Sad City: 10 essential recordings by Alan Lomax

Ahead of his set at this year’s Farr Festival, Glasgow-based Emotional Response/Meda Fury/R & S affiliated producer Sad City has delved into a striking collection of recordings by late American ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax. Read on for his commentary and play the accompanying recordings below, it makes for essential listening.

“I was first introduced to the recordings of Alan Lomax by my father when I was about 15 years old. I had been listening to blues music for a year or so at that point and was starting to get more curious about earlier country and delta blues. My dad mentioned Lomax and told me a bit about him; that he (assisting his father at first) would travel around the US in a big Ford truck with an enormous portable recorder, along the way capturing what would become some of the most enduring folk & blues recordings ever made. That summer, under the not-so-delta Irish sun, I read Lomax’s book, The Land Where the Blues Began and I was hooked.

I became obsessed not only with the music itself but the environment within which the recordings were made; the background sounds of creaking wood and cicadas; the heat that seemed to drip from the guitar strings; the hands being clapped; feet being stomped; whoops and hollers. It made me appreciate how much depth can be contained within a piece of music, irrespective of the number of instruments being played. This music was often explosive in its minimalism, raw in its exposure of the soul being let loose and conveys a voice of impossible belief and endurance.

Naturally, it is not at all easy nor appropriate to choose a ‘top 10’ from a catalogue spanning hundreds of field recordings, varying so greatly in style and context and age. It would be wrong also for me to portray myself as someone who has experience or memory of every Lomax recording ever made. So, I have instead here chosen to focus specifically on those recordings Lomax made in the US (and not the several other countries such as Italy, Romania, UK or Ireland where he made substantial amounts of folk recordings). The music I have selected here traverses Gospel and Spirituals, Mississippi and Arkansas Delta blues and penitentiary work songs.

As it is near-impossible to accurately record which records each of these pieces of music have been released on, I have instead simply listed the approximate year each was recorded along with the performer and song title.”

1/ Bama – “Levee Camp Holler” (1957)

2/ Ed Lewis – “I Be So Glad When The Sun Goes Down” (1960)

3/ Jimpson – “Road Song (Murderer’s Home)” (1957)

4/ Bessie Jones – “O Death” (1961)

5/ Viola James & Congregation – “Is There Anybody Here That Love My Jesus” (1960)

6/ Georgia Sea Island Singers – “Sink Em’ Low” (1961)

7/ Rosa Lee Hill – “Faro” (1959)

8/ Rev. R. C. Crenshaw & Congregation – “I Love The Lord” / “I’m Goin’ Home On The Mornin’ Train” (1959)

9/ Fred McDowell – “Shake’em On Down” (1960)

10/ Forest City Joe – “Train Time” (1960)

Sad City plays Farr Festival, 13–15 July at Bygrave Woods, Hertfordshire. Get tickets here.

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