Appalachian Journey

Alan Lomax

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Appalachian Journey Review

by Richie Unterberger

The Appalachian Journey episode of Alan Lomax' American Patchwork documentary series does have footage of various fiddlers, banjo players, a cappella singers, and bluegrass bands. The emphasis, however, is at least as much upon the environment from which Appalachian music sprang as the music itself. The footage of residents of the mountains includes both informal music and tale-telling, the latter of which can get too slow to hold the interest of viewers not possessed of a deep curiosity about American folklore. Tommy Jarrell is the only musician here with a wide reputation; one of the most interesting threads is a look at the evolution of the ballad "Tom Dooley," with a performance by Frank Profitt, Jr., son of a man who helped popularize the tune to folklorists such as Lomax. The adverse affects of strip mining, government policy, and tourism upon the region are discussed, and the modern manifestations of Appalachian folk music are examined in scenes of clogging competitions and smoking bluegrass groups. Although not always compelling, it's a worthwhile look at the kind of Appalachian music and culture that exists almost entirely separately from the record business.