Various Artists
Deep River of Song: Black Texicans: Balladeers and Songsters of the Texas Frontier Rounder (

This release, spanning the years 1933-1940, includes several testimonies to the importance of African American cowboy labor in Texas (e.g., "St. James Hospital," "The Old Chisholm Trail," "Ranging Buffalo"). One of the last bastions of chattel slavery, Texas had a sizable black population, and after the Civil War, many freedmen found work in the cattle industry that arose on the coastal plains around Houston and Corpus Christi. Leadbelly's "Western Cowboy" is a wry, memorable side (covered many years later by the Jim Kweskin Jug Band). Neighboring Louisiana's influence is also manifest in Percy Ridge's distinctive a cappella rendering of "Western Cowboy" (recalling the classic, "Cabbage Head"), Phineas Rockmore's "Boll Weevil," an anonymous prison group's "Pick a Bale of Cotton," and Pete Harris's "Jack of Diamonds" and "He Rambled." The most curious cut is Butter Boy's "Old Aunt Dinah," an unaccompanied kind of chant done in a mouth-popping style known as "eephing" - it simply has to be heard. The Lomaxes themselves had trouble describing it, although the Nashville musicians union lists several white "eephers" even today, testimony to the crossover might of roots musical genius, regardless of cultural origin. As in other Lomax titles, many of the cuts (14 of 29) are prison recordings, signaling a belief that older musical forms survived under social conditions approximating slavery. They were wrong on that point - prison songs mirrored the appalling conditions of 20th-century racism and chain gang labor - but nonetheless, this important release vindicates their unerring aesthetic sensibilities with respect to African American folk expression. - Michael Stone

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