November 18, 2008 by gadaya
About 10 years ago, i bought the box-set reissue of “The anthology of american folk music” edited by Harry Smith and originally issued by Folkways Records in 1952. At that time, this compilation of 78rpm records from the 1920’s and 1930’s, was the first anthology to present America’s folk and vernacular music in a constructive way, including white and black performers, and classifying the music in three general categories: Ballads, Social music and songs. The styles of music were very diverse: Old-time country tunes and songs, early Blues, Gospel, Cajun, etc… The man behind all this, Harry Smith, was an eccentric artist and record collector with a vast colection of 78rpm record from witch he selected 84 selections. The anthology was very influential on young americans of the fifties and sixties and it was descibed has “the Bible of the Folk Revival”.
This is just a brief summary and for those who wants to know more about the Anthology and his influence, Harry Smith and Folkways records, i’ll gather a list of links who will explain much better than i can.
To me, this anthology was a starting point and in the same time a summary of what i like about american folk music. It really opened a new world of musical and historical horizons, a quest for searching the most authentic in world’s cultural traditions and also the need to learn to play this music myself.
I should say by this point that i’m not american, as maybe you can feel by my writing, but french, and that i’m 33 years old, so i’m really dealing with things that i knew only by listening, reading and in the last years, exploring the web.
The name of this blog was took from Greil Marcus’s description of the Harry Smith’s Anthology on his book about Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes. It’s an essential reading if you want to immerse yourself in all that stuff… it describes well the feeling you have listening to this music. It’s old, not only because it was recording in the twenties and thirties, but because the subjects and the musical styles of the songs belongs to a world that is now exctinct, vanished in the past, erased by a new, technological world that made dramastic changes in people’s lifes and long-carried traditions. And it’s weird because everything that is foreign to the present superficial mass-media polished culture looks weird and strange… Even back then when this recordings were made, it should have sounded weird to city peoples and to everyone outside this traditions. To me, the beauty and authenticity of folk music in general is that it reflects not only the musicianship of the performers but also their very life, their environnement. Along with the notes, you can feel a glimpse of the air they breathed, the landscape where they grew, and above all the feelings they have about their human condition at this certain time and place…