Various Classic Mountain Songs From Smithsonian Folkways

The intentions of Smithsonian/Folkways to capture and preserve America's indigenous music can never be faulted, but its frankly academic approach to putting out records could never hold a candle to such artefacts as Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, or even the recent work of the late John Fahey's Revenant label. Yet, while the oldest recording on this compilation dates only to 1957, it's hard to argue with the selection of artists and songs. Towering figures like Dock Boggs, Roscoe Holcolm and Clarence Ashley still sound powerful even in their later years, while relative young 'uns Doc & Merle Watson, and Hazel Dickens hold their own among the rest of these artists born around the turn of the last century. That aspect aside, this album is best taken as a fairly rich sampling of the American folk canon, and a good starting point for anyone wishing to explore it. The gang's all here, from "Omie Wise," "John Henry," and "Barbara Ellen," to "The Cuckoo Bird," "The Wildwood Flower," and the elusive "Moonshiner." Unfortunately, unlike the Harry Smith collections, there's no encompassing vision connecting them. Still, there's probably no other place where you'll hear Sam McGee's "Railroad Blues," Berzilla Wallin's "Conversation With Death," and a few other chilling individual performances. (Koch)