Various Artists

Folksongs of Illinois #3

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The first volume of this series had Illinois folk music of all kinds from several different areas and eras; the second, less impressive volume was devoted to fiddlers. The third installment marks a welcome return to the catch-all format of the inaugural volume, the 18 tracks including urban blues, gospel, tamburitza, a Czech march, polka, bluegrass, and children's music. There's still the kind of guitar- and fiddle-based acoustic sounds that many people think of as the foremost American form of "folk" music, but it's within a diverse context that conveys how rich the Illinois folk music umbrella is without being dogmatic. The chronological span of the material is impressive as well, dating back to the mid-'20s and going all the way up to a few songs recorded especially for this project shortly before its 2007 release. There are some big names here and there, including Burl Ives and Pete Seeger (as part of the Union Boys on the labor anthem "Solidarity Forever"), gospel giant Mahalia Jackson, bluesman Big Bill Broonzy, and children's music specialist Ella Jenkins. More often, however, these are musicians who've principally made their impact playing to people in their own region. The quality of performance is seldom less than decent, and sometimes outstanding, some highlights including Win Stracke's Paul Robeson-like delivery of a traditional ode to Illinois itself, "El-a-noy"; the mordant Depression-era Finnish-language "Aha-Aha," by immigrant Julius Siik; and the aforementioned "Solidarity Forever," the Illinois connection being its writer, Ralph Chaplin. The detailed annotation and packaging is of a Smithsonian-level standard, and like volume one of this series, it would be a good model for other states seeking to compile their regional folk legacy into CD collections that are both enjoyable and educational.

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