Various Artists

Brother Can You Spare a Dime? [New World]

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Great music is often born of great misery, and that was never more true in the United States than during the Great Depression, a period which saw unprecedented economic hardship and also a great flowering of American popular song and jazz. This intelligently assembled program offers a nicely democratic musical overview of the period, giving due attention to popular song (Bing Crosby singing the title track, Rudy Vallée singing "Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries," etc.), African-American traditions (Big Bill Broonzy's "Unemployment Stomp," the Evening Breezes Sextet with "Coal Loading Machine"), and rural white traditional and commercial folk music by the likes of the Delmore Brothers, Woody Guthrie, the Almanac Singers (with Pete Seeger), and Uncle Dave Macon. There is a good topical mix as well, with lighthearted fare designed to distract the masses from their misery -- like the insufferable "Good Ship Lollypop" -- lined up alongside such political numbers as "NRA Blues" and "Death of Mother Jones" (performed by none other than Gene Autry). Overall, this is an excellent musical snapshot of one of America's darkest hours.

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