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The Alan Lomax Collection
Italian Treasury - Emilia-Romagna
Italian Treasury - Abruzzo

Both titles Rounder (

In traditional music, among other aspects of culture, Italy has been divided between its European North and Mediterranean South. (Recent migration to urban centers has finally diluted these differences.) Instead of a national folk music, Italy adopted opera and Neapolitan popular music as its unifying emblems. In traditional music Northern choral singing is in strict tempo, featuring relaxed vocals and blended harmony. Southward, choruses gradually disappear, replaced, in a general sense, by rubato, melismatic and non-blending strained vocals.

cd cover As part of Alan Lomax's apparent intention to record the entire world in the 1950's, he often consciously picked areas far from Italy's urban centers in order to find still living tradition, and to avoid overlap with the work of other folk music collectors. These albums, recorded in late 1954, document some of the local oral traditions of the Emilia-Romagna region in the North (where the "boot" joins the continent), and Abruzzo, whose central location is reflected by the transitional nature of its repertoire and techniques. There have been contemporary folk revivals since 1954, but this collection represents some of the last living peasant customs of these areas.

Both CD's feature approximately the same range of songs and instrumentals, almost all in identifiable pan-European folk styles. The instrumentals are 6/8 or 2/4 type contra and courting dances, polkas, featuring folk (not art music) violin or accordion and occasional guitar accompaniment.

The singers are presented in solos and small groups of mixed or single sexes, in unison or harmonized, from rough to quite polished performances. (Mixed singing groups is a recent phenomenon.) Many of the melodies and phrasing would not be out of place in other traditions, like singers in England, France and even Mexico.

Vocal genres include lyric songs like folk lullabies and work songs, as well as ballads, carols, songs related to extra-church rituals with distant pre-Christian echoes (masks, mummers and Carnival), and recently composed political broadsides that entered oral tradition. A few numbers alternate vocals with instrumental interludes.

There are a few short interviews with some performers that help place the pieces in context. These albums may not be representative of the areas' full spectrum. Lomax did not emphasize ballads and lyric songs which have since been found to be the main part of this area's repertoire. But there is no denying the power and rough beauty of these CD's.

Extensive notes include lyrics in Italian and English translation collected in a typical CD booklet with almost unreadable tiny print.- Stacy Phillips

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