Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Traditional "American" Folk Volumes 1 & 2

I compiled several of my favorite traditional American folk pieces. Many of the pieces come from ... i listen to the wind that obliterates my traces, which I own and uploaded the entirety of here. The book that comes with it is nice, filled with images of the artists and their instruments. "Vernacular photographs." The image above is the book cover.

Some tracks I own as singles--others as tracks on compilations like the one above. I wanted only the best of the best for y'all, so I hope you enjoy. Each mix is 30 minutes. They are both independent, albeit linked by their "America"-centric folk. I keep putting America in quotes not only "just because," but also "because" I included some music from Mexico... not to imply that "you people [(readers)]" don't know that "America" does indeed include Mesoamerica


Uppity Emotive Traditional Folk Mix

1. The Wagoner's Lad (Loving Nancy) - Buell Kazee
Recorded January 18, 1928
Devastatingly beautiful. The picking never stops, there is a constant rhythm, and the melody haunts.
Despite its pulsing rhythm, you will find this under the "Ballads" section in Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music. For far more biography on Kazee than you probably need, click here. In this song, we have a 5-string banjo and voice leading a 19th-century compound of folk songs.

The heart is the fortune of all womankind.
They're always controlled, they're always confined.
Controlled by their parents until they are wives,
Then slaves to their husbands the rest of their lives.

I've been a poor girl, my fortune is sad.
I've always been courted by the wagoner's lad.
He courted me daily, by night and by day,
And now he is loaded and going away.

"Your parents don't like me because I am poor.
They say I'm not worthy of entering your door.
I work for my living, my money's my own,
And if they don't like me they can leave me alone."

"Your horses are hungry, go feed them some hay.
Come sit down here by me as long as you may."
"My horses ain't hungry, they won't eat your hay.
So fare you well darling, I'll be on the way."

"Your wagon needs greasing, your whip is to mend.
Come here down beside me as long as you can."
"My wagon is greasy, my whip's in my hand.
So fare you well darling, no longer to stand."

Largely from the perspective of a woman, albeit sung by a man (emotively, to boot). And plenty of reason to be: as Alexander at Where Dead Voices Gather explains, the woman is "stuck in the middle between an irresistible force and an immovable object."

2. The Stranger - Anonymous (Recordio Home-recording Disc)
Recorded probably 1920s
Raunchy and rough and with "edges" so to speak: finite. (Haha.) Strangers can be great fun to talk to. "It was three years ago last summer, I will never forget that sad day when a stranger came out from the city and he said that he wanted to stay. The stranger was tall, young, and handsome--he looked like a man who had weather. And we talked and we finally decided that the stranger could stay in our home..."

I wouldn't have this splendid release if it weren't for lowercase music pioneer Steve Roden and his splendid release ... i listen to the wind that obliterates my traces, mentioned and pictured above. (Link to download the full compilation)

3. Last Kind Word Blues - Geeshie Wiley
Recorded 1930

This track is put to great use in Terry Zwigoff's Crumb about Robert Crumb. Not much is known about this artist, and no image exists. It is purported that she married Casey Bill Weldon, known for his steel guitar playing (and Memphis Jug Band!!). Then they disappeared and, eventually, passed away. Shrouded in mystery, this track is what sort of set the stage for this mix: haunting and emotive. Here are what we think the lyrics are.

The last kind word I heard my daddy say
Lord the last kind word I heard my daddy say

If I die, if I die in the German War
I want you to send my body, send it to my mother-in-law

If I get killed, if I get killed, please don't bury my soul
I (p'fer) just leave me out, let the buzzards eat me whole

When you see me comin', look 'cross the rich man's field
If I don't bring you flour, I'll bring you bolted meal

I went to the depot, I looked up at the sign
Cry some train don't come, there'll be some walkin' done

My momma told me, just before she died
Lord, (since the dawn, I thought you'd be so wise?)
(Oh precious daughter, don't you be so wise)

The Mississippi River, you know it's deep and wide
I can stand right here, see my (babe?) (face?) from the other side

What you do to me baby, it never gets out of me
I mean I'll see you, after I cross the deep blue sea

4. Down on Me - Eddie Head and His Family 
Recorded 1930

Keeping the pace, we move into another basis for emotive expression: religiosity. Although I have this track from the Goodbye, Babylon compilation, many will associate it with John Fahey and his Raw Pre-War Gospel compilation. The body vs. the soul seems a frequent consideration in these tracks. This track has so much energy and an easily relatable mantra.

Went to the cemetery the other day
I looked in the grave and saw my mother
Seems like everybody in the whole wide world
Is down on me

5. I Don't Feel At Home in This World Anymore - Two Gospel Keys
Recorded ??????

This is the eponymous track off Mississippi Records' I Don't Feel At Home in This World Anymore, 1927-1948, a collection of immigrant-American musics. The remnants of Mississippi Records uploaded the whole compilation on one of their new bandcamps, Little Axe Records. This track continues the raw/raunchy vibe of the last several tracks, arguably "gospel," but definitely country and raw gospel-inflected. Also, the pulsing pace persists.

Oh Lord, You know I have no friend but you
If Heaven's not my home, Oh Lord what would I do?
Angels have taken me to Heaven's open door
And I can't feel at home in this world anymore.

6. In the Pines - Dock Walsh
 Recorded April 17, 1926

A purposeful shift in pitch and clarity, this track does keep the pace and leads us to more technical and well-known folk songs. The original folk song is also known as "Black Girl" and "Where Did You Stay Last Night?" As far as I know, this is the earliest-known recording of this classic American folk song (used also, of course, in Smog's "In the Pines" among countless others). It is not specific to North Carolina, but it is the eponymous track for the compilation, In the Pines: Tar Heel Folk Songs & Fiddle Tunes, Old-Time Music of North Carolina 1926-1936. Self-accompanied on banjo, Dock Walsh shreds

In the pines, in the pines where the sun never shined
And I shivered when the cold wind blow

Oh, if I minded what Grandma said, oh where would I've been tonight
I'd've been in the pines where the sun never shined, and then shiverin' when the cold wind blows

The longest train I ever saw went down the Georgi' line
The engine, it stopped at a six-mile post, the cabin never left the town

Now darling, now darling, don't tell me no lie. Where did you stay last night?
I stayed in the pines where the sun never shined and I shivered when the cold winds blow

The prettiest little girl that I ever saw was walking down the line
Her hair, it was of a curly type, her cheeks were rosy red

Now darling, now darling, don't tell me no lie. Where did you stay last night?
I stayed in the pines where the sun never shines and I shivered when the cold winds blow

The train run back one mile from town and killed my girl, you know
Her head was caught in the driver wheel, her body I never could find

Now darling, now darling, don't tell me no lie. Where did you stay last night?
I stayed in the pines where the sun never shine and I shivered when the cold winds blow

The best of friends has to part some time, then why not you and I

Now darling, oh darling, don't tell me no lie. Where did you stay last night?
I stayed in the pines where the sun never shine and I shivered when the cold winds blow

Devastating shit. Another folk compound--a definite conglomeration. Many different variations and renditions of who and what happens in this song. I--I like this version. It has the longest train part and it has the decapitation. Raw lyrics--pretty track.

7. Mountain Sweetheart - Red Fox Chasers
Recorded ?????

Another pretty track. A late-20s string group, here are more tracks than you could ask for from them. "Mountain Sweetheart" specifically is also on the In the Pines North Carolina comp. I have a lot of other strings/fiddle type music from this era, and I hope to make both an "emotive/sad" collection and a "happy/festive" collection of them ASAP.  Anyway, this has a nice drawn-out vocal style that will be more prominent in the collection posted below, but I put this track on here because it has the pulsing, constant rhythm.  You can hear a bit of the proto-cowboy/western swing trend in the vocal style and lyrics.

8. Palida Luna - Lydia Mendoza

Ah, the queen of Tejano (texas+mexico music).  La Alondra de la Frontera. What a powerful song this is. I likely will devote a whole post to her, at least for images of her wonderful self. Every phoneme sung by her is emotive, not to mention the lyrics (translated):

Pale moon, night of love
serene night, serene night
that never returned.

Night of illusions of immense love,
pale and beautiful, pale and beautiful
with white ermine fur, with white ermine fur
brilliant as the sun.

Pale moon, night of love
serene night, serene night
that never returned.

Night of illusions of immense love,
pale and beautiful, pale and beautiful
with ermine fur, with ermine fur,
brilliant as the sun.

Sublime night, mystical perfume,
intimate prayer of my passion,
and sealed with a chorus of my songs
when the saintly dreaming of my beloved
I was going to disturb.

My sad night with a full moon,
placid night, night of love,
when I will arrive to sing to my beloved
and offer to her all
my heart and soul.

12-string guitar brilliance. Just an amazing woman and her music.

9. Rovin' Gambler - Kelly Harrell
Recorded 1925

Some of Harrell's other work was very influential in the 60s folk revival, but this track remains relatively obscure. I love the song structure, the constant pulse (once again), the bemoaning delivery. It is unfortunate to discover that Harrell himself did not play any instruments, but this is no problem. The group feels organic and the songwriting really is what shines through, as delivered by this whole group. I wish I had more information on who else played in this recording, but ... i listen to the wind does not clarify (Roden eschews narrative and clarity, maybe).

10. Ya Gotta Quit Kickin' My Dog Aroun' - Gid Tanner & His Skillet Lickers
Recorded 1926

With an awfully familiar fiddle tune we delve into this amazing, pulsing, sing-along masterpiece. One of my favorite traditional folk songs of all time, despite its seeming utter inanity. There are multiple tales of the song's origins:

The Hound Dog (or Dawg) Song is in the DT. From the Folk Songs Of North America by A Lomax "Some say The Hound Dawg Song, a favourite Ozark Mt. song, orignated before the civil war, when a country boy named Zeke Parish had a tussel with a townie who had kicked his dog. Old Aaron Weatherman, Swan Post Office, Taney County, Missouri, concurs- 'I was there & knowed Zeke & his paw & the hound too'. Some of his neighbors laugh at ol Zeke & say that the song is a recently composed piece, while others swear that Daniel Boone brought the song to Missouri. It became universally popular at the time when Arkansas'a favourite son (Bill Clinton ?) Champ Clark, who was a candidate for the V.P. of the US, used it as a campain song. Since that time civic groups & clubs in both Arkansas & Missouri have claimed it for their state. The tune is an old fiddlers' favourite, Sandy Land or Sally Anne".

As Dale pointed out above, the first recorded version of the song was by Gid Tanner and His Skillet Lickers - 4 January 1926 (Co 15084). Charles Wolfe and Mark Wilson wrote the following informative note to the song in the liner notes to Gid Tanner and His Skillet Lickers 'The Kickapoo Medicine Show' Rounder LP 1023:
"This pleasant urban reflection of rurality was copyrighted in 1912 by Webb M. Oungst and Cy Perkins, a pseudonym for Mrs John Stark, wife of the famous pioneer publisher of ragtime. Its melody derives from the 'Sally Ann' family of tunes but the lyrics reflect the practice of an experienced literary hand, for all its unwashed pretentions. The populist Missouri Democrat, Champ Clark, employed this ditty as his theme that year in his unsuccessful bid for the presidential nomination against Woodrow Wilson. The song became nationally known through this exposure and has been seriously proposed as the state song of Missouri. It may be doubted, however, whether the Skillet Lickers had Champ Clark in mind when they recorded it in 1926 …"

As far as I know, this is the first recorded version, also available via ...i listen to the wind. The group themselves harkened "hillbilly" songs, country music, and the hard-driving fiddling type out of Georgia. I could listen to this track on repeat over and over; the melody is just so captivating. The doggy addition is tacky as hell, but for being recorded in 1926 and being heavily tied to the hillbilly sound, I really shouldn't be so anachronistic. ... I wish string bands like the last few tracks still existed :(

11. A Ja Lejber Man - Vivien Richman
Recorded 1959

I can never get much solid information on this amazing singer. She is allegedly the mother of Jonathan Richman, known both solo and as a member of Modern Lovers. She also has a Folkways release Vivien Richman Sings Folk Songs of Western Pennsylvania. These are tracks from the "Frontier era," collected by Jacob A. Evanson and released in 1959. Her contralto voice mixes with the accordion for a wonderful, bouncy experience.

Drawn-out Melodrama Country Folk Mix
 Download here

 1. Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone - Blue Sky Boys
The pace noticeably slows down for this collection. Of course, the title and lyrics of this track remind me of Palace Brothers' "You Will Miss Me When I Burn" (AKA Will Oldham AKA Bonnie Prince Billy AKA...) and a Gods Reflex climax... Cowboy-style, drawn-out, melodramatic manly country music. Pretty straightforward but surprisingly relistenable. This is not the earliest-recorded version of this song, but it is the track that set my expectations for this collection: drawn-out vocals, slower pace, and melodramatic harmonies. Enjoy.

2. I Seen My Pretty Papa Standing on a Hill - Eva Parker
Recorded December 18, 1926

This is one of my favorite tracks of all time. What a phenomenal mix of blues, traditional folk, and almost Romantic-era sentiment rhythm and delivery. You get everything in this track: belting female blues vocals, devastating lyrics, and commensurable strings.

3. C’est Un Peche De Dire Une Menterie (It's a Sin to Tell a Lie) - Cléoma Falcon

Cajun goddess. Many say that she and her husband Joe made the first Cajun recordings. I am stoked to post a comprehensive early Cajun and Zydeco music post with the Ardoins and Falcons. For this track, Cléoma is accompanied by strings and guitar, not an accordion. Definitely has a traditional American vibe to it, especially in the strings, but this is unequivocally Cajun. Some more drawn-out female vocals after some drawn-out strings. Beautiful melodies and sad lyrics and broken Cajun delivery.

Sûr c’est vrai quand tu dis tu m’aimes,
C’est un péché de dire une menterie.
Millions de cœurs qu’a été cassés,
Quand ces paroles ont été parlées.
Oui, je t’aime, oui que j’t’aime, tu connais j’t’aime.
Si tu casses mon cœur, ça va me tuer.
Sûr que c’est vrai, quand tu dis, oui tu m’aimes.
C’est un péché de dire une menterie.


Sure it's true when you say you love me,
It's a sin to tell a lie.
Millions of hearts that were broken,
When these words were spoken .
Yes, I love you , yes that I love you, you know I love you
If you break my heart , it'll kill me.

4. Yes I Know - Rev. Calbert & Sister Billie Holstein

This husband-wife duo were supposedly street musicians. To me this is just some great country gospel. The lyrics are particularly great: And I know, I surely know, Thank God I know, Jesus' blood can make the violent sinner clean... for he saved the worst among you when he saved a wretch like me. Raunchy and raw but drawn-out and melodramatic.

5. If You See My Savior - Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey
Recorded 1926

Thomas Dorsey is often credited with founding gospel music in the 1930s, which of course is absurd. This is just another great country gospel song. Quite a bit more clarity and technicality than the Holsteins' track, but still a swell track. The predominance of religiosity over family :( But it is presented well and with a nice country blues delivery. His voice is so unmistakably clean, though. This track is straightforward and catchy, and leads us to other well-produced, drawn-out tracks next.

6. Precious Memorys - Bill Kearney & Early Bush

There is very little information on this track, but I have heard many versions of the folk song itself. I love the gospel-infused cowboy-harmonizing country music sound. The way he presents the child in the coffin, and the "colored preacher," and the way that melody persists with the building pulse and background singer harmonizing. Meant to be comforting to mourners, it really just fits alongside these other melodramatic and emotive tracks--and, in spite of its pulse, its drawn-out cowboy vibes placed it on this collection instead of the former collection.

7. A Steel Mill Tragedy (Odpocivam v Americkej pode - I Lie in the American Land) - Vivien Richman

Here is another Richman track. This one involves an accordion as we push away from merely colonial North American folk music and again look into western Pennsylvania (soon to go as far as the Chiapas). They are all linked by their drawn-out vocals and melodrama. This track's sound borders on tragic! Maybe it's because tragedy is in the title. Her Slovak singing is elegant and haunting and saddening. "I Rest in the American Land" could be another translation of it, to give some other meanings. Deep stuff and perfect subtle accordion.

8. Son Sventa Ch'ul Na

I am running out of time for this post and it is so long. These last two tracks are off a vinyl I own--Nonesuch's Mexico: Fiestas of the Chiapas and Oaxaca. These states are in far southern Mexico, but both these tracks have the drawn-out manly vocals, the traditional and strings instrumentation, and melodramatic [in fact, ritualistic] sentiment. 

Just two amazing tracks that must be heard.

9. K'in Sventa Ch'ul Me'tik Kwadulupe

This  ritual, beginning and ending with performers blessing their instruments, has been used in a Tired Light & the wppss track. This sounds so much rawer and more mellow and melodramatic on vinyl, but this digital copy suffices. Seems vaguely devastating for being a transition from religious leaders to others.

I will update the descriptions of the last two tracks when I get some time again. Xoxoxo.


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