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The Musical Melting Pot

June 2024
1min read

Sounds of the South A Musical Journey From the Georgia Sea Islands to the Mississippi Delta

recorded in the field by Alan Lomax, Atlantic 7 82496-2 (four CDs), $63.92 . CODE: BAT -4

In 1959 the folklorist Alan Lomax, who two decades before had recorded Jelly Roll Morton’s remarkable musical reminiscences (see above), spent the summer taping every sort of folk music of the American South. There, he wrote, “the rich and contrasting musical cultures of Northwest Europe and West Africa have lived together for more than 300 years, with little interference from learned or official culture. Their illegitimate offspring—minstrel songs, the spiritual, ragtime, jazz, blues, bluegrass, cajun, country, gospel and rock—became regional, then national, and finally international idioms.… These Sounds of the South, the outcome of two centuries of friendly musical exchange between blacks and whites, amount to something of a cultural triumph.” These recordings—originally issued on seven LPs and now squeezed onto four CDs—capture the broad variety of that music at a time when it was still vital in some of its most ancient traditions but could be captured on up-to-date stereo equipment. Lomax uncovered primal-sounding fife-and-drum music and unaccompanied blues singing that seemed to reach back centuries, ecstatic church choruses both black and white, chain gangs doing their prison work songs, virtuosic bluegrass bands, Ozark balladeers. Some of his discoveries went on to considerable fame; they included the blues singer Fred McDowell and the band the Mountain Ramblers. All of them are worth hearing. You won’t soon forget the sound of the residents of St. Simons Island, Georgia, singing as they once did when heaving timber onto old sailing schooners: “O Ratty, join the band—Hanh! O run along, come join the band.…” The set contains full and very informative notes in an extremely handsome book.

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