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The Lomax Connection

Wade Ward listening to playback with Alan Lomax on the Ward residence in Galax, Virginia, August 31, 1959. Photograph by Shirley Collins. AFC Alan Lomax Assortment. Used by Permission.

As I’ve mentioned before, 2015 is the centennial 12 months of the good folklorist Alan Lomax. The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, the Association for Cultural Equity, and different organizations are celebrating with quite a lot of programming incorporating archival work, on-line displays, convention appearances (including SXSW!), lectures, symposia, and public performances of the nice music Lomax collected.

Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project. By Lindsay McWilliams. Courtesy of Jayme Stone.
However that is not the one method to listen to Lomax’s legacy. From Miles Davis within the 1950s to Moby at the turn of the century, and on to the Inside Llewyn Davis soundtrack slightly over a year ago, folks, blues, and pop musicians are all the time riffing on the iconic songs Lomax collected. Jayme Stone’s Lomax Challenge is essentially the most conscious current instance; it celebrates the centennial by recording new versions of songs Alan Lomax (or, in some circumstances, his father John Lomax) collected in the sector. Stone’s international and intergenerational solid of musicians includes Bruce Molsky (fiddle, voice), Tim O’Brien (guitar, mandolin, voice, fiddle), Brittany Haas (fiddle), Margaret Glaspy (voice, guitar), Moira Smiley (accordion), Drew Gonsalves (voice), and lots of others; they’re a distinguished crew of both seasoned veterans and contemporary faces on the traditional music scene. The album’s style is thus a pleasant mix of the lived-in previous-time sound with the edgier feeling of at the moment’s scene, which you’ll actually hear in the vocals handed between Glaspy and O’Brien on “Goodbye, Outdated Paint”:

The group’s problem was familiar to anybody in conventional music: interpret source recordings in an attention-grabbing manner whereas remaining true to the spirit of the originals. Since Lomax’s subject recordings from the late 1950s and later are of such good high quality, overly faithful renditions not often match the originals, and Stone’s model of “Sheep Sheep Dontcha Know the Street,” (the original is right here) would possibly fall into this lure. But in most cases, the ensemble adds welcome variety to the sound: on “The Satan’s Nine Questions” (original right here), a chorus sings the refrain and adds hand-clapping. “Shenandoah” (authentic here), adds a jazz-influenced instrumental jam that permits Stone’s banjo and Haas’s fiddle to shine. The transferring lyrics of “Before This Time Another Yr (original here) are augmented by some beautiful new verses written by O’Brien:

Most significantly, quite a lot of the pieces they’ve chosen to report aren’t commonly lined. “T-i-m-o-t-h-y,” a sweet little ballad about courtship that Lomax recorded in St. Eustatius (authentic here), is given an attractive setting, as is “Bury Boula For Me,” a kalenda learned from calypso singer Neville Marcano (authentic right here). “The Lambs on the Inexperienced Hills,” a mournful version of the song usually known as “The False Bride,” was learned from considered one of the great oddities of stone island measurements Lomax’s assortment, a session of folksongs sung by Robert Graves, the poet, novelist, and mystical scholar who wrote The White Goddess and that i, Claudius. (Graves’s recording is right here.) By arranging these unusual gems, this work expands our consciousness of the gathering’s scope and variety. More importantly, it locations new wonders alongside old favorites, for a listening expertise that is recent and fun regardless of how acquainted you’re with Lomax’s assortment. Watch the album trailer below!

Another album with Lomax connections is Can’t Hold the Wheel by The brand new Line. “Prepare on the Island,” which opens the disc, was first recorded commercially in 1927 by both J.P. Nestor and Crockett Ward and his Boys. John Lomax recorded Ward and “his boys,” Fields Ward and Wade Ward, ten years later; Alan Lomax and his young intern Pete Seeger recorded them once more in 1939; and Alan Lomax visited them again, with a CBS radio crew and a photographer in tow, in 1940. He saved visiting the Wards till 1959, when he lastly recorded “Practice on the Island” (authentic here). “The Old Churchyard” is a hymn that Lomax was among the primary to report (unique right here). The brand new Line learned the model by Almeda Riddle, whom Lomax was additionally among the primary to report (session here). Lomax by no means recorded Riddle’s model of this song, but he and his sister Bess Lomax Hawes inspired my teacher Roger Abrahams to take action. Finally, the very first recording of Lead Stomach’s classic “Goodnight Irene,” which closes the disc, was made by John and Alan Lomax.

The Bog Trotters Band, Galax, Virginia, January 1940. (L-R): Doc Davis, with autoharp; Uncle Alex (“Eck”) Dunford with fiddle; Crockett Ward with fiddle; Fields Ward with guitar; Wade Ward with banjo. This picture was taken by a CBS photographer to publicize an “American College of the Air” radio present with Alan Lomax. It’s a Library of Congress photograph in the public domain.

The brand new Line’s preparations of those conventional American folksongs (plus a couple of others) are unusual for integrating the African mbira into an American string-band context. The mbira (a lamellophone typically called a “thumb piano”) appears deceptively simple however stymies most who attempt to play it; bandleader Brendan Taaffe, it seems, is a masterful participant who spent time in Zimbabwe studying the approach. The result is that he would not stand out in a flashy way, but blends artfully into the ensemble, including rhythm and harmony. It sounds particularly pure with the gourd banjo, which is after all one other African import. The idea works remarkably properly, giving some great previous songs a laid-back vibe with gentle mesmeric depth. If you want old folksongs with unusual acoustic preparations, this can be a deal with.

Another Lomax Connection: together with his mbira, Brendan Taaffe performs a solo rendition of Texas Gladden’s model of “The Satan’s Nine Questions,” which Lomax recorded in 1959.

Elizabeth LaPrelle and Anna Roberts-Gevalt. Photo by Lisa Elmaleh. Courtesy of Anna & Elizabeth.
Anna & Elizabeth, the duo of Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle, has returned with a second CD of (largely) traditional ballads, hymns, love songs, and fiddle tunes from the Appalachians. Two younger girls with a lot of initiatives each collectively and separately, they’re referred to as a musical duo, as co-hosts of the Floyd Radio Show in Floyd, Virginia, and as two of the foremost “crankie” artists within the country. Musically, LaPrelle’s powerful vocal supply is supported Roberts-Gevalt’s gentler and more lyrical sound. Between them additionally they play banjo, fiddle, and guitar. Their method will be very conventional, as on hymns like ” Very long time Travelin'” and nation classics by the Carter Household and the Stanley Brothers. But they also get pleasure from avant-garde touches, just like the discordant droning underlying their harrowing model of “Greenwood Sidey,” a track about infanticide and ghost-babies from Hell. Other highlights include the outdated Scottish ballad “Orfeo,” and “Father Neptune,” a music by the mysterious Connie Converse. LaPrelle and Roberts-Gevalt give every music and tune what it needs to thrive. When LaPrelle’s tight voice sings “God despatched to Hezekiah a message from on excessive,” whereas Roberts-Gevalt’s guitar chops alongside like a train gathering steam, you know you’ve got found the actual factor!

What about Lomax One connection is their rendition of “Poor Pilgrim stone island measurements of Sorrow,” which they discovered from a 1937 field recording of Kentucky singer Martha Williams made by John Lomax. Another is their entire perspective and method: by visiting outdated folks and recording their songs, producing their very own artwork and music, internet hosting radio, and interested by what these previous songs imply, they’re main a life like Alan Lomax’s. By spending time in archives (together with Lomax’s beloved Library of Congress, the place LaPrelle had a fellowship years in the past), they’re making certain his work and the work of others like him will stay relevant ceaselessly. The names Anna and Elizabeth even have a particular resonance: they’re additionally the names of Lomax’s daughter and his spouse. Due to musicians like these two, and the others I’ve talked about here, Alan Lomax can rest straightforward and be pleased with those he inspired.

(Dicslosure: My day job is in the American Folklife Center on the Library of Congress, which is the house of Lomax’s original field recordings. Nevertheless, these critiques are my private opinions solely.