Various Artists: Lomax Collection: Southern Journey Vol. 1: Voices from the South

Southern Journey Vol. 1:
Voices from the South
The Alan Lomax Collection

Various Artists

Rounder CD 1701
Rounder Records
One Camp Street
Cambridge, MA 02140
Mail to: info@rounder.com

A review written for the Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange
by Virginia Wagner
(anvilrcrds@aol.com)

VOICES FROM THE SOUTH is the first of thirteen volumes in The Alan Lomax Collection called SOUTHERN JOURNEY, all of which was recorded in 1959 and 1960 in various locations throughout the American South. Re-mastered from the original field recordings, the audio quality is warm and remarkably clear, an amazing feat considering many of the tracks were cut outdoors, on front porches, and in living rooms.

Alan Lomax had a gift for putting people at ease in front of the microphone - all of the performances are free of self-consciousness; it's apparent that the artists enjoyed setting down their songs for posterity. You can hear it in the laughter and occasional chit-chat that have remained intact.

The opening track, O Day, sung by Bessie Jones, is a joyful, hand-clapping gospel tune supported by choir-like vocal harmonies. According to the liner notes, O Day was sung in churches and worship halls after all-night meetings to announce the coming dawn. It is followed by a fiddle tune called Katy Went Fishing With Her Hook and Line, played by Hobart Smith (1897-1965), a master musician. He can be heard throughout the series playing the guitar, banjo, and fiddle. Mr. Smith introduced several of the songs he performed, telling us where he learned them or where the song had originated.

There is a wonderful rendition of Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down, by Mississippi Fred McDowell, a delta bluesman who was (and is) a well respected guitar player. His slide technique is superb. McDowell recorded fifteen albums for a variety of labels in the 1940s and 50s.

The Bright Light Quartet provides us with Po' Lazarus and Sweet Roseanne, with barbershop harmonies that are "tighter than two coats of paint." They're really fun to listen to.

Another interesting cut is Dollar Mamie, recorded in September, 1959 at Lambert Penitentiary, Mississippi. The sound of pickaxes hitting the ground acts as a percussion section as the leader calls the first line and the rest of the men answer.

There are several a cappella ballads including Mama's Gonna Buy, recorded by Vera Ward Hall in Alabama, and the stark, lovely Poor Wayfaring Stranger by Almeda Riddle, a folklorist and collector of songs in her own right. The Diver Boy and The Lass of Loch Royale clearly show an English/Scottish influence while other songs like Pharoah, sung by Sidney Carter, lean heavily toward African roots.

Over all, this CD is a pleasure to listen to. The musical styles represented are as different as the artists who played and sang these songs so many summers ago. Blues, folk, gospel, and bluegrass are all represented here.

The booklet that accompanies the CD is well-written, informative and loaded with photographs. Words to the songs are included. It was nice following along as I listened.

Rounder Records is to be commended for reissuing this fine series. They certainly aren't doing it to support their bottom line because none of this music is commercially viable. SOUTHERN JOURNEY is for those of us who have a deep appreciation for the roots of today's popular music.

Edited by Roberta B. Schwartz (rschwartz@oeb.harvard.edu)

Copyright 1999, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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