Contact: LC contact: Craig D'Ooge (202) 707-9189
Rounder contact: Steve Burton (617) 354-0700, ext. 275
October 14, 1997
"Treasury of Library of Congress Field Recordings" Reissued on the Rounder Label
In 1933, John Lomax drove down the road and into history.
With a 315 pound recording machine in the rear of his Ford sedan, Lomax and his son Alan began a legendary series of journeys down America's backroads to capture "folksong in its three dimensional entirety" for the Library of Congress.
Now, more than 60 years later, musician and researcher Stephen Wade has compiled his own selection of recordings made by the Lomaxes and other collectors in a new compact disc on Rounder Records titled "A Treasury of Library of Congress Field Recordings."
The disk consists of 30 of the greatest performances collected between 1933 and 1946, along with a 40 page booklet filled with Wade's original research into the conditions that gave rise to these recordings, new information on the performers, and concise histories of the songs. All the recordings have been digitally remastered from the original acetate and aluminum discs.
"This is the music I grew up with," said B.B. King upon hearing this CD.
After they were first issued in 1941 by the Library of Congress, the field recordings influenced at least two generations of modern artists, from Aaron Copland to the Jefferson Airplane, and helped to spark the folksong revival of the 1960s. The performers on these recordings--some of them prisoners, others farmers, still others school children--were recorded where they lived and worked. They provided Library of Congress researchers with sounds and sagas from the American landscape: Civil War battles, steamboats, a life lost to crime, the freedom of worship through diverse forms of religious expression.
The "Treasury" contains fiddle tunes and banjo pieces, including the first recording of "Rock Island Line." Woody Guthrie sings "The Gypsy Davy," a song he learned from his mother, and Judge Learned Hand sings "The Iron Merrimac," a civil war ballad he learned as a boy in upstate New York. Cajun singer Ella Hoffpauir, one of the album's few living performers, gave permission to reissue a piece she recorded in 1934 when she was only ten years old. The "Treasury" ends with a Kiowa Indian named Belo Cozad describing how a song that he plays on a wooden flute was obtained from an ancestor who learned it from a spirit.
These field recordings breathe with on-going life. In the background, kitchen clocks tick, dogs bark, and sometimes a truck drives by.
"To listen to these voices is to encounter a nation engaged in art, beyond the grid of rural electricity and outside the commercial music industry," says compiler Stephen Wade. "Art is pretty much where you find it, not where you expect it. In America, that might be just around the corner. The sounds of everyday life have not been scrubbed from these discs because the recordings are inspired not by commerce, but by ethnography--a field of learned endeavor that brings together, in folklorist Ben Botkin's apt phrase, 'a foreground in lore with a background in life.'"
Wade visited each of the locations where the 30 performances occurred. Following a trail of recordings more than a half century old, he found the communities, family members, and sometimes even the performers themselves. He sat on the same porches and walked down the same roads. On one occasion, he had a pistol pointed at him. A detailed account of his extensive documentary work will appear in a book he is currently completing for the University of Illinois Press. Since last year, Wade's essays on these songs have formed a continuing series of presentations on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered." Wade is best known for his one-man performance in "Banjo Dancing," one of the longest-running theatrical works in American stage history. "Banjo Dancing," as well as his other performance pieces, "On the Way Home" and "Alligator Horse and a Touch of the Earthquake," all draw heavily on his research at the Folk Archive at the Library of Congress, one of the largest collections of such material in the world. He has been published in a number of literary, scholarly, and popular journals and has recorded two music albums under his own name. This is the ninth album he has produced.
Archie Green, founder of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress (which includes the Folk Archive) calls the Treasury "required listening for anyone interested in American traditional music. Stephen Wade's research and remastering bring new life to these recordings, making them freshly accessible to a new generation."
The "Treasury" (Rounder 1500) will be available in retail stores or by mail after October 21 from Rounder Records at 1 (800) 443-4727.
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