Various Artists

Happy Land: Musical Tributes to Laura Ingalls Wilder

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In case you don't know, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote the Little House on the Prairie books, and in their pages she referenced some 126 songs and folk tunes, hoping to give people the flavor of the times. She included folk songs, parlor songs, fiddle tunes, minstrel show songs, play party songs, Scottish and Irish songs and more in her books. She once said about her semi-autobiographical books: "There is one thing that will always remain the same to remind people of little Laura's days on the prairie, and that is Pa's fiddle." This album was first released in 2005, and was reissued in 2007 to compliment The Arkansas Traveler, the second CD in a project that intends to produce ten CDs documenting the songs Wilder included in her books. The album opens and closes with fiddle tunes by Jep Bisbee, recorded by Thomas Edison in 1923. Bisbee was around the same age as Pa Ingalls, and played in a traditional style. He contributes "The Girl I Left Behind Me" and "The Devil's Dream," one of the best known fiddle tunes of the time. The contemporary artists who contribute to the CD play in a traditional manner. Pat Enright's version of "The Girl I Left Behind Me" is the cowboy version of a song that originally came from Ireland called "Mountain Dew," and slightly more polished than Bisbee's. Riders in the Sky contribute "The Blue Juniata" a story sympathetic to the plight of the Native Americans forced to move away from their traditional lands by the white settlers claiming their land, and "Captain Jinks," a comic song full of quips that were probably hilarious back in 1868. The term "high jinks" owes its origin to this tune. Ranger Doug from Riders in the Sky takes a solo turn on the minstrel show tune "The Big Sunflower," a sentimental song about love that sounds a bit dated and "Uncle Sam's Farm" a hit for the Hutchinson Family Singers. The Hutchinson Family was a close harmony group that sang at anti-slavery, women's suffrage and Lincoln for President rallies. The song is a march, full of optimism celebrating the riches waiting people brave enough to head west and homestead. "Oh Susanna," probably Stephen Foster's greatest hit, gets an old-time string band treatment. Songwriter David Olney sings Foster's "Nelly Was a Lady," one of the first songs to treat an African-American relationship with the respect the white folks of the time reserved for themselves. Three lovely hymns are given beautiful readings: "Roll the Old Chariot Along" is done a cappella by the Princely Players, "On Jordan's Stormy Banks" is sung by members of the Walnut Grove Church with string band accompaniment and "Sweet by and By" is sung simply by Andrea Zonn. The 18 tracks here give us a good overview of the songs that became the foundation of the music we now call Americana, the tunes that people sang to entertain themselves before the advent of mass media.

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