John Lomax, Alan Lomax, and Ruby Lomax made numerous aluminum and acetate disc recordings in the Gullah enclave of South Carolina's Murrells Inlet between 1934 and 1939, where a distinct tradition of unaccompanied spirituals and work songs was still predominant. The fragments collected weren't gospel, but real spirituals, and they frequently sound not only measured but also gently mournful, resigned as much as they are cautiously invested in the prospect of a better world beyond this one. There are surprisingly (or maybe not) only semantic differences and few melodic ones between the straight spirituals and the work songs, and in the right hands, one could pass for the other. Both forms, it would seem, deal in the possibility of redemption, and both use roads, trains, and in some cases, chariots as metaphoric transformational vehicles. This haunting, understated set is fleshed out by the addition of similarly themed field recordings done at Reid State Farm, a South Carolina prison, where the concept of a better world awaiting and the prospect of eventual redemption were undoubtedly taken quite literally. With the contents really all of a piece, it is difficult to single out individual tracks here, but "Leprosy (Nicodemus)," sung byZack Knox, "Got the Keys to the Kingdom," sung by Lillie Knox, and "Ain't But the One Train Run This Track (All Night Long)," sung by D.W. White & the Pearson's Funeral Home Choir, are particularly poignant.
Deep River of Song: South Carolina - Got the Keys to the Kingdom Review
by Steve Leggett