The 2001 film Songcatcher told a semi-fictional story of a field musicologist who "discovers" authentic English and Scottish folk ballads being sung by people in the Appalachian region of the United States. The film (along with another popular film of the time) kindled interest in the old-timey music spotlighted in the movies, and due to popular demand Vanguard released a compilation of the original versions of the songs that ended up being re-recorded for the soundtrack. Legendary artists like Dock Boggs, Almeda Riddle, Doc Watson, and Roscoe Holcomb all contribute some of the best-known folk ballads of the era, including "Black Jack Davey," "Pretty Saro," "House Carpenter," and a gripping version of "Matty Groves." Although Songcatcher was set near the turn of the century, these gems from Vanguard's vaults are mostly from the '60s folk revival festival circuit, and although they offer crisp sound quality and strong presence, these artist's true golden recordings were done in the '20s and '30s. The 1927 recordings of the young and hungry Dock Boggs singing "Sugar Baby" blow away the versions of the same song 40 years later, as is the case with Clarence Ashley, Mother Maybelle Carter, and every other performer on this disc (with the exception of Watson, who will be equally astounding until the day he dies, and then beyond). Still, this is a spectacular folk revival collection, perfect for those who enjoyed the music in the movie but were disappointed with the contemporary updates on the film's soundtrack.
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AllMusic Review by Zac Johnson