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Smithsonian Folkways (SFWCD40090)

This is the legendary anthology which, in its original 6LP set, was positively life changing. Even though it's 57 years since it was released, any mention of it still increases the heart rate of vintage music lovers.

During the early nineteen fifties there was no pre-war cajun, blues, old timey, jazz and gospel on microgroove - you had to search out the original 78s (2 tracks at a time!) or just forget it. Then long time enthusiast Harry Smith, backed by Folkways records in New York, embarked upon this historical project and the Anthology of American Folk Music was born. Smith selected the tracks from his own huge collection of 78's, wrote the sleeve notes, designed the package and then let it loose on an unsuspecting public.

Hip musicians, folk artists, pop singers, musicologists and folks who just loved the old sounds of America grabbed at this glorious link with the past and wallowed in Smith's choice of material, vigorous research, his left-field approach and, at times, hilarious descriptions of the music. For example, the storyline of Frank Hutchison's Stackolee is condensed to "THEFT OF STETSON HAT CAUSES DEADLY DISPUTE. VICTIM IDENTIFIES SELF AS FAMILY MAN"  and GB Grayson's Ommie Wise  is summed up as "GREEDY GIRL GOES TO ADAMS SPRING WITH LIAR. LIVE'S JUST LONG ENOUGH TO REGRET IT". The anthology found its way into the hearts of many of our heroes: Bob Dylan, Peter Stampfel, Taj Mahal, Jerry Garcia, John Sebastian and John Fahey are just a few who investigated this music and were inspired by what they heard.

This 6 CD set contains 84 tracks from Dick Justice, Buell Kazee, Charlie Poole, the Carolina Tarheels, Bunt Stephens, Lachney & Gaspard, F. Cloutier Orchestra, Floyd Ming's Pep-Steppers, Phipps Singers, Cannons Jug Stompers, JP Nestor, Didier Herbert, Cleoma Breaux, Julius Daniels, Blind Lemon, John Estes and many more, and is presented in an LP size box with a facsimile of the original 28 page Smith-designed notes plus a specially commissioned 68 page booklet which is alive with information on the history of Harry's involvement, the effect of the music, extra notes on the artists and their songs plus reminiscences about the whole thing from great writers like Greil Marcus, Neil Rosenberg and Jon Pankake. Then there are notes from some of the people affected by the original release; musicians Jon Fahey, John Cohen and Peter Stampfel, record collector Luis Kemnitzer and Folkways boss, Moses Asch.

The Anthology of American Folk Music is a tribute to Smith's vision and Folkways courage and is just as vital and important today as it was fifty-seven years ago.

Although hardcore collectors will already own much of the music, the tracks have now been brought together on CD in the context of one whole amazing work: The anthology that changed the world forever for lovers of ethnic American music. Get this and immerse yourself in American roots musical history.

Ask for SFWCD40090. Great box set of musical history - only £69.75 plus p&p. 


Review Date: January 2010

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