Various Artists

Folk and Blues: The Roots of Americana

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There is more to the roots of Americana than just folk and blues (gospel, for one, ought to be considered, and even jazz as well), but that quibble aside, this strange little compilation is chock-full of oddities, and if it doesn't necessarily support the claims of its title, any set that attempts to place Texas bluesman Lightnin' Hopkins and the weirdly quaint John Jacob Niles in the same inclusive box has to be at least interesting. While there are some questionable selections here (why on earth pick Glenn Yarbrough's take on the classic outlaw ballad "John Hardy" when there are dozens of better ones, starting with the Carter Family's definitive version), there are also some obscure gems, like Barbara Dane's wonderfully bluesy "Ramblin'," Etta Baker's crisp instrumental guitar version of "Railroad Bill," Little Sammy Davis' raw and ragged "Goin' to New Orleans," and J.B. Lenoir's subtly political (or maybe not so subtle) "Eisenhower Blues," not to mention Niles' odd and spooky rendition of "The Cuckoo," which ends up being as much parlor theater as it is folk music. Hardly essential, Folk and Blues: The Roots of Americana still gets points for its left-field selections and the strange bedfellows that happen as a result. Just don't mistake John Jacob Niles as the roots of anything, unless it's the Monty Python school of Americana.

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