Smithsonian Folkways SF CD 40106
How much of what we sing today has its roots in religious music? What might that music have sounded like in its religious context? This CD provides some answers to those questions. It is a field recording from 1992 and 1993 of 12 songs sung by members of the Old Regular Baptists' Indian Bottom Association of Lifefork, Kentucky. The leader of each hymn chooses the pitch, and then sings it one line at a time, "lining it out." The rest of the singers join in and repeat each line, although not identically; the repetitions tend to be longer and to elaborate on the leader's line. These recordings were not made in church, because Old Regular Baptists don't allow tape recorders during the service. The last track on the album contains fascinating reflections of various singers about the meaning of the singing in their lives. The accompanying booklet contain informative essays-e.g., the moderator's story of his baptism, a history of the church, commentary on the musical form-in addition to notations on the tracks.
According to the musicologist, these melodies come from the Anglo-American folk tradition, but these are not singalong tunes. The styling will be remotely familiar to those who have sung shape note music; one of the tracks is "On Jordan's Stormy Banks," a shape-note tune (though not recognizable to me as the same song!). However, promoters of the Sacred Harp discouraged lining out by printing the hymns' tunes in vocal parts, and the Old Regular Baptists' songbooks have only words; the tunes have been passed on for 350 years. This album will fascinate those interested in the history of our folk heritage, most broadly construed.
416 Second St., Brooklyn, NY 11215, (718)-783-3741
Cassette and an accompanying booklet
This album is a tribute to women workers of the past. The album takes us through women's labor history from slavery through the cotton mills of the south, organizing miners in Kentucky to the sweatshops in New York City with the "Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire". Bev Grant ends the tape with a plea for something new and better to happen, with "The Ones Who've Gone Before Us."
When Bev sings "Oh, you can't scare me, I'm stickin' to the union" (Union Maid). I believe her! With the drum beat in "Bread and Roses", Bev takes us on a march with the women strikers in the textile mills of Lawrence, Mass. in 1912. The sweetest sound of all is "De Colores", in which Bev invokes the United Farm Workers in Delano, California, led by Caesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.
Bev's new tape has heralded the birth of an exciting new women's anthem, the title song of the album, "We Were There". It is stirring and with Bev's strong, passionate delivery, extremely moving and inspiring. It is a song that I will be singing and teaching to my labor studies classes for many a year to come.
Smithsonian Folkways SF CD 40097 (1997)
Mike Seeger has put together 38 previously unreleased recordings he made of southern musicians and singers. If you know Mike Seeger, you know that anything he is associated with will be highly entertaining and probably educational. The music is wonderful.
The collection begins with Libba Cotten playing "In the Sweet Bye and Bye" and ends with Clarence Ferrill singing and fiddling "I Would Not Live Always." In between are recordings of Vernon and Cleve Sutphin, J. J. Neece, Kilby Snow, Ernest and Hattie Stoneman, Leslie Riddle, Tom Ashley, Pearly "Grandma" Davis, Wade Ward, the Blue Ridge Buddies, Snuffy Jenkins and Ira Dimmery, Arthur Smith with Sam and Kirk McGee, Eck Robertson, Dock Boggs, Sara Carter Bayes and Maybelle Carter, and many more. Most of these are the most important and exciting old-time musicians from the early days of recorded music. Kilby Snow is the autoharp player Mike learned from. Ernest and Hattie Stoneman parented and led the large Stoneman musical clan. Leslie Riddle traveled with A. P. Carter while collecting songs. Wade Ward was one of the great clawhammer banjo players ever recorded. Eck Robertson influenced another school of fiddlers and made one of the very first recordings of American fiddling. If you know these names, you won't need any persuading that you need this recording.
There are also some wonderful photos included in the copious liner notes. I particularly like the one of Fiddling Arthur Smith (who wrote "Blackbery Blossom" and "North Carolina Breakdown" and who influenced a whole generation of long-bow fiddlers) with a very young Jeremy Seeger on his lap and holding his bow as he plays the fiddle.
Rik Palieri's song, "Santa's Elves", which was in the November/December folknik, is getting sung and used very widely. The Vermont folksinger/songwriter performed it at an anti-sweatshop rally in Burlington, Vermont recently. "Santa's Elves" is now being played also on community and college stations nationwide.
Rik comments, "The National Labor Committee has been able to start a massive campaign to get this song out to children across the country. I'm so pleased that they picked up on this song, as it will be very interesting to see if a song can make a difference."
The National Labor Committee-the organization attempting to stop child labor-has adopted the song for its Holiday Season of Conscience campaign to raise awareness about "toys for kids made by kids. "We're trying to bring together the folk community in this campaign. Rik has set a great example in that." Before you set out Christmas shopping, check www.nlcnet.org for more info.
-from a music review column by Pamela Poston
Editor's note: If you haven't read the song "Santa's Elves", check your November/December folknik song pages. It's not your usual Christmas song.
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