Various Artists

The Asch Recordings, Vol. 2 - 1939-1945

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Folkways Records head Moses Asch looked back on his early years running the Asch and Disc Records labels in the late 1930s and ‘40s on two double-LP sets, The Asch Recordings,Vol. 1 - 1939-1947: Blues, Gospel, and Jazz (1966) and Asch Recordings, Vol. 2 - 1939-1945 (1967). Smithsonian Folkways reissued each of them on two separate discs, and the first disc of the second set is considered here. It is divided into two thematic parts by co-compiler Charles Edward Smith, with Tracks One-Eight devoted to "The Folk Singers" and Tracks Nine-Eighteen to "Tradition," which is further subdivided into "(A) Tradition and New Audiences" (Tracks Ten -Thirteen) and "(B) Country Dance Traditions" (Tracks Fourteen-Eighteen). "The Folk Singers" includes the kinds of names for which Asch's labels came to be best known -- Leadbelly, Pete Seeger, and Woody Guthrie, along with such associates of theirs as Burl Ives, Cisco Houston, and Brownie McGhee. Perhaps because Asch lost control of many of his master recordings of the ‘40s, several of these tracks are alternate takes or unissued acetates. Of particular interest are the performances by Alan Lomax, who is known primarily as a song collector, not as a singer or musician. Among the miscellany that is "Tradition and New Audiences," the most notable tracks are those by a folk group made up of Seeger, Bess Lomax Hawes, Butch Hawes, and Tom Glazer that both harks back to the Almanac Singers (of which Seeger and the Haweses were members) and looks forward to the Weavers. "Born to Lose," by Les Paul, was actually recorded in the ‘50s; it finds Paul not only singing (a rarity), but also overdubbing all the instruments: guitar, accordion, piano, and violin. The "Country Dance Traditions" section is well-named, containing a batch of tracks suitable for square dancing, including square-dance caller Ralph Page on "Down in the Valley." The album, along with its companion discs, presents the range of quality folk, blues, and country material Asch was recording, well before he ever founded Folkways.

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