The songs featured on Smithsonian/Folkways' Classic Old-Time Music were mostly recorded in the late '50s and early '60s (with a few scattered throughout the '70s) and celebrate many of the performers who not only toured the festival circuits at that time, but many who sowed the seeds of the entire folk revival. Old-timey legends like Dock Boggs, Roscoe Holcomb, Doc Watson, Wade Ward, and a segment of the Carter Family all make prominent appearances, but the real uncut gems come from lesser-known folkies like the Iron Mountain String Band, J.E. Mainer's Moutaineers, Sam & Kirk McGee, and Lee Sexton, whose version of "Pretty Polly" may be among the most spine-tingling on record. The later recordings by the New Lost City Ramblers, the Spare Change Boys, and a trio of college students performing "Ship in the Clouds" unfortunately feel a little too studied and reserved, and certainly not as natural as the performers who lived and breathed the music as a part of their daily lives, but their inclusion proves that the music is still alive today. Excellent liner notes are a hallmark of Smithsonian/Folkways recordings, and Classic Old-Time Music continues that tradition, providing a fascinating history behind each song and performer, ensuring hours of listening and re-listening pleasure.
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