Alan Lomax

Alan Lomax: Blues Songbook

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From 1933-1985, Alan Lomax (along with his father, John A. Lomax) gathered field-recorded examples of African-American song forms, most of which ended up in the expansive Library of Congress American folk music collection. This two-disc collection selects some of the best of these into a single package and the result is a wonderful and indispensable journey through the blues, beginning with the sparkling opening track, "Going Down the River," a variant of a Sleepy John Estes song done by slide guitarist Mississippi Fred McDowell, with Fannie Davis on comb kazoo and Miles Pratcher on second guitar. There are several amazingly intimate performances here, including Skip James singing "Cherry Ball Blues" at the 1966 Newport Folk Festival just days after his re-discovery, and his high, eerie voice and delicate guitar playing combine to create a stunning moment in which a legend is literally reborn out of the haze of 1930s blues 78s. That feat is nearly duplicated by Dock Boggs, whose ragged voice and banjo on "Country Blues," a variant of the banjo tune "Darling Corey," brings another lost bluesman back from the land of old 78s. There are also three very different versions of "Joe Turner" here and they afford a valuable lesson in the mutability of folk material. Joe Turner was really Joe Turney, who, in the early 1890s, was the so-called "long chain man" in Mississippi, the transfer man whose job it was to march groups of prisoners from court to the penal institutions and work camps where the convict lease system operated. Needless to say, he was much feared and hated. The first version here features Ed Young on cane fife and Hobart Smith on banjo, while the second has Miles Pratcher on guitar and Bob Pratcher on fiddle, and features the lines "I laid down happy/And I woke up crying." By the time Big Bill Broonzy's version was recorded in the early '60s, Joe Turner had become a savior who sets prisoners free, an interpretation of events hardly supported by the facts, and a fascinating study in the reversal of fortune of a blues lyric.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 04:14
2
02:53
3
04:05
4 03:10
5 02:44
6
01:38
7
02:54
8 03:00
9
feat: Son House
04:09
10
03:06
11
02:19
12
feat: Sonny Terry
02:30
13
feat: Bessie Jones
02:13
14 02:23
15
feat: Dock Boggs
03:47
16
feat: Skip James
03:51
17 03:46
18
feat: Pete Johnson
04:04
19
02:55
20 03:06

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1
03:45
2
03:16
3
05:30
4
02:49
5
feat: Elinor Boyer
02:05
6 04:02
7
02:18
8
01:10
9
feat: Ozella Jones
02:18
10
feat: Muddy Waters
03:15
11
04:21
12
feat: Lead Belly
04:04
13 04:41
14
feat: Sam Chatmon
03:16
15
feat: Smith Casey
03:15
16 02:21
17
03:14
18
04:30
19
06:54
20
feat: Hobart Smith
03:20
21 05:34
blue highlight denotes track pick