Guy Carawan

Been in the Storm So Long

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Well-known amongst anthropologists and musicologists, St. John's Island, SC, is one of the oldest African-American communities in North America and, because of its isolation, has one of the best preserved "slave" cultures. While the status and validity of this last point are highly debatable, there is no denying that this selection of 1960s field recordings, put out by Smithsonian Folkways, is one of the most captivating albums ever released. More than just an album, it is a document of a community where music is as integral to life as the weather. The recordings trace the role of music through a number of areas in everyday life. In "Welcome Table & Prayer," a quiet, sweet female voice delivers a stream-of-consciousness prayer and thanksgiving that melismatically blends speech and song in a highly original way. This is followed by a performance of "Ezekial in the Valley," where a chorus is offset by clapped and stomped counter-rhythms. The lyrics of the title track, "Been in the Storm So Long," sums the experience of the island's community: "Oh Lord give me more time/I been in the storm so long." The album also contains several children's stories and games, including the ring-and-the-rosey haunt "Mr. Postman Die." The remainder of the songs range from the simply beautiful "Moon Light in Glory," the simply terrifying sermon "Reborn Again," and to the epiphanic harmonizing of "Down on Me." Literally, this is an album that could set the world on fire.

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