Various Artists

Songs and Ballads of the Bituminous Miners

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Sort of a companion volume to Songs and Ballads of the Anthracite Miners, but actually recorded six years earlier in 1940, this collection couldn't be more different, aside from the obvious coal mining angle. George Korson recorded both albums in the field as part of a pioneering occupational folklore project, but just as anthracite (hard) coal is different than bituminous (soft) coal, these two compilations have a totally different feel to them. The anthracite volume, which Korson recorded in Pennsylvania in 1946, has a decided Old World and Celtic ring to it, while this volume, recorded largely in Kentucky and West Virginia, with additional tunes coming from Alabama, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, is full of Afro-American song forms, and is dominated by the blues, consequently sounding a good deal more American. Where the songs of the anthracite collection feel stately and borrowed, even a bit funereal, the bituminous collection has a lively, loose, and even humorous cast, making it easily the more entertaining of the two volumes. That said, the importance of both of these collections (which were partially funded by the United Mine Workers of America) is more historical than musical. As a window into a specific time and work environment, in a period when the mechanization (and unionization) of mine work was just beginning, these two unique albums are invaluable documents attesting to the immutability of the human spirit.

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