Wednesday, January 20, 2010

ROW: Deep River of Song: Alabama (Rounder)

Level accusations against the Lomaxes as cultural opportunists and paternalistic stewards if you like, but the music they gathered in copious quantities during their many field recording excursions across the globe stands largely immune to any invective. The fine folks at Rounder put their finances in line with their faith in the father and son team, reissuing dozens of collections as part of the voluminous Lomax Collection series. Sadly, it’s seems as if many of the titles are swiftly going the way of the Dodo. This disc, a 32-track sampling of the musical denizens of Sumter County, Alabama between 1934 and 1940, is fairly on par with its brethren. Par in that it contains some of the most amazing rural-gleaned folk music put to shellac record. The crux of the set is ten cuts by one Vera Ward Hall, whose secular-suffused-with-sacred songs will haunt you ‘til your dying day. Singers Mary McDonald and Harriet McClintock almost match her in emotional potency, the former adding stomping clog rhythms to her impassioned verse-work while the latter goes the whistler’s route on an infant’s lullaby. Also on the roll call: The button accordion fireworks of Blind Jesse Harris and the train sounds-improvisations of Richard Amerson’s harmonica. Most of the pieces abstain from instrumentation and all carry the crackle and hiss of age. Even familiar staples like “Hog Hunt” and “What is the Soul of a Man?” have singular stylistic sheens about them. This stuff is inarguably antique in age, but damn if it doesn’t ever get old.

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