The field recordings on this disc from Document Records are drawn predominately from two trips to Virginia by John Lomax and Harold Spivake in 1936 under the auspices of the Library of Congress. The two folklorists visited the Virginia State Farm at Lynn, on the James River, and the State Penitentiary in Richmond, collecting spirituals, work songs, blues songs, and other folk materials from the prison population. While these recordings will undoubtedly be of most interest to historians, collectors, and scholars, the uncommon intimacy on display here is affecting, and some of these tracks are wonderful little gems, including Lemuel Jones' unaccompanied Depression-era protest song, "Po' Farmer (Poor Farmers)," and two call-and-response work songs led by the singing of James Wilson called "Can't You Line 'Em" and "Laying Rail Chant, Pts. 1 & 2." The real discovery here, though, is the complete recorded work of the blind banjoist and singer Jimmie Strothers, who turns in (often with the accompaniment of fellow inmate Joe Lee) a set of banjo pieces, rhythmic folk songs, and unabashed spirituals (and at least one strikingly bawdy tune) that are truly unique in their range and passion. Casual listeners should take note that these are archival recordings, full of the incidental cracks, pops, and omnipresent hiss that was inherent to the recording medium of the day.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett