Border
Border
Border
Border
Border
The Lomax Collection

We will be continually updating this page as new CDs in the massive Lomax Collection get released.

Alan Lomax Collection Sampler
Southern Journey: Volumes 1-6
Prison Songs: Parchman Farm 1947-48
Brown Girl In The Ring
Bad Man Ballads
Harp of a Thousand Strings: All Day Singing from the Sacred Harp
And Glory Shone Around: More All Day Singing from the Sacred Harp

all titles: Rounder Records (www.rounder.com)

The image of Alan Lomax, a flamboyant visionary with a car trunk full of recording equipment, traveling down red clay roads and burrowing through prickly cotton fields in pursuit of America’s deepest musical roots, is ripe cinematic material that in the age of celebrity, is surprisingly authentic. With plenty of sweat, flat tires and odometer miles, Lomax single-handedly captured the South-East’s rich musical folklore, pursued its connective musical roots throughout the world, and changed the face of twentieth-century music.

Rounder ambitiously plans to cement Lomax’s sixty years of field work with over 100 discs containing 20-bit digital remasters of previously unreleased & reissued tracks. At completion, the Collection will comprise ten different multi-disc series. Senior Publicist, Glenn Dicker, acknowledges the difficulties in marketing a series this immense, but explains that, "[Rounder] firmly believes the recordings are absolutely essential and need to be made available."

Southern Journey, Vol. 1-6, the ribbon-cutter of the five to seven year project, retraces the roads Lomax and his father, John A. Lomax, journeyed in the 1930’s and 40’s. Using an Edison recorder for the Library of Congress, they discovered, no less, Leadbelly, Son House, Memphis Slim and Muddy Waters. If you recognize any of the aforementioned musicians, you have Alan Lomax to thank, but get in line, for as Brian Eno observed, "without Lomax it’s possible there would be no blues explosion, no r&b movement, no Beatles, Stones [or] Velvet Underground."

Returning in 1959 and ’60 with more advanced equipment, Lomax taped over eighty-hours of interviews and songs by working class musicians previously living in anonymity. Through Lomax’s enthusiasm and support, the voiceless found "an avenue…to express themselves and tell their side of the story."

Recordings of blues, gospel, bluegrass, hymns, work songs, and ballads were cut in the rural theaters of open fields, front porches, church sanctuaries, juke joints, and prison yards. "One time, Mr. Lomax made me…play him some songs," recalls Mr. Spencer on Vol. 2 and 5. "He just had me get the guitar, and he recorded me out there in the tobacco patch."

Intimate recording sessions are ornamented by a chorus of crickets, barking dogs, stomping feet, and creaking floor-boards. At times, you can almost feel the heat of the Mississippi night.

Lomax’s passion was evident in his relentless pursuit and the impact he made on the musicians themselves. With the advent of the portable recorder, Lomax could not only record but playback songs moments after history was burned onto tape. Lomax reflected that, "when you could play this material back to people, it changed everything for them. They realized that their stuff [and] they were just as good as anybody else."

Each disc’s booklet lends the feeling of inspecting a stranger’s diary, where Lomax’s extensive handwritten notes, reflections and photographs are joined with transcribed lyrics.

The Alan Lomax Collection Sampler is an excellent place for the novice to begin. Various tracks from Southern Journey and a sneak-peek of the discs to come are included. African-American prison songs, Caribbean island music, English, Scottish and Italian ballads, plus Lomax’s first journey into the South-East with his father comprise the 38-cut disc.

Even the most avid admirers will find the Collection (and there is plenty more coming) a lot to swallow in one sitting, but the cultural importance should not be overshadowed by short attention spans. For many, Lomax’s work exemplified cultural salvation, and for some, like the prayer leader of a Kentucky Baptist church, divine intervention: "…this young man with his little contraptions…might be the means of someone knowing that songs of Zion are still being sung."

- W. Todd Dominey


Some of the most potent of Alan Lomax's work is contained on this two disc set, Prison Songs: Historical Recordings from Parchman Farm 1947-48. Parchman was a complex of 15 labor camps covering a large area in Mississippi, a closed society of black men who were offered as "contract" labor to farms, railroads and industries of many sorts, passed around to do labor for the financial benefit of both the contractor and the state who sold them. Alan and John Lomax saw in this system of hard labor and limited contact a possible source for a musical heritage unaffected by outside popular tastes, something closer to the music of Africa as it had existed in the Americas through slavery and into the 20th century. The stories and songs captured on these two discs are chilling in their ability to capture pain, anger and even joy that manages to survive in what are the absurd conditions that prisons maintain, then and now. - CF


Brown Girl In The Ring

This is a classic set of game and play songs recorded on a number of Caribbean islands in 1962. Brown Girl In The Ring is perhaps one of the most endearing and revealing of the series of recordings Alan Lomax did outside of the American south. What I found so fascinating about this particular set of recordings was that by looking at the most rooted and least self conscious folk performers, children at play, we get a glimpse of not only the local music, but the folk process at its purest.

Just listening to the two opening tracks is revelatory. "There's A Brown Girl Lingering" certainly offers an opportunity for lyrical analysis, but more important are the differences between the musical rhythms chosen. The first track is sung by a group of girls from a school in San Juan, Trinidad. They sing it with a formal delivery that reflects a British school matron's influence. The next track is a raucous version by some girls in Anguilla and it has all the groove and back beat of a great Caribbean pop song, more truly the dance song it was meant to be. The whole album offers opportunities to analyze, but more important, it offers a purity of spirit, an emotional freedom that pop music could never deliver. Songs in English and Creole are included, with good notes and lyrics for all the songs. There is also a large companion book that includes sheet music and lyrics to everyone of the 62 songs on the album. - CF


Read another review of and hear a sound sample from Southern Journey

See also:
Anthology of American Folk
The Library of Congress
North America

return to rootsworld