In 1959 and 1960, folklorist Alan Lomax made now-celebrated field trips through the South that resulted in a literal mountain (80 hours) of recordings of all kinds of American traditional music. These tapes led to the eventual release of 19 albums. Seven of them formed the series known as Sounds of the South on Atlantic (now available as a four-CD box set). The other 12 were issued as volumes of a Prestige series entitled Southern Journey. Rounder has now made the Southern Journey recordings available on CD in a 13-volume set that also includes some previously unreleased material. Lomax's recordings have been justly hailed as a foundation of American musical scholarship. He was not only among the first to conscientiously document living American musical traditions with links to centuries past; he was also the first to record them with sonic clarity that enables contemporary listeners to appreciate them as living art forms, rather than dusty museum relics. The sheer quantity of work that Lomax recorded during this period is daunting, so for those who just want to dip their toes into the water, this first volume is a suggested starting point. Most of the Southern Journey CDs are arranged thematically; Vol. 1, however, draws from all forms of Southern folk music, including blues, spirituals, sea chanteys, work songs, ballads, and more. What surprises the modern-day listener is that, apart from the immense academic interest of the recordings, the performances themselves are emotional, moving, and often downright enjoyable. There are actually a couple of well-known musicians on this disc (bluesman Fred McDowell, early country artist J.E. Mainer), but almost all the other artists perform at a similar level. Nine of the 24 tracks (including the one by McDowell) were previously unissued.
AllMusic Review by Richie Unterberger