Various Classic Railroad Songs

It’s safe to say that the American folk songbook would be radically different if it hadn’t been for trains. Just as the car became the focal image of rock’n’roll, the train represented the romance of escape from everyday drudgery for the early folk and country performers, and this compilation does an adequate job of gathering songs that have stood as the best examples of the genre. Thankfully, the artists who originally made them famous are also respected. Few performances are as transcendent as Furry Lewis’ "Kassie Jones,” and this sets the tone early in the set. From there we get several of Lead Belly’s best numbers ("Linin’ Track,” "Midnight Special,” and "Rock Island Line”), as well as Doc Watson’s effortless guitar genius on "The Train That Carried My Girl From Town” and "Wabash Cannonball.” But for every excellent glimpse of life before the horseless carriage, such as Elizabeth Cotten’s "Freight Train,” there ultimately isn’t enough variety to make this a mandatory purchase for a hardcore folk collector. Still, for the newcomer, Classic Railroad Songs serves as a fine sampler of some of the most significant early folk artists. (Smithsonian Folkways)