Mormon culture has a fascinating musical heritage mostly unknown to the larger community -- from interplanetary hymns like "If You Could Hie to Kolob" to a body of pioneer folk songs that are poorly represented on this slim anthology. Originally released as a part of the Library of Congress Folk Music of the United States series in 1952, Songs of the Mormons & Songs of the West is split into two parts. The first part features six Mormon songs recorded "in the field" in the 1940s, performed -- mostly a cappella -- by elderly men who remembered the songs from their grandparents. "On the Road to California, or the Buffalo Bull Fight" is sung to the tune of "Old Dan Tucker," and "The Handcart Song" recounts the Mormons' westward journey in the pioneer days. The second half of the album is devoted to songs that relate to the geography and spirit of the West, or, in the case of "Starving to Death on a Government Claim," the harsh realities. The amateur performances and sketchy recording quality are presented here for historians and folk musicologists rather than casual listeners. Those with a general interest in Western or Mormon songs will be better served by more commercial recordings. Folksinger Rosalie Sorrels, for example, recorded an album in the early '60s titled Songs of the Mormon Pioneers that offers a more generous selection of Mormon folk songs in better than field recording fidelity.
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AllMusic Review by Greg Adams