In the late 1940s, avant-garde filmmaker, artist, and mystic Harry Smith scoured his massive collection of 78 rpm blues, country, cajun, jazz, and gospel records to compile what would become one of the most important collections of recorded music in history. The Anthology of American Folk Music, a six-album set with extensive liner notes was released in 1952 by Folkways Records. It was essentially a bootleg and the complete licensing of all the tracks wouldn't be worked out until 1997 when Smithsonian Folkways Recordings reissued the material on CD. The original LPs were kindling for the mid-century folk and blues revival and brought artists like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Mississippi John Hurt, The Memphis Jug Band (above), and countless other pioneering roots musicians to the ears of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Dave Van Ronk, Jerry Garcia and so many more.
"We all knew every word of every song on it, including the ones we hated," Van Ronk has said.
The 1997 CD box set is fantastic, but now, after decades out of print, the vinyl has been reissued in four limited volumes by Mississippi Records, a glorious tiny record label (and store!) in Portland, Oregon. If you dig wax (200 gram, baby!), this is an absolutely essential addition to your collection.
I purchased mine directly from Mississippi Records but they may be out of stock already. If so, try your local independent record shop or perhaps one of the Amazon third party sellers. And if you really search, you might still locate one of the complete sets that comes in a wood slipcase!
This week, I was fortunate to catch a gorgeous acoustic set by Andy Cabic of Vetiver and Eric Johnson of Fruit Bats. They played their own songs, of course, but also some lovely covers of singer/songwriters they both admired and that I had never heard of. I took careful notes and when I got home, I lost myself in the music of one Ted Lucas. In the late 1960s and 1970s, Lucas was a busy Detroit musician who had his own bands but also played sitar and other instruments on Motown albums by The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, and The Supremes. (Here's a 1974 radio interview with Lucas.) In 1975, Lucas self-released his only solo LP, nicknamed The OM Album. Lucas died in 1992 and The OM Album was reissued a few years ago by Yoga Records. It's absolutely stunning and I can't wait until the new vinyl edition, promised by Yoga for later this year, hits stores. Until then, you can still buy the CD and digital download: Ted Lucas (Yoga Records)
And if you aren't hip to the stunning sounds of Andy Cabic/Vetiver or Eric Johnson/Fruit Bats, check 'em out pronto!
My favorite indie folk band The Head & The Heart has a new LP, titled "Let's Be Still," due out October 15 on Sub Pop records. Above is the first single, "Shake," and it's a beaut. I can't wait to see them perform on Saturday at my birthday party that some people are erroneously referring to as the Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival. (via Jordan Kurland)
Folkstreams is an incredible online archive of documentary films about American folk and roots music and culture. Above, an excerpt from "Born For Hard Luck," a 1976 film by Tom Davenport about harmonica player and comedian Arthur "Peg Leg Sam" Jackson." (A clip of this film appears in the French movie Amelie.) Below are just a few of the hundreds of films you can watch for free, right now. Shame about my deadlines this week.
• “Adirondack Minstrel.” Hudson, N.Y.: Bowling Green Films, 1977. (19 min.)
Folkstreams: The Best of American Folk Films (Thanks, Bob Pescovitz!)
[Jack Ofield film on woodsman/musician Lawrence Older]
• “Land Where the Blues Began.” New York: Cultural Equity, 1990. (58 min.)
[Alan Lomax film on Mississippi blues, from his “American Patchwork Series”; parallels his book of the same title]
• “The Amish, A People of Preservation.” Harleysville, Pa.: Heritage Productions. (52 min.)
[John Ruth film on Amish life, with Hostettler as consultant—and some surreptitiously shot footage]
• “The Sacred Vision of Howard Finster.” New York: Museum of American Folk Art, 1995. (30 min.)
[Interviews with Finster talking about his art, visions, and religious beliefs, with scenes of his creations, his preaching, and his home]
Here's a fine NPR interview with Byrds guitarist, copyfighter, and folkie legend Roger McGuinn. The interview covers a lot of ground, but is centered on his folk-preservation site the Folk Den
, a repository of folk recordings, music, lyrics, history and conversation. It's a phone-in and the callers are great ("I perform folk music about science and skepticism" -- hoo-ah!).
Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame singer and guitarist Roger McGuinn, best known as the front man for The Byrds, is considered a pioneer of folk rock. The band blended traditional folk songs with a rock beat and scored major hits in the 1960's including "Turn, Turn, Turn" and "Mr. Tambourine Man."
The Byrds disbanded in 1973, and McGuinn pursued a solo career, performing acoustically and returning to his folk roots.
In 1995, he created the Folk Den Project, an online series to store traditional folk songs that he records once a month. NPR's Neal Conan talks with McGuinn about The Byrds and his solo career, and about his work preserving folk music.
The Byrds' Roger McGuinn Works To Preserve Folk
[Video Link at Vimeo]
Boing Boing pal Richard Metzger produced a series of live artist showcases at SXSW 2012. One of the artists who was new to me from these sessions is Chelsea Wolfe. Richard describes her work:
Los Angeles-based Chelsea Wolfe's intense, artful folk dirges bring to mind a slightly morbid young Joni Mitchell had she grown up listening to Black Metal bands instead of the Carter Family (Still, when asked about her influences Wolfe simply replied “Hank Williams”).
Just stunning. Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, LastFM. Material in the video above is from her 2011 release, Apokalypsis. Can't wait to catch one of her live shows.
American folklorist, ethnomusicologist, and traditional music collector Alan Lomax envisioned a “global jukebox” with which to share and analyze recordings he gathered over decades of fieldwork. This week, that dream comes to life. From an article in today's New York Times:
A decade after his death technology has finally caught up to Lomax’s imagination. Just as he dreamed, his vast archive — some 5,000 hours of sound recordings, 400,000 feet of film, 3,000 videotapes, 5,000 photographs and piles of manuscripts, much of it tucked away in forgotten or inaccessible corners — is being digitized so that the collection can be accessed online. About 17,000 music tracks will be available for free streaming by the end of February, and later some of that music may be for sale as CDs or digital downloads.
On Tuesday, to commemorate what would have been Lomax’s 97th birthday, the Global Jukebox label is releasing “The Alan Lomax Collection From the American Folklife Center,” a digital download sampler of 16 field recordings from different locales and stages of Lomax’s career.
“As an archivist you kind of think like Johnny Appleseed,” said Don Fleming, a musician and record producer who is executive director of the Association for Cultural Equity and involved in the project. “You ask yourself, ‘How do I get digital copies of this everywhere?’ ”
The archive will be made available at the Global Jukebox portion of The Association For Cultural Equity website. Anna Lomax Wood, daughter of Alan Lomax, is the organization's president. They do all sorts of amazing work!