Various Artists

Field Recordings, Vol. 5: Louisiana, Texas, Bahamas (1933-1940)

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This installment of Document's field recordings series covers Alan Lomax's Library of Congress-sponsored trips to Louisiana, Texas, and the Bahamas between 1933 and 1940. Lomax met Leadbelly at Angola Prison in Louisiana, and the tracks on this disc are the first Leadbelly recordings, and while they aren't as assured as his later recordings, they do have a sheen of authority, particularly "Mister Tom Hughes' Town," which has the tone and feel of a modern composition. Another great track from Angola is the junkyard percussion gem by Curtis Harton and unnamed others called "(Don't) The Moon Looks Pretty," which sounds like Tom Waits and Harry Partch in the captain's tower playing the blues with a Memphis jug band. In Shreveport Lomax ran into singer and guitarist Joe Harris and mandolin player Kid West, and the duo recorded an arresting and emotionally balanced version of "Railroad Rag" for Lomax. The brief Bahamas section that closes the disc features David Pryor and others singing Bahamian work songs like the succinct, haiku-like "Bowline." The sound quality on this collection is a little difficult to bear at times, but the historical nature of the material makes it definitely worth a listen.

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