Moral evil, natural evil -- hard times. That's the purview of Classic American Ballads.
At first glance, it's hard to know exactly where Classic American Ballads fits into Folkways' Classics series. The more specialized entries -- Classic African American Ballads, for instance, or Classic Labor Songs -- did an exemplary job of uncovering the ballad form's breadth; this generically titled release relies on a cover photograph -- a flood-strewn house, dislodged and aslant -- to reveal its through line: disaster. Moral evil, natural evil -- hard times. These selections, mostly drawn from Folkways' archives of the 1950s and '60s, don't always have the front-row sensibilities of their desperate predecessors on the label's ur-text, Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music; they are more meditative, motivated by memory and a weary resolve. But when the highlights are as striking as Dock Boggs's dusty take on "Cole Younger" or Doug Wallin's harrowing "Naomi Wise", that's no kind of complaint.