Leave it to Bear Family Records to release a ten-disc collection of Communist and leftist-activist songs that only a dyed-in-the-wool Republican can afford! However, there's a lot of stuff on these discs -- songs about lynchings, anti-union murders and riots, and other injustices, including wretched working conditions permitted by earlier governments, et cetera. There's folk material, of course, but also cowboy songs, country songs, blues and country-blues. These ten CDs also tear down the stereotype of the dry and doctrinaire political song.
Highlights include Disc One ("The Roots of the Folk Revival,") which is primarily given over to the oldest union songs and farm-related protest songs. Disc Three is given over to the Almanac Singers; this body of work was recorded when the official Communist Party line (to which they adhered) was non-aggression against Nazi Germany. Some of the music on Disc Four ("Fighting the Fascists") was surprisingly complex, given the spartan conditions under which a lot of it was done. Disc Seven ("Pete Seeger: 1946-48") is mostly made up of Seeger's masterpieces Roll the Union On and Songs for Political Action. Disc Nine ("Campaign Songs: 1944-1949") represents the last significant cohesive body of topical political songs to come from the American left. By the time of Disc Ten ("An Era Closes"), the Left couldn't do more than snipe at the reactionaries setting the agenda and the passive moderates who stood by. The sound quality on most of the material in this set is astonishingly good and the ten discs are accompanied by an over-200-page hardcover book featuring historical and musical essays, photographs, session information and lyrics -- one of the finest documents of the relationship between music and politics of the period that has ever been published.