Various Artists

Songs and Ballads of American History and of the Assassination of Presidents

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This odd disc was originally released on LP in 1952. Assembled by Duncan Emerich from Library of Congress recordings made between 1937 and 1949, it falls neatly into two halves, with the first part consisting of Civil War-era tunes sung unaccompanied by song collectors and scholars. While these researchers have done a valuable service in preserving the lyrics and melodies of these venerable old songs, they unfortunately deliver pitch-challenged versions of them, making for some painful listening. The second part of the set has North Carolina folklorist Bascom Lamar Lunsford singing a series of tunes about the assassinations of Presidents McKinley, Garfield and Lincoln (by assassins Leon Czolgosz, Charles Guiteau and John Wilkes Booth, respectively) that were originally recorded in 1949. Lunsford at least knows how to sing (he recorded several commercial 78s in the 1920s and 1930s), and the two banjo selections are particularly interesting, as is the fiddle version of "Booth Shot Lincoln" that closes the set. Old time music fans will recognize "Zolgotz" as a variation of Charlie Poole's "White House Blues," which Bill Monroe later turned into a bluegrass standard. Songs and Ballads has some usefulness as an archival and historical document, but casual listeners will find it hard-going.

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