Various Artists: Root Hog Or Die 100 Years 100 Songs: An Alan Lomax Centennial Tribute
A vast and impressive collection of folk music, lovingly compiled by one of the best contemporary folklorists for the sake of one of the best of yesteryear.
Lomax Turns 100 And We Celebrate With 100 Songs
Alan Lomax would have celebrated a century of life in 2015 and although the legendary folklorist couldn’t be here, his work, the music he discovered and preserved in his travels, is. Collected in this six-LP limited edition vinyl box are 100 songs that span 50 years of his field recordings from 1933 to 1983. The greats are represented here (Jelly Roll Morton, Bob Dylan and Big Bill Broonzy) as are a wide range of unknowns whose work is as often as compelling as that of their more visible counterparts. There are citizens of the United States, Spain, Romania, Great Britain and other lands represented too. There are bluesmen, churchmen, and everymen. There are ballads and broad humor, songs that touch on the spiritual and sinful but all of it is inspiring.
The collection eschews chronology in favor of artistry as songs move between 1947, 1954, 1962 and 1938 on the first half of the first side alone. Lomax is featured on the first track, “I’m a Rambler, I’m a Gambler”, the first somewhat unexpected gift of many. From there we’re introduced to Harlem hambone man Steven Wright, superior singer/banjo player Sheilah Kay Adams who gives us a glorious “Dinah”. Meanwhile Jelly Roll Morton offers “Alabama Bound” and Abraham "Aapo" Juhan from Calumet, Michigan whose “Finnish Waltz” spotlights the role of ethnic Scandinavian music in that state’s rich musical history.
Margaret Barry, captured at a song swap at an apartment in Lomax’s London flat back in ’53, sings “Her Mantle So Green” in a voice that is impossible to forget; Skip James and Son House are represented on the second record captured live at the Newport Folk Festival which was, lest we forget, the heart of American folk music for decades. Jimmy MacBeath’s “Tramps and Hawkers” from Edinburgh in 1951 fits nicely beside tracks from Newport and Paris, where Broonzy delivered an ace reading of “A Shanty in Shanty Town”.
A number of literal unknowns lead us across the start of the third record, offering us some more typical elements of folk music with Fred McDowell’s voice and guitar taking us on an emotional and spiritual journey with “Lord Have Mercy”. From churches to beaches and back to apartments and more typical musical stages we travel alongside Lomax, never feel displaced in time and never doubting the gorgeous musicality that resides in each of these cuts.
The journey we take here with Lomax and the many performers he captures is a journey we too often can’t take in contemporary times. Yes, there are labels that cater to indigenous music and export it to the masses by the score but there is more done in the way of marketing and greater consideration for monetizing of this art than for the art itself. This is a gift for music lovers and listeners as we’re allowed to trip across time and embrace the familiar and the less familiar, as we celebrate the hero and the heroine and the faceless masses who were probably better at their craft than could be expected.
Gifted musician and composer and folklorist Nathan Salsburg is to be commended not only for his impeccable liner notes but for the work he did in compiling the music and presenting it to us in the here and now. A lovely and necessary gift.