Albums featuring field recordings are sort of like best-of collections, except for the fact that few of the singers are known. The effect for the listener, however, is a rich cultural mix that represents the best traditional music a particular region has to offer. Recorded in the 1940s, Folk Music From Wisconsin documents the ballads and songs of the English-speaking people who arrived either from the British Isles or Canada. Dora Richards launches this collection with the delightful "Pompey Is Dead and Laid in His Grave," a children's song originating from Cornwall, England. Pearl Jacobs Borusky sings a fine version of "I'll Sell My Hat, I'll Sell My Coat," a twist on the Irish song "Shule Aroon." In earlier versions, the young woman sells a spinning wheel to buy her love a sword of steel; in this westernized rendition, a husband sells his hat and coat to buy his wife a flat boat. Call it progress. "The Little Brown Bulls," sung by Charles Bowlen, tells the tale of a log-skidding contest, while the "Cranberry Song" celebrates the joys of various groups working together to harvest delicious Wisconsin cranberries. Like various collections of field recordings, lyrics often evolve from their original sources to reflect new surroundings. Other ballads, like "The Milwaukee Fire," catalog real-life events and prove unique to the region. Folk Music From Wisconsin succeeds as a cultural document, a piece of history, and as good music. Field recording devotees and the curious will enjoy it.
AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.