The Blue Ridge Institute for Appalachian Studies at Ferrum College in Ferrum, Virginia, released a series of eight LPs in the late 1970s and early 1980s under the group title Virginia Traditions. Each album featured an aspect of traditional Virginia folk music, setting old 78s and field recordings alongside more recent field material to create an interesting and historical view of the styles of music presented. One volume, released on CD by Global Village and subtitled Non-Blues Secular Black Music, is perhaps the most interesting in the series, collecting narrative songs, country dance tunes, minstrel pieces and several old time banjo recordings that help sketch in the non-blues aspect of black folk music in Appalachia. It is a fascinating set, with Lemuel Jones' 1936 protest song, "Poor Farmers," John Calloway's halting, fractured version of "The Cuckoo Bird" from 1976, Irvin Cook's condensed, efficient take on "Old Blue" (also recorded in 1976), and Lewis Hairston's two gentle banjo tunes, "Bile Them Cabbage Down" and "Cotton-Eyed Joe" emerging as particular delights. Also worth noting are two non-Cajun accordion pieces from the Northern Neck area, as well as two minstrel-like banjo songs, "I Used to Work on the Tractor" (the song refers to working for a contractor, and has nothing to do with farm machinery) and "Tennessee Dog," by convicted axe-murderer Jimmie Strothers that were recorded by Alan Lomax in 1936. Intended as an archival release, the album has fluctuating sound quality, and some of the older material suffers from the scratches and pops inherent to rescued 78s, but the historical value of what is here more than outweighs the occasional sound defect, and the end result is a fascinating portrait of music that has all but vanished in the 21st Century.
Lemuel Jones - "Poor Farmers"
John Calloway - "The Cuckoo Bird"
Irvin Cook - "Old Blue"
Lewis Hairston - "Bile Them Cabbage Down"
Lewis Hairston - "Cotton-Eyed Joe"