introduction to the former project.  In this period, John A. Lomax was Honorary Curator of the Library of Congress' folk song Archive and Alan became Assistant in Charge in 1937.  Other folk song recordists whose skills are demonstrated in the Wade compilation include Herbert Halpert, George Pullen Jackson, and Pete Seeger.

At this juncture it is useful to identify the diverse genres from which Stephen Wade has picked his anthology, for these give some idea of the Library's endeavours in the folk music field during the 1930s.  There are African American spirituals, blues, game and work songs; a French ballad (from Louisiana); Anglo-American ballads; dance/fiddle tunes; religious songs (including Sacred Harp); a mining ballad; a cowboy song; a Civil War ballad; a Native American lullaby, and a religious piece from the same heritage.  They are chosen from 16 of the Library's LPs, the greatest proportion from 'Afro-American Blues And Game Songs' (AFS L4).  In all, 14 States are represented, although this includes the conurbation of New York City, and the administrative area of Washington DC.

Of the 30 selections, nine were made in Mississippi, and embrace celebrated black sacred or secular performances.  Particularly impressive are: Bozie Sturdivant's Ain't no Grave can Hold my Body Down, David 'Honeyboy' Edwards' guitar showcase Worried Life Blues, the extraordinary contrapuntal Lead Me to the Rock by Wash Dennis and Charlie Sims, Diamond Joe by Charlie Butler, and two children's game songs by Ora Dell Graham - Pullin' the Skiff and Shortenin' Bread.  There are also Mississippi old-timey pieces by white musicians, namely W. E. Claunch, whose Grub Springs is a tour-de-force fiddle solo, and Thaddeus C. Willingham with a sterling banjo rendition of Roll on the Ground.  The other black Mississippians are Christine and Katherine Shipp, performing a children's game song Sea Lion Woman, and the blind harmonica player, Turner Junior Johnson - When I Lay my Burden Down.

There are more famous Library of Congress pieces by black artists, notably Kelly Pace's original Rock Island Line (Arkansas), Smith Casey's scintillating guitar solo East Texas Rag, and Lost John by harmonica virtuoso Sonny Terry (Georgia/New York City).  The Nashville Washboard Band's sprightly Soldier's Joy (Tennessee) is here too, as is Jimmy Strothers' proselytising Keep Away from the Blood-Strained Banders (Virginia).  Vera Hall's sombre Another Man Done Gone (Alabama), completes this aspect of the anthology.

From the cowboy repertoire, a further Texas contribution is Goodbye, Old Paint, by Jess Morris (a white cattle practitioner).  Jess learned the song from an ex-slave named Charlie Willis.  With extraordinary word imagery, the Morris rendition is embellished by impassioned fiddle accompaniment.  Wade Ward's banjo version of Old Joe Clark, and two ballads based on British sources were also recorded in Virginia - Pretty Polly by E. C. Ball (vocal, with expert guitar picking); and the evocative One Morning in May by Texas Gladden.  Northfield, from Alabama, is a sample of white Sacred Harp singing.  Based on the tonic sol-fa, this choral a capella rendering is led by the veteran Paine Denson.

Each of the other states is represented by performance from white or Native American people.  The former include exceptional Kentucky fiddle playing by W. H. Stepp (Bonaparte's Retreat) and Luther Strong (Glory in the Meetinghouse); the French ballad Sept ans sur mer by the Hoffpauir sisters (Elita, Mary and Ella), recorded in New Iberia, Louisiana; and Pete Steel's famous banjo solo Coal Creek March (Ohio).  The Avondale Disaster, a ballad recalling a terrible Pennsylvania mining accident in 1869, was obtained from John J. Quinn by George Korson in the same state; while Woodie Guthrie's version of The Gypsy Davy (an old British ballad) and the famous American judge, Learned Hand - singing The Iron Merrimac (about a Civil War naval encounter) - were recorded by Alan Lomax in Washington D.C.  Native American contributions, collected by Willard Rhodes, are by Margaret (presumably in her teens) with a haunting Creek Lullaby (Kansas), and Belo Cozad (aged 75 years) whose reflective Kiowa Story of the Flute (Oklahoma) is the final element in this compilation.

In addition to a very high standard of remastering (despite flawed aluminium and acetate discs), Stephen Wade has included supplementary material from precious originals where appropriate: thus, Ora Dell Graham, finishes her rendering of Pullin' the Skiff with an extra verse, following sensitive questioning by John A. Lomax.  Lomax senior is also responsible for the accolade "that's perfect", at the end of Vera Hall's superlative Another Man Done Gone.  A further innovation, is Sonny Terry's spoken introduction to his first recording of Lost John.  As well as adding to listening pleasure, these extensions greatly enhance understanding of the performances and the way in which they were collected.

A musician noted for his banjo playing, Stephen Wade is a meticulous researcher.  His notes, therefore, comprise an introductory essay that places performances in historical context, as well as details of each track, artist biographical sketches (with much new information) and discussion of repertoire.  The handsome CD booklet is embellished by appropriate images of musicians from the archive of the Farm Security Administration, who were photographed during the same period that the recordings were made.

The function of The Alan Lomax Collection Sampler is to introduce listeners to a much broader based concept, encompassing folk song collecting in the USA, Europe and elsewhere in the world.  There are parallels and less obvious links, however, with the Wade's Treasury.  Most notable, of course, is the orientation of research by Alan Lomax.  Thus, elements of Library of Congress field practice run as a common thread through both anthologies.  The Treasury exemplifies three pragmatic lines of enquiry - exploration of genre, individualistic adaptation by performers, and regional variation.  This applies to both sacred and secular themes, the latter being generally recreational - adult dances, children's game songs.  Other secular music includes ballads, work songs and display pieces.  Religious repertoire is expressed both in communal and individual presentation, usually conditioned by denominational practice.  It can be seen that geographical distinction is a long-standing line of investigation in the work of Alan Lomax.  His, however, is a more romantically based approach, with enticing flights of fancy alongside the desire to inform.  Above all, the 'Collection Sampler' is designed to show this overarching aspect of his work.  The anthology is divided into ten sub sections, each of which will form a division of the complete series of 100 or more CDs envisaged when the project is completed.

(Details of the range of the complete series can be found in our News pages.  I have decided to excise the remainder of this section, since it has been covered in the Sampler Review, published earlier in MT.

Readers will have seen examples here of the splendid photographs in the Sampler booklet, and plenty more are to be found in the booklets accompanying the individual CDs presently reviewed.  There will always be those among us who are unable to resist the urge to gild the lily, or paint the faces of angels, but it is surely unforgivable when such people are given the run of the Design Department - as seems to have been the case here.  Virtually all the photos in the present booklets have had lines of songs plastered across them in bold type - rendering many completely indecipherable.  The single example opposite is more than sufficient.  What on earth they thought they might achieve by this process completely escapes me. - Ed.)

There will be 13 CDs devoted exclusively to the field recording expedition Alan Lomax undertook through the South in 1959 with the British singer and researcher Shirley Collins, and his supplementary visit to Georgia and Virginia with his daughter Anna in 1960.  At the time of writing, eight are available plus one disc in the portraits series that explores the earliest recorded repertoire of Fred McDowell (1959).  The collection will stand alongside a lavishly produced four CD package entitled 'Sounds Of The South: A Musical Journey From The Georgia Sea Islands To The Mississippi Delta' available in the Atlantic catalogue (7 82496-2).  Like the Atlantic set, Rounder's 'Southern Journey' CDs originate in as series of long playing records - in this instance released by Prestige in the United States.  Selections for each element in the collection have been refined and otherwise rationalised and this makes them sufficiently different to qualify as new productions.  They also include previously unissued sides.  The underlying concept behind their presentation, however, remains one that informed the original LPs, and this applies likewise to the Atlantic release.  Briefly, the scheme demonstrates regional traits in respective sacred and secular traditions and contrasts black and white music.  In all, eight southern states were visited: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.  Excluding Kentucky and North Carolina, on the evidence available, black music was collected in all other states; white performers were not recorded in, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee.  Music from each state is represented in both the Atlantic and Rounder releases.

Rounder's Southern Journey begins with a sampler - 'Voices From The American South' - that covers every aspect of the 1959-60 field trips.  The divide between sacred and secular repertoire is evident in the CD subtitle, which defines genres.  Despite this, however, there are no blues.  Ballads include two from the English and Scottish repertoire play Sound Clip(The Lass Of Loch Royale - Child 76, and Three Nights Drunk - Child 274), and three from the United States (Po' Lazarus - Laws I 12, The Diver Boy - Laws M 34 and Pretty Polly (sound clip) - Laws P 36 B).  The latter is another version by Estil C. Ball, recorded some eighteen years after the representation in Wade's Treasury; Alabama Sacred Harp singing is also featured.  Black performances range from Mississippi sacred pieces (Fred McDowell, Mrs Sidney Carter), to a secular prison work song (Ed Lewis), and Sid Hemphill's quill playing.  There is also a church service fragment, a black a capella choir, plus sacred and secular repertoire from Virginia quartets and the special music of the Georgia Sea Island Singers.

The next two CDs in the series are devoted to particular regions and styles.  'Ballads And Breakdowns' is a Virginia collection, with string bands, and balladeers to the fore.  Bonaparte's Retreat is here in a fiddle version by Norman Edmonds, and Wade Ward contributes another banjo version of Old Joe Clark - once again demonstrating links with Stephan Wade's anthology and the era Alan Lomax worked for the Library of Congress.  In the same context, there are three unaccompanied songs by Texas Gladden.  Black repertoire played by white Appalachian mountain musicians includes Glen Stoneman's string band rendering of John Henry (Laws I 1), and Hobart Smith's guitar accompanied Graveyard Blues.  The presentation is an edited amalgamation of two LPs in the Prestige series with six previously unissued performances.

Based on another Prestige album, '61 Highway Mississippi' is split between sessions held in departments of the Mississippi State Penitentiary - Lambert, and the main establishment at Parchman - and the hill country around Senatobia, Como, and Tyro, to the north of the state.  Generally, it was work songs and hollers that were obtained in the prison farms, but one extraordinary bluesman, John Dudley, was discovered at the Dairy Camp, Parchman.  Dudley is reported to have recorded four guitar-accompanied pieces, three of which have now been released.  His Cool Water Blues (Atlantic) comes from a tradition consolidated by a Crystal Springs school of musicians associated with Tommy Johnson in the 1920s.  In turn, Johnson was connected with another group of bluesmen, from Drew, Mississippi, epitomised by the work of Charlie Patton.  play Sound Clip In this CD, a previously unissued Dudley performance, Clarksdale Mill Blues, indicates he too had knowledge of Patton's work.  Dudley's Po' Boy Blues (sound clip), is a version of one of the earliest of knife or bottleneck style guitar accompanied proto-blues to have been collected in the field in Mississippi (by Howard Odum, c. 1905).  Again, this emphasises the themes of geographical and historical context that runs through the collecting work of Alan Lomax and his father.

A further example is the musicians centred on Senatobia, Como, and Tyro.  Some originally came to Alan's notice via a tip from the Clarksdale street musician Turner Junior Johnson (whose When I Lay my Burden Down is in Wade's 'Treasury'), when he recorded for him in 1942.  Johnson told Lomax about Sid Hemphill, the blind multi-instrumentalist from Senatobia.  Hemphill, whose 1942 work is featured in the Collection Sampler, was still alive in 1959 and several of his performances are in southern journey compilations.  This applies likewise to his daughters, Mrs Sidney Carter, and Rosalie/Rose Hill/Hemphill.  Near by, in Como, were the fife and drum band of Ed and Lonnie Young and string unit of Miles and Bob Pratcher (Hemphill was skilled at playing in either setting).  Local too, was Fred McDowell, the singer guitarist whose blues and spirituals are showcased in 'Fred McDowell: The First Recordings', as well as in this and other anthologies.  Black church music was recorded in Tyro.  In toto, here is a rich seam that sustains the high standard of music encountered in the series.

The 'Southern White Spirituals' featured in Volume 4, cover recordings from four states: Alabama (Sacred Harp performances), Arkansas (religious repertoire from Ollie Gilbert and Almeda Riddle), Kentucky (Baptist Church services - hymns, testimonies and prayers), and Virginia.  The latter features hymns by the Smith family, Preston (a Holiness preacher), Hobart, and their sister (Texas Gladden) and sacred bluegrass from the Mountain Ramblers (My Lord Keeps a Record).  Smith also performs See that my Grave is Kept Clean, a song long associated with the famous Texas bluesman Blind Lemon Jefferson.  Ruby Vass presents a version of The Old Gospel Ship.  The collection amalgamates an equivalent Prestige LP with material subsequently released in a similar compilation by New World Records.

Cross-cultural comparison is a special theme of 'Bad Man Ballads' the next CD in the series.  Augmented from a Prestige album, this strictly secular collection is devoted to ballads that appear in black or white traditions.  English-speaking balladry in the United States is classified in two ways.  Firstly, ancient traditional songs that have sustained their character in transmission from the British Isles (catalogued and categorised by Francis James Child).  Secondly, traditional songs originating in the United States, either indigenously, or adapted to local situations from printed sources such as British Broadsides (catalogued and categorised by G. Malcolm Laws, Jr.).  The CD material was collected in five states: Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia.  There are seven black and ten white performances.

Three Laws black ballads (category letter I) are featured.  They concern U.S. black 'hero' characters:

(a) John Henry - solo vocal by Ed Lewis (Mississippi), with axe chopping - (I 1);
(b) Lazarus (by Henry Morrison, Georgia)/P'o Lazarus (by the Bright Light Quartet, Virginia)/P'o Lazarus (James Carter - lead vocal, with chorus and axe chopping, Mississippi) - (I 12);
(c) Railroad Bill - by Hobart Smith, the white Virginian songster - (I 13).
Each of the other black performances might best be called proto-ballads.  Like the specified pieces by Lewis and Carter, they were recorded in the State Penitentiary at Parchman, Mississippi.  Lewis performs Tom Devil, accompanied by a chorus and axes; Johnny Lee Moore contributes Early in the Morning, with chorus, and hoes; and the solo holler Dangerous Blues is sung by Floyd Batts.

The classified white ballads fall into two Laws categories:

(a) Native:

E - 'Ballads About Criminals And Outlaws': Jesse James, by Almeda Riddle, Arkansas (E 1); Cole Younger, by Oscar Gilbert, Arkansas (E 3); Claude Allen, by Hobart Smith, Virginia (E 6);
F - 'Murder Ballads': The Lawson Murder, by Spencer Moore, Virginia (F 35).
(b) British Broadsides:
L - 'Ballads Of Crime And Criminals': Willie Brennan, by Neil Morris, Arkansas (L 7); P - 'Ballads Of Unfaithful Lovers': Pretty Polly, by Estil C. Ball, Virginia (P 36 B).
Columbus Stockade, by the J. E. Mainer Band (North Carolina), and Hawkins County Jail, by Hobart Smith (Virginia), have no Laws distinction.

E. C. Ball's Pretty Polly is the same performance as in Southern Journey, volume 1.  Collection of such ballads, as Stephen Wade has demonstrated, was in the compass of the Lomaxes during their tenure at the Library of Congress and these recordings extend that purpose.  Once more, repertoire and historical and geographical context are a particular feature of this eminently entertaining anthology.

A dichotomy between Christian secular and sacred that informs the cultural history of United States is another longstanding theme in Lomax folk music recording.  This is emphasised by the sixth CD in the series, which juxtaposes contrasting attitudes in the context of America's Protestant heritage.  A similar thematic volume formed part of the earlier Prestige series.  Performances by black and white folk musicians add to the comparative perspective.  On this basis, there are eight sacred presentations, four that can be classified as sacred or secular, and four purely secular.

(a) Three of the four secular pieces are by black musicians.  Two are blues, Willie Jones' version of John Lee Hooker's You Got Dimples in Your Jaw, and Fred McDowell's You Done Tol' Everybody.  Miles & Bob Pratcher play Buttermilk, an effervescent string band rendering of the barrelhouse piece Take Me BackDrunken Hiccups, featuring Hobart Smith's fiddle playing, is the white contribution.

(b) The songs that can be either sacred or secular, depending on the point of view of the listener, are all by white musicians.  Neil Morris sings two humorous compositions, The Juice of the Forbidden Fruit, and Corn Dodgers, Almeda Riddle performs a sombre version of a Child ballad, The House Carpenter (Child 243), and Hobart Smith a sprightly Devil's Dream on the fiddle.

(c) The preponderance of sacred music is by black musicians.  It ranges from a nineteenth-century spiritual (Sheep, Sheep, by Bessie Jones & The Georgia Sea Island Singers) to more recent compositions such as The Prayer Wheel (by the Bright Light Quartet).  Vera Hall Ward recites the tale of the birth of Christ - No Room at the Inn - followed by a song commemorating the same event - Last Month of the Year.  White religious music is represented by Estil C. Ball's Tribulations, and the hymn Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah, performed by a Kentucky Baptist church congregation.

'Ozark Frontier' (Volume 7) is another specific regional collection; this time devoted to performers living in the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas and again is augmented from an earlier LP.  Secular in theme, it contains many ballads, several identified in the canons of Child and Laws.  Most of the singers have featured in the series already: play Sound ClipOllie Gilbert, Neil Morris, and the incomparable balladeer Almeda Riddle.  Unusually, Sally Goodin (sound clip) features Charlie Everidge playing a mouth bow, with Morris singing the verses - like Sid Hemphill's quill playing, this ancient instrument is an additional feature of recordings in the series.  Bookmiller (Carlos) Shannon performs four compositions on the banjo, and there are three showcases for the fiddle playing of Absie Morrison.  Excepting the standard dance pieces - Sally Goodin, the Eighth of January, and Cotton-Eyed Joe (the latter two played by Shannon) - most of this material remains exclusively white in repertoire.  Musically austere, this collection probably represents the least instantly attractive CD in the series; its depth of character, however, becomes apparent after considered audition.

The converse can be said for 'Velvet Voices' (Volume 8), which is devoted to black performance.  The majority of the pieces are Christian in nature, but this Virginia based anthology also contains secular offerings and cross-cultural presentations.  The latter include attempts to recreate 'Colonial-era black fife and drum and banjo orchestras' which come from a film made in 1960 for the Colonial Williamsburg Museum, for which Lomax was a consultant.  A Bahamian singer, drummer and instrument maker, Nat Rhamings, plays to the accompaniment of Hobart Smith's banjo and Ed Young's fife (representing respectively Virginia and Mississippi traditions).  They perform two engaging secular pieces: I Got a Home (an instrumental, with syncopated hand clapping) and Walk on the Bay, in which Rhamings sings lead vocal to a chorus provided by the Georgia Sea Island Singers.  play Sound ClipYoung also performs a version of the proto blues Joe Turner (sound clip), first as a fife solo then as a vocal, both with Hobart Smith on banjo.  Similarly, Smith accompanies a recording of The Titanic (Laws d I 27) by the Georgia Sea Island Singers with lead vocal by Bessie Jones.  Willis Proctor leads the same group in a spirited ring shout Walk Billy Abbott - the latter recording was made on St. Simon's Island, Georgia, where the Singers were based.

The remaining selections are divided between four Virginia vocal groups: the Belleville A Capella Choir, the Bright Light Quartet, the Peerless Four, and the Silver Leaf Quartet.  There is also one solo performance by Charles Barnett, an eighty-four year old from Weems, Virginia who beats out a rhythm on a metal washtub while singing the spiritual Run to Jesus for Refuge, Run Right Along.  The Bright Light Quartet were a group of Menhaden fishermen, also based at Weems, whose repertoire mixed religious and secular songs; the latter chanteys, used to accompany their work, are based on songs found otherwise in black prison farms.  The group's sacred repertoire was maintained by Sunday church performances, sometimes as far north as New York City.  This professionalism was true also for the Silver Leaf Quartet, who made commercial recordings for OKeh between 1928 and 1931 and whose ancestry can be traced to 1919.  Likewise, the Belleville A Capella Choir is a well-rehearsed older unit that tours extensively.  They belong to the Church of God and Saints, an evangelical organisation based at Belleville, just outside Portsmouth, Virginia.  John the Revelator emphasises their skill in unaccompanied blending of voices.  A more up-to-date 'gospel' singing approach, with instrumental backing is found in the style of the Peerless Four [sic].  This eight man aggregation were all in their twenties at the time of these four rhythmically exciting church service performances - How Could I Live, Noah, Trouble my Way and a rocking I'm a Soldier in the Army of the Lord.  Recordings by Barnett, Rhamings and Young are released for the first time.  Virtually all the other tracks in the CD appeared on an equivalent LP issued by Prestige.

The Lomaxes recorded similar religious groups in settings such as black churches - for example Bozie Sturdivant's peerless Ain't no Grave can Hold my Body Down (Clarksdale, Mississippi, 1942) in Wade's Treasury.  Skilled quartet singing had also been encountered by the Lomaxes among black convicts in prison farms from the time of their earliest recording experiences: witness Kelly Pace's stylish Rock Island Line (Gould, Arkansas, 1934), likewise in the Wade collection.  This is true also for the religious and work song repertoire obtained at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, which they first visited in August 1933 using their original portable disc recording machine.  Stephen Wade's Treasury has one religious vocal harmony piece cut on a subsequent trip at the same location: Lead me to the Rock by Wash Dennis and Charlie Sims (1936), and a secular holler Diamond Joe by Charlie Butler was also recorded at Parchman (1937).  The black music uncovered by the Lomaxes in southern penitentiaries was to form a core component in all their subsequent field work.  It was natural, therefore, for Alan to use stereo equipment at the Mississippi institution in 1959 when he was collecting folk music for the southern journey series.  His most celebrated recordings there, however, were made in late 1947 and early 1948 and are released in 'Prison Songs'; the special segment of the Collection devoted to these important sessions.

The majority of the sides in the initial volume were first released on LP by Nixa in Britain under the title 'Murderers' Home' (1957) and created a considerable impression among aficionados of blues, jazz and folk music in general.  Taken from a well-played acetate copy, the sound quality of the Nixa album left much to be desired.  Retitled 'Murderous Home', slightly reduced in content, but much improved in fidelity (from original paper tapes) the Rounder CD takes its place as the ultimate compilation of this type of music.  The performers are generally identified by their prison nicknames, thus lead singers are: '22', Alex, 'BB', 'CB', 'Bama', 'Jimpson', and 'Tangle Eye' - a convict with the latter monicker having been recorded by the Lomaxes at the same institution as early as 1933.  From one specific location, here are examples of a black ballad (Stackerlee - Laws I 15), individualitisc blues, hollers, monologues (about prison, and prison farm singing), and individual and group work songs.  The latter are generally used to accompany work with axes, but some were recorded to the rhythm of hoeing.  Of the work songs, similar titles to Old Dollar Mamie and Early in the Mornin' (both by a group led by '22') were recorded in 1959.  Prison Blues (by Alex) has harmonica support while Tangle Eye Blues is a solo vocal, demonstrating links between the holler and development of blues proper.  This connection is supported also by Bama's Levee Camp Holler, and a similar solo piece Whoa Buck by 'CB'.  Two guitar-accompanied blues by Bob and Leory, which graced the Nixa compilation, are missing from the Rounder edition, and the solo vocal Katy Left Memphis by 'Tangle Eye' (axe cutting) has been transferred to the second CD.

The latter - 'Don'tcha Hear Poor Mother Calling' - contains similar material, almost all of which has never before been released, and is expanded to include folk tales and toasts.  Here '22', 'Bama', and 'Tangle Eye' are joined by other lead singers/performers: '88', 'Bull', 'Curry Childress', 'Holly Dew', 'Dobie Red', George Johnson, and Percy Wilson.  Dobie Red had recorded alongside Wash Dennis and Charlie Sims when John A. Lomax visited the prison farm in 1936.  'Tangle Eye' excepted, however, none of the other musicians appear in the pre-war discographical record.  John Henry (Laws I 1) is sung by a group led by '22' working with hoes.  play Sound ClipThis contrasts with the solo axe-work version of the ballad by Ed Lewis in 'Bad Man Ballads' (Southern Journey, volume 5).  'Bama' contributes a solo I'm Goin' Home (sound clip), the chorus of which is related to the vocal harmony performance by Ervin Webb and group that appears in the 'Collection Sampler' and volume 3 of Southern Journey.  In a recorded interview in the latter Webb claims the piece as his own, exemplifying the oral character of folk culture.  'Bama' also comments on the legend of 'John Henry' and relates an associated fantasy The Strongest Man I Ever Saw.  Similarly, he takes part in lie swapping sessions (in the form of insults, or toasts) with 'Dobie Red', '22' and 'Bull'.  'Curry Childress' is a harmonica player.  He performs Disability Boogie Woogie solo and accompanies Fox Chase, an unusual cante fable, chanted by C. B. Banks.  Don'tcha Hear Poor Mother Calling by 'Holly Dew', 'Bull' and group (a work song with hoes or axes), and O' Berta by 'Bull' and group (with similar work-orientated accompaniment) are familiar from a related Lomax collection 'Blues In The Mississippi Night' (Rykodisc RCD 90155).  Leory Miller and a group hoeing, at Parchman, recorded a version of the latter song as Berta Berta in 1959 ('61 Highway Mississippi').

The unadulterated passion with which these inmates sing, as they work, is key to the high status accorded the performances.  The songs show continuity with the past (represented in field discs deposited at the Library of Congress) and, as has been noted, later sides in the Southern Journey series.  'Murderous Home' and 'Don'tcha Hear Poor Mother Calling', however, are without doubt the best and most rewarding selections of such music in the catalogue of any record company.

Children's game songs were another abiding interest of the Lomaxes.  One of the earliest sessions John A. Lomax supervised in this style was by a group of children recorded at Shreveport, Louisiana, in October 1934, just after Kelly Pace's Rock Island Line had been collected.  Lomax senior was also responsible for the two examples cut by Ora Dell Graham, at Drew, Mississippi in 1940 (Wade's Treasury).  Similarly, Alan pursued this aspect of black folk repertoire, and in 1959 collected several songs from Mattie Gardner, Ida Mae Towns, Jesse Lee Pratcher, (and Mary Gardner), one of which, Little Sally Water is included in Southern Journey, volume 3.  This kind of repertoire was also investigated when Alan visited the Caribbean on his field trip in 1962 and is the subject of the first CD in the Caribbean Voyage segment of the Collection.

'Brown Girl In The Ring: Game and pass play songs, sung by children and adults from Trinidad, Tobago, Dominica, St. Lucia, Anguilla, Nevis and Carriacou', is companion to a book of the same title.  Published in New York by Pantheon (1997), the latter has not been seen for this review.  The CD, however, gives a good idea of the scope of the printed treatment and covers seven of the 12 islands from which black folk music was obtained during the 'Voyage'.  The CD is divided into four parts, and these reflect history, geographical circumstances and their effect on the traditional music of particular islands.  Part I deals with 'Game Songs from Trinidad and Tobago' (in English, French and Spanish Creole) - there are 19 examples from Trinidad and two from Tobago.  Part II covers 'Pass Play and Game Songs from Dominica and St. Lucia' (in English and French Creole) - respectively 16 and six songs, Part III with 'Game Songs from Anguilla and Nevis' (in English) - separately seven and six performances.  Six songs in English and French Creole are represented in the 'Pass Play Songs from Carriacou' (Part IV).  Adults use pass play songs in wake ceremonies and those in this collection reflect a variety of sources.  This is true also for the game songs - the ubiquitous Little Sally Walker was obtained from a group of girls in Nevis.  Here is not the place to assess the full impact of this well appointed 62-track anthology, except to call attention to the high quality of music and performance - a statement that stands the test for all CDs so far released in the Alan Lomax Collection.

'Fred McDowell: The First Recordings', as has been noted, is the initial release in the 'Portraits' component of this sequence.  Together with Forest City Joe, whom Lomax and Shirley Collins encountered a few weeks later in Hughes, Arkansas (Atlantic 7 82496-2), McDowell was the outstanding blues discovery of the 1959 field trip.  Alongside Lead Belly, Son House and Muddy Waters, Fred was one of the most significant black American singer/guitarists to perform before the microphone for Alan Lomax.  Unlike Joe, McDowell had never made previous commercial recordings.  His repertoire at his first sessions, therefore, is doubly important, in that it provides a measure of the music he was playing at this time, as well as elements of choice exercised by Lomax.  Fred was recorded over a period of five days late in September 1959, in the community of Como, where he lived.  Alas, the four dazzling titles from these sessions released by Atlantic are unavailable to the Alan Lomax Collection.  One alternative take of an Atlantic performance - Shake 'em on Down - is here, however, alongside a varied selection of blues and spirituals, many never before released and only two of which repeat items in the Southern Journey series.

McDowell mixed blues lyrics standardised by commercial release with more traditional elements, each stamped with the strength his own character, and accomplished slide guitar playing.  Shake 'em on Down was consolidated by commercial recordings in the 1930s, beginning with Bukka Whites's rendering in 1937 (Vocalion 03711).  play Sound ClipThere are other stanzas and verses here that have equivalence in earlier releases.  Going Down the River (sound clip) - actually 'Going to Brownsville and take that right hand road' - is first heard in Sleepy John Estes' 1929 recording The Girl I Love, she got Long Curly Hair (Victor V38549), on which Fred's song is based.  Good Morning Little Schoolgirl is familiar from the first session for Bluebird by harmonica player John Lee 'Sonny Boy' Williamson (B7059, cut in 1937). Highway 61 and Worried Mind are also well known themes from pre-war commercial and field recordings; the latter represented in Wade's Treasury by David Edwards' Worried Life Blues (recorded by Alan in Clarksdale, Mississippi in 1942).  Fred's religious pieces, especially as an accompanist, were a feature of initial releases from these sessions by Atlantic and Prestige.  They are supplemented in the Portraits volume by new songs and performances.  Examples include Woke Up This Morning with my Mind on Jesus, accompaniment to When the Train Comes Along by Mrs Sidney Carter and Rose Hemphill, or the duet with his wife on Keep your Lamps Trimmed and Burning.  In all, this is an engaging and almost comprehensive picture of the earliest recordings by the last highly significant blues singer/guitarist to have been discovered by Alan Lomax in his field work, which is testimony enough for the quality of the release.

Packaging of the CDs includes appropriate photographs, where such exist, and notes to each item, with lyric transcripts and brief discussion of the songs, or music performed.  Lyrics are perhaps the least satisfactory element in presentation, for accuracy sometimes leaves much to be desired.  Some other aspects of production and accreditation might also be faulted, but for a project of such complexity, and where paperwork is undoubtedly very complex, a few inconsistencies are to be expected.  In the Southern Journey sequence (plus Fred McDowell's opus) discographical particulars are provided, a novel and very welcome feature.  There are no lyrics in the handsome booklet that accompanies The Alan Lomax Collection Sampler.   Serving a different purpose, this special presentation contains essays about each segment of the project, a reprint of an article about Lomax's collecting experiences (HiFi/Stereo Review, May 1960), and brief notes for each track, all of which put the series in context.

Prospective purchasers should not defer exploring unfamiliar territory; there is music of great worth encoded in the pits and lands of all of these plastic discs.   Every CD so far released in The Alan Lomax Collection achieves the expectation of musical enjoyment and educative purpose that is its aim.   This is a most auspicious start to a comprehensive series of 'ethnic' and 'popular' music from many parts of the world.   It is placed in full focus by the superlative Treasury of Library of Congress Field Recordings produced by Stephen Wade.   The Library of Congress, Wade, the dedicated team preparing the Lomax Collection, and Rounder Records deserve accolade for their tenacity and investment in these labours of love.

John Cowley - 10.3.98

The two Prison Songs CDs, Brown Girl in the Ring (which my co-editor describes as the best record to have been released this year), A Treasury of Library of Congress Field Recordings and The Alan Lomax Collection Sampler have all now been given full detailed reviews by Fred McCormick in these pages. - Ed.

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