Various Artists

Before the Blues, Vol. 1: The Early American Black Music Scene

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Although the blues is the most renowned form of early 20th century African-American music (other than jazz), it didn't dominate rural Black music to the extent that many listeners often assume. Black and White folk musics mingled extensively before the advent of recorded technology, and Black musicians often performed gospel, religious hymns, folk ballads, and fiddle tunes as well as what we now recognize as the blues. This compilation does a good job of illustrating the diverse ancestry of African-American music with 23 rare sides from the 1920s and 1930s, when records and mass media had yet to fully introduce elements that would standardize musical genres and approaches to some degree. Some of these performers would indeed become classified as blues artists (Mississippi John Hurt, Robert Wilkins, Henry Thomas). But most of these tracks are not explicitly rooted in blues forms, examples being B.F. Shelton's banjo ballad interpretation of "Pretty Polly," Taylor's Kentucky Boys' fiddle breakdown version of "Forked Deer," or the Seventh Day Adventist Choir's "On Jordan's Stormy Banks We Stand." Remastered from old 78s, this may be of more educational than entertainment value to most modern listeners, but it's well done, with extensive liner notes explaining the various forms of Black music preserved on the disc.

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