The civil rights movement used freedom songs to spread their message, adapting folk and pop tunes with contemporary topical lyrics, or writing new songs addressing social injustice in general, and injustice for African-Americans in particular. This is a two-CD, 43-song compilation of such songs, recorded live in mass meetings in churches between 1960 and 1966. The SNCC Freedom Singers, including in their ranks future Sweet Honey in the Rock mainstay Bernice Johnson Reagon (who wrote the liner notes), contribute quite a few tracks, but the majority are by less professional soloists and choirs. Historically speaking, this is a valuable document of a movement whose importance cannot be underestimated; if nothing else, it's interesting to see how folk and pop songs (including such unlikely candidates as Ray Charles' "Hit the Road Jack") were changed to reflect struggle for equality. Musically speaking, it's not that captivating; the fidelity is sometimes rough, and the performances interesting purely from an archival standpoint. This isn't meant to diminish in any way the significance of these songs, just to say that they were effective mostly as organizing tools, not as pure musical statements. Listeners will need to have a strong interest in the historical context of these recordings to justify their purchase, because as music it can make for a dry experience. Some of the SNCC performances, however, do stand up on their own as fine folk/gospel, especially "In the Mississippi River," "Governor Wallace," and "Oginga Odinga," imaginative compositions that are movingly sung.
AllMusic Review by Richie Unterberger
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2