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May 30, 2009

Son House - At Home: The Legendary Rochester 1969 Sessions

Don't worry, blues fanatics! I have not abandoned ye in favor of banjo-plunking cornheads. I still love crazed, semi-intelligible, barely-enunciated, heart-wrenching, soul-aggrivating, gut-churning blues from repentant revenants renewing their contentious creed through full-bodied antiharmonies. I have not forgotten you, though I have detoured.

Now, about this music. I have a contention, a bias if you will. Not all of you may be familiar with Indian Classical Music but to those of you who are, I'll say this: Son House was every bit as great a singer as Pandit Pran Nath, or whomever else you'd like to pull from the roster. He could slide the pants off most Veenaists (and I like veenaists). He lacked instruction, refinement and sophistication of technique, but made up for it all in power and soul. This is a heretical claim, to be sure, but it is true nonetheless. There are not only microtones in Son's notes, there are micro-feelings in his emotional scale. Redemptive and repulsive, reverentially profane - this is a music that draws you in as it kicks you in the face, a story which touches the ancient timeless epic sagas within your own soul, and looks to the world like a filthy drunk staggering under a streetlight, blathering on about some great folly that looms forever in his path. And wake up, because as pitiful and uncomfortable as this music is, it contains a truth that most people will never even dare to think. Something very close to enlightenment, very close to death. So pay attention, but don't listen with your mind, or you'll never get it.

Notes & lies & irrelevent details:
When back in 1964 Nick Perls, Dick Waterman and Phil Spiro searched the Mississippi Delta region for clues as to the whereabouts of legendary blues recording artist Son House, they first drew a blank. Finally, in Robinsonville - where Robert Johnson first played blues in a juke joint - they got a lead which eventually took them right back to New York State. In June of that year, they arrived at Son House's home in Rochester's riverfront Corn Hill neighborhood, almost a thousand miles from Mississippi! Son had lived here since 1943, soon after being recorded for the Library of Congress by Alan Lomax. Son had not performed blues for many years and was completely unaware of the international enthusiasm for the 10 sides he recorded for Paramount in 1930 and those he later made for Lomax. Although a little rusty at first, after practicing for some weeks he gradually relearnt his old guitar skills and his voice strengthened to the point where he was able to play concerts again. "When he played, his eyes rolled back in his head and he went somewhere else. Whether it was Robinsonville in the '30's or wherever, he transported himself back without any trickery and became the essence of Delta. He would then finish the song, blink his eyes, and then reaccustom himself to where he was at the time." - Dick Waterman, remembering Son House. By the time John Hammond of Columbia Records decided to record him in April 1965, he was singing and playing with such power and conviction that the years seemed to have rolled away, with some of performances rivalling those for the Library of National Congress twenty years before. The informal recordings of Son and his wife (who plays tambourine and gives a spoken message) on this CD were made by Steve Lobb at their Rochester home, just prior to Son's second European tour. They remind us of the remarkable return to music of one of the very greatest of all the many Mississippi blues singers.

Son House - At Home: The Legendary Rochester 1969 Sessions

Year: 1992
Label: Document

Review by Bruce Eder

Recorded at his home in September of 1969 by blues enthusiast Steve Lobb, Son House turns in one of the most vital and compelling performances available from his late career comeback. While the 1965 Columbia Records sessions require explanations about his age and extended retirement, there is no excuse necessary for the contents of this CD. Opening with the 20-minute long "Son's Blues," he radiates explosive power, his voice surging and his guitar strings snapping against the fretboard in a slow, fiery performance. The tension and sustained strength of this one piece makes this CD far more valuable as a specimen of Son's best work than any of the CBS material -- this is the perfect companion to his inimitable Alan Lomax and Paramount recordings of the 1930s and early 1940s. Nothing else here quite matches the opening track, although Son still seems in far better form than he did on some of his better-known comeback recordings.

01 - Son's blues
02 - Yonder comes my mother
03 - Shetland pony blues
04 - I'm so sorry, baby
05 - Plantation song
06 - Mister Suzie-Q
07 - Evening train
08 - Sundown
09 - Preachin' the blues
10 - Empire State express
11 - Never mind people grinnin' in your face
12 - Sun goin' down
13 - A spoken message

the dark at the end of the tunnel.
mp3 160kbps | w/ cover | 90mb

and thank Al 'Blind Owl' Wilson of Canned Heat fame for re-teaching Son House to play like Son House, and for taking Fahey's Veena and learning to play it.

May 28, 2009

Fred Geiger - Fred Geiger

Yet another mysterious progressive banjo album from the 70's! I don't know much more about Fred Geiger than I did about D.W. Griffiths or Larry McNeeley. But he sounds something like the two of them, and this is a very worthwhile album. I do know that he's been a regular contributor to Banjo Newsletter for some time, so a great many banjoists have probably learned from him indirectly. There's some great exploratory bluegrass on here, and some fine grassy jazz too. Though Don Parmley's break on The Sheik of Araby owes considerable debt to Clarence White (who among us doesn't?...), Geiger's work on it is a crystalline dance of originality, and it's an outstanding version of the tune.

Hope you're enjoying these interludes of banjoey brilliance. There's more to come!

Fred Geiger - Fred Geiger

Year: 1978
Label: Ridge Runner 0014

01 - Liza
02 - I've found a new Baby
03 - Ain't Misbehavin
04 - Sheik of Araby
05 - Lulaby of Birdland
06 - First Day in Town
07 - Sundance

08 - Nice Work If You Can Get It
09 - Take the 'A' Train
10 - Ambogeneity
11 - Muskrat Ramble
12 - Back Home in Indiana
13 - Send in the Clowns

Fred Geiger, Banjo
Akira Otsuka, Mandolin
Bob Williams, Guitar
Tom Gray, Bass
David Parmley, Rhythm Guitar and lead guitar on first break of Sheik of Araby
Warren Blair, Fiddle

ambogeneity? and alternate link.
from vinyl | mp3 320kbps | w/ cover | 95mb
* out of print

May 25, 2009

Vintage Hawaiian Treasures, Vol. 7: The History Of Slack Key Guitar

It's past time I posted some Hawaiian music. I love this stuff, though I know very little about it so I'll leave the writing to the better-informed. I'll just add a note about its particular magic. It would be impossible for this music to have been born on the continent. The landscape of Hawaii permeates the moods and rhythms, the tones and wails. If you listen, you can hear waves carressing the sand, palms dancing to the breeze and the curves of semi-clad women making loops around the conversation. The music lopes and turns in upon itself, only to give way under its own lofty billowing gait. It takes your tensions and rings them out like plantains through a pestle. Unbutton your mind and float upon the salty drones.

Reviews from

I love this album! Here we have all 20 of the first commercial recordings of ki ho'alu (slack key) guitar, pressed between 1946 and 1950 by small local Hawaiian labels-- Bell Records of Hawai'i, 49th State Hawai'i, and Aloha Records. Especially noteworthy is the 78 rpm record that started it all back in 1946 -- Gabby Pahinui's HI'ILAWE. Ray Kane, the late Sonny Chillingworth and many of the other older slack key masters point to this Bell Records release as the one that
got them interested in seriously pursuing the ki ho'alu style. In fact, the C Wahine tuning that Gabby used for this piece has since become known in the slack key world as "Gabby's C" or "HI'ILAWE" tuning. Prior to HI'ILAWE's release, ki ho'alu was considered "home" music. You heard it at family gatherings and neighborhood parties, but hardly ever in context of Hawaiian pop. Professional Hawaiian musicians, who played for the tourists at hotels and night clubs and
recorded commercially, stuck to the more recognizable (and, therefore, marketable) sound of the steel guitar, ukulele and the standard-tuned, strummed guitar. Gabby's HI'ILAWE was a revelation to the young Hawaiian guitarists of the day; not only did it legitimate ki ho'alu but it also served as a model for the creative revitalization of this important element of Hawai'i's musical heritage.

The legendary HI'ILAWE aside, each cut on this album is a rare treasure-- from Gabby's 1947 HULA MEDLEY, the first commercial recording of a slack key guitar solo instrumental, to PUNALU'U, which features the lovely traditional singing of Mama Tina Kaapana, the mother of today's current slack-key great, Ledward Kaapana. Unfortunately, most of these 78's were originally recorded in small, poorly equipped studios and some of the master discs used here have suffered from the wear 'n' tear of age. Still, you can hear and appreciate the incredible care and skill that went into the near- impossible task of restoring and remastering these precious time capsules.

It's great that this album was the product of the combined efforts and resources of the leading labels documenting traditional Hawai'ian music: Michael Cord's Hana Ola Records and George Winston's Dancing Cat Records. Mahalo to Jay Junker, Harry B. Soria and George Winston
for the very informative liner notes, complete with the slack key tunings for each cut.

THE HISTORY OF SLACK KEY GUITAR is a keeper and "must-have" for every fan of ki ho'alu and Hawaiiana. Better yet, it belongs in the music library of all those who love finger-style acoustic guitar... regardless of musical persuasion.
- Schlomo Pestcoe

This is roots music. Granted, the guitar is not native to Hawaii, and so the slack key genre had non-native influences at its very beginning (Mexican cowboys from the 1830's, to be exact.) But the guitar is also not native to, say, the Mississippi Delta, and I think few would say that the rich treasure trove of guitar music that came out of that region was not genuinely reflective of the culture that spawned it. This record, containing pieces recorded mostly in the 1940's and 1950's, showcases the Mississippi John Hurts, Blind Blakes and Robert Johnsons of the slack key tradition. These were the first artists of the genre to be recorded (this record contains the first ever recorded slack key piece, recorded by the legendary Gabbie Pahinui), and the ones who later became the idols of a new generation of Hawaiians in the 1960's and 1970's wanting to discover their musical roots. Pahinui, Henry Kaalekaahi, Tina Kaapana, Tommy Blaisdell and many others, some of whom later recorded prolifically, but most of whom did not, are featured here.

Every tune on this record is a complete gem. If you have never heard slack key guitar, imagine stumbling for the first time on a compilation of Hurt, Blake, Johnson, and perhaps Lightnin' Hopkins, Rev. Gary Davis, Blind Willie McTell and others of that genre, and you may get the idea. The playing, all finger-picked on unique (slack key) open tunings whose mysterious fingerings and overtone qualities are still the closely-guarded secrets of the family musical dynasties that developed them, is every bit as virtuosic and thrilling as that of the Delta and country blues masters of the American South. And every bit as evocative of the culture it grew out of. It somehow embodies the slow rhythms of the ocean waves and a slower, more open and generous culture than the one in which we now find ourselves.

A must have for anyone who treasures pure,uncommercialized roots music that still allows us a glimpse of a vanishing culture.
- David K. Bell

Vintage Hawaiian Treasures, Vol. 7: The History Of Slack Key Guitar

Year: 1995 (comp)
Label: Hoc

1. Hi' ilawe - Philip Gabby Pahinui - 3:14
2. Hula Medley - Philip Gabby Pahinui - 2:56
3. Wai O Ke Aniani - Philip Gabby Pahinui - 3:11
4. Ki Ho' alu - Philip Gabby Pahinui - 2:53
5. Slack Key Hula - George Keoki Davis - 2:46
6. Wahine Slack Key - George Keoki Davis - 2:40
7. The Kanaka Hula - George Keoki Davis - 2:53
8. Holau Medley - Henry Kaalekaahi - 2:20
9. The Strolling Troubadour - Henry Kaalekaahi - 3:03
10. Ho' okipa Paka / Maunawili Medley - Henry Kaalekaahi - 2:55
11. Hawaiian Melody - Abraham Kalauli Konanui - 2:40
12. Maui Serenade - Abraham Kalauli Konanui - 2:56
13. Punalu'u - Mama Tina Kaapana - 2:53
14. Music for Dreaming - William Namahoe - 2:59
15. Midnight Hawaiian Serenade - Tommy Solomon - 2:23
16. Old Timer's Hula - Tommy Solomon - 2:18
17. Hula Medley - Mike Ho' omanawanui - 2:56
18. Mokihana Slack Key - Tommy Blaisdell - 2:31
19. The Rocking Chair Hula - Tommy Blaisdell - 2:24
20. Hi'ilawe - Philip Gabby Pahinui - 2:45

increase your slack! [new link 5-28-09]
mp3 128kbps | w/ full scans | 78mb

May 22, 2009

Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, Volume Four

Now, I'm assuming that you've all heard Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, volumes 1-3, released by Smithsonian Records in 1952 and re-released on CD in 1998. It's THE essential primer on American roots music. If you haven't heard it, you should remedy that situation right now. As Dave Van Ronk said, "The Anthology was our Bible. We all knew every word of every song on it." Now there's various tributes to the Anthology (the Anthology Revisited and The Harry Smith Connection) and it seems to be coming into the mainstream again. But most people still don't know that there was a fourth volume that was never published in Harry Smith's lifetime, and has since been published by Revenant. And now it's out of print, so it's getting re-distributed by Wrath of the Grapevine Records.

Biographical Excerpts:

HARRY SMITH (1923-1991)

Harry Smith was an artist whose activities and interests put him at the center of the mid twentieth-century American avant-garde. Although best known as a filmmaker and musicologist, he frequently described himself as a painter, and his varied projects called on his skills as an anthropologist, linguist, and translator. He had a lifelong interest in the occult and esoteric fields of knowledge, leading him to speak of his art in alchemical and cosmological terms.

Harry Smith was born May 29, 1923, in Portland, Oregon, and his early childhood was spent in the Pacific Northwest. Smith's father, Robert James Smith, was a watchman for the local salmon canning company. His mother, Mary Louise, taught school on the Lummi Indian reservation. Robert Smith's grandfather had been a prominent Freemason who was a Union General in the Civil War. Harry's parents were Theosophists, who exposed him to a variety of pantheistic ideas, which persisted in his fascination with unorthodox spirituality and comparative religion and philosophy. By the age of 15, Harry had spent time recording many songs and rituals of the Lummi and Samish peoples and was compiling a dictionary of several Puget Sound dialects. He later became proficient in Kiowa sign-language and Kwakiutl. In addition to developing complicated systems for transcription, he also amassed an important collection of sacred religious objects, one of a number of museological endeavors that occupied Smith throughout his life.

Smith studied anthropology at the University of Washington for five semesters between 1943 and 1944. After a weekend visit to Berkeley, during which he attended a Woody Guthrie concert, met members of San Francisco's bohemian community of artists and intellectuals, and experimented with marijuana for the first time, Smith decided that the type of intellectual stimulation he was seeking was unavailable in his student life.

It was in San Francisco that Smith began to build a reputation as one of the leading American experimental filmmakers. He showed frequently in the "Art in Cinema" screenings organized by Frank Stauffacher at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Smith not only became close with other avant-garde filmmakers in the Bay Area, such as Jordan Belson and Hy Hirsh, but traveled frequently to Los Angeles to see the films of Oskar Fischinger, Kenneth Anger, and other Southern Californians experimentalists. Smith developed his own methods of animation, using both stop motion collage techniques and, more uniquely, hand-painting directly on film. Often a single film required years of painstakingly precise labor. While a few other filmmakers had employed similar frame-by-frame processes, few matched the complexity of composition, movement, and integration in Smith's work. Smith's films have been interpreted as investigations of conscious and unconscious mental processes, while his fusion of color and sound are acknowledged as precursors of sixties psychedelia. At times, Smith spoke of his films in terms of synaethesia, the search for correspondences between color and sound and sound and movement.

During World War II, he rabidly collected 78 rpm records from the '20s and '30s. This laid the foundation for a collection from which Anthology of American Folk Music would be drawn, and also helped rescue from obscurity much music that would have been discarded otherwise. This was a time, it should be remembered, when the very concept of record collecting, in the name of preserving cultural riches, was virtually unknown. Not only that, many records were being used as shellac for the American World War II effort, resulting in many rarities vanishing forever as they were converted for wartime use.

Smith continued to build up a massive collection of records and other artifacts throughout the '40s, moving to the San Francisco Bay Area and eventually, at the beginning of the '50s, New York. Although by this time he had thousands of discs, record collecting was far from his only pastime; he was also busy painting and working on his unusual animated films. In need of money, he offered to sell his extraordinary record collection of American vernacular music to Folkways Records. Instead, Moses Asch, the label's president, challenged Smith to cull his collection into an anthology.

In 1952 Folkways issued Smith's multi-volume Anthology of American Folk Music. The Anthology was comprised entirely of recordings issued between 1927 (the year electronic recording made accurate reproduction possible) and 1932, the period between the realization by the major record companies of distinct regional markets and the Depression's stifling of folk music sales. Released in three volumes of two discs each, the 84 tracks of the anthology are recognized as having been a seminal inspiration for the folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960 (the 1997 reissue by the Smithsonian was embraced with critical acclaim and two Grammy awards). Traditional American music was only one of Smith's musical interests. From the late 1940s, he was a passionate jazz enthusiast, going so far as to create paintings that are note-by-note transcriptions of particular tunes. He spent much of the fifties in the company of jazz pioneers like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonious Monk. Smith's involvement with recording continued into the sixties and seventies as he produced and recorded the first album by the Fugs in 1965. His long term friendships with many of the Beat writers led to the release of Allen Ginsberg's First Blues in 1976 as well as unreleased recordings of Gregory Corso's poetry and Peter Orlovsky's songs. Smith spent part of this era living with groups of Native Americans, and this resulted in his recording the peyote songs of the Kiowa Indians (Kiowa Peyote Meeting, Folkways, 1973).

Smith's broad range of interests resulted in a number of collections. He donated the largest known paper airplane collection in the world to the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum. He was a collector of Seminole textiles and Ukrainian Easter Eggs. He also considered himself the world's leading authority on string figures, having mastered hundreds of forms from around the world.

Smith spent his last years 1988-1991) as "shaman in residence" at Naropa Institute, where he offered a series of lectures, worked on sound projects, and continued collecting and researching. In 1991 he received a Chairman's Merit Award at the Grammy Awards ceremony for his contribution to American Folk Music. Upon receiving the award, he proclaimed, "I'm glad to say my dreams came true. I saw America changed by music."

Harry Everett Smith died at the Chelsea Hotel on November 27, 1991.

"Folk conspiracy theorists surmised that AAFM wasn't just a collection of purt' fine tunes, but also a magical spell, arranged by artist-alchemist-experimenter Smith in a very specific order so that the total effect of listening would be to alter consciousness on both a societal and individual level. It worked, but the presentation (as with any magic trick) felt staged: You mean that sharecroppers and bootleggers dug fields as well as Aleister Crowley, Pythagoras, and Kabbalic numerology? Regardless, the old, weird American ghosts captured in that biblical tome ("Dock" Boggs, Henry Thomas, Buell Kazee) were no longer mere folk, but transformed into folk deities, haunting the cotton gins, porches, and distilleries of an America now passed." - Village Voice

For example, I excerpt from interviews with John Fahey on the Nature of Reality:

Now let us review. Please note that I am the Great Koonaklaster, as I have told you before. My hobby is traveling around the countryside planting magic apple trees. I am Johnny Appleseed. I like to have fun just like you do.


Anybody who eats one of my magic apples gains the knowledge of good and evil music.

Harry Smith, the great American Magus put together an anthology of old 78 RPM records made by artists to whom I had fed one or more of MY magic apples.

Harry the Smith was not an incarnation of the Great Koonaklaster, i.e., myself. No, for people to whom I assign lotsa very important work I set up partial incarnations.


The Great Kelvitron has more mantras than I do, but then, too, it doesn’t really matter very much because I created the GREAT KELVITRON.

I’ll show you his mantras and mine in time. Be patient.

Harry truly was a brilliant man. NOBODY ELSE woulda issued


on the Anthology of American Folk Music.


But Harry Smith did.


Now, whether you know it or not there is great mystery here. Whenever you hear the name Harry Smith, look out. Something heavy and fantastic is coming your way. But when Harry Smith and Frank Cloutier get together, hell, anything can happen,and it usually does.

Because Harry Smith and Frank Cloutier drank a hell of a lot of my apple juice. I mean a lot.

I arranged things so that they met each other. Because I knew that they would pull lotsa big weird capers. And they sure did.

For example ------ | no I’ll tell you about that later when I tell you about | the Pleasure Dome of Kubala Khan.

Anyway, there came into existence the Anthology of American Folk Music.

This was a great step forward for the welfare and well-being of all mankind.

The AAFM changed the world a hell of a lot.

I know and I tell you this because I am the face behind Harry Smith, I am the face behind Frank Cloutier. I am the face behind Mississippi John Hurt, the face behind Richard "Rabbit" Brown. I am the face behind Blind Uncle Gaspard, yea, verily I am the face behind the entire AAFM.


I am nothing but a gigantic red apple.

And yet, it is even I who make voices unseen and unheard --- voices from the void, voices from the all and all, voices from the ether, voices from the sun and moon and stars. Voices from the fog, voices from the asteroids and the rings of Saturn and the rings of Jupiter --- you didn’t know Jupiter had rings did you --- but now you know. Voices from the dust, voices from underneath the sand, voices from the mildew, voices from all the crushed turtles on the highways long forgotten, voices from the passenger pigeons and all the other extinct animals, voices from the hoboes that died in your bright blue city.

I am the voices of those you have neglected and allowed to die.

Those people and animals and other things --- they are all here with me.



I remove the veil.

Forbidden voices speak through me. Voices indecent, full of shame, are clarified and transfigured. For me seeing, hearing, feeling are miraculous events.

Nothing is ordinary.

No matter where you are, near or far daytime or nighttime, I am there. I make everything holy. You shall become what I am. You already are, in fact. You shall be the sun, the moon and the stars. Come and look for me. You shall find me. I am nearer than you think. Come out and look for me. I will meet you at the door. And you will find that the door enters the sun and that you are the sun just as I am because you and I are not two but one, and we always have been.

This will never change. Never. I give you my word.

Unfortunately, some people like Greil Marcus, cannot handle all of my amplitude, although clearly YOU can. This is sad because some writers like Marcus do notice things that nobody else sees. And they become determined to write about such things and they get confused. They short out.

Books like Invisible Republic cause the suicide rate to go up and not only that, the murder rate actually does go up, husbands leave their wives, wives leave their husbands and there is much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Many wars are fought and many a good man will die every time a book like this comes out. Because of the confusion.

In fact, many people go insane. Please put away this book and you will retain your reason.

Now listen to me. I will show you the way.

Listen to this: p. 95 - "The whole bizarre package (AAFM) made the familiar strange, the never known into the forgotten, and the forgotten into a collective memory----.

Poor Greil is trying to poeticize the dialectic by tossing around a few antimonies. He bloops. He must not have read Kant.

p. 96 - "The Anthology was a textbook -- an occult document disguised as an academic treatise (demonstrating that) America is a mystery."


This mystery Marcus attempts to explain by a construct. The construct is a city called Smithville which is the real world of the anthology.

p. 104: Marcus contends that "Smith constructed internal narratives and orchestrated continuities. He moved tunes about homicide into those about suicide. Or he placed a performance so that it would echo a line or a melody in a preceding number so that the repeated line might deepen its power of suggestion or the doubled melody intensified the gestures of the actors on its stage. Linking one performance to another, he ultimately linked each to all."

According to Marcus, Smith made a world or a town: SMITHVILLE

And here we find the center of the book.

Now this would have been a real neat trick if somebody had made such a metaphorical world. Hell, I would have abdicated. I really would have stepped down. But nobody did do it.

Nobody could.

Marcus gives us a few examples of the supposed coherency and connection which HE sees. But there are 84 goddamn songs on this compendium!


Greil Marcusville is inhabited by all the folks on the Anthology. They are all participants in some mysterious Weltanschauung and some unknown plot which is only hinted at by an occasional verse in one song and not repeated elsewhere.

Marcus claims he knows the plot.

But he never tells us the plot.

He claims he knows the Weltanschauung.

But he never tells us what it is. But I know what the plot is. I know what the Weltanschauung is. I know what the Zeitgeist is.

I am the Great Koonaklaster. I will explain it all.

Listen! The fact is, everybody in Marcusville has identical faces.

They are all Greil Marcus faces.

This is Marcusville: p. 125 - "A mystical body of the republic, a kind of public secret: a declaration of what sort of wishes and fears lie behind any public act, a declaration of a weird but clearly recognizable (?) America within the America of the exercise of institutional majoritarian power." -------- It is time for us to ask a question. Is it possible to construct a description of the character of a body of people from a group of the recorded performances without being circular? That is, without discovering our own preconceptions?

Probably not.

Nevertheless, I am going to attempt to do just that using the AAFM and "extensions" thereof, that is, similar recordings by American folk musicians, including some of the other recordings made by musicians on the AAFM. It will be coherent, interesting, entertaining, informative, but whether there is any significant and overall truth in it which enables us to make generalizations, I make no claim at all.

There is a certain morbidity, a certain despair, realism, disappointment and cynicism in American folk music that turns up again and again. The old American dream of democracy, unity, and equality---the dream of the new Zion built through hard work, agrarianism, populism, cooperation, camaraderie was gone by the end of the Civil War. Nobody trusted any large institutions anymore be it church, government, union, factory. No longer were railroads, electrification, large ocean-going vessels glorified. In particular enormous devices of power and transportation were no longer worshipped as they once had been. Giant harvesters did not yet exist. But in time they would. These recordings conserve sentiments which began in the previous century.

Over and under, near and far, day and night, I am there. I make everything holy. What I am shall you be. You shall be the sun, the moon the stars. Come and look for me. I am near and you will find me. I am closer than you think. Come out and look for me. I will meet you at the door. And you will find that the door enters the sun and that you are the sun just as I am because you and I are not two, but one, and we always have been. You have always been mine. I have always been yours.

This will never change. Never.

Unfortunately some people like Greil Marcus cannot handle all of my amplitude, although clearly YOU can.

This is sad because writers like him do notice what nobody else Except YOU.

But they set about trying to write about it and they get confused. They short out.

Books like Invisible Republic cause the suicide rate to go up, and not only that, the murder rate goes up, husbands leave their wives, wives leave their husbands and there is much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Many wars are fought and many a good man will die because of this confusion.

Many went insane.

Many are still insane. Put away this book and you will retain your reason.

Read me and I will show you the way.

Listen to this!

p. 95 "The whole bizarre package [AAFM] made the familiar strange, the never known into the forgotten, and the forgotten into a collective memory---"

WOW! All he has to do is add water and stir.

Poor Greil is trying to poeticize the dialectic by tossing around a few antinomies.

But he bloops. He must not have read Kant.

p. 96: "The Anthology was a textbook ---- an occult document disguised as an academic treatise (demonstrating that) America is a mystery."

The optimistic sentiments of the great orators, Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln were perceived as a pageant of sophistry driven by greed, dreamed up by rhetoricians to keep the those of the underclass optimistic while at the same time starving them by paying them slave wages. With the immigration of small farm tenants to the city, because of electricity and the railroads, by 1900 the U.S. was a collection of giant city-states or the


where everyone is a stranger, an enemy, somebody to exploit.

Cities, as we now know, do not possess souls. The inhabitants do not have souls.

Cities are the home of psychic vampires, thought police and vampire vultures.

Nobody told the Americans of the cyclical nature of history. Nobody told them of the vegetative essence. Nobody told them they only had so much time to establish a culture, so much time before the inevitable soul-less mammonization ruled. Now the body of the people is entirely and essentially urban in constitution. A formless mass, with no individuals.

The Stone Colossus stands at the conclusion of culture where a herd of beings huddles together against the bleak, barren architecture seeking only to return to absolute vegetative servitude through drugs, religion, politics, anything. Anything, that is, except the thought police and the vampires.

The new soul of the city speaks a new language which permeates everything and everybody. Look at the architecture. These stone visages that have incorporated the eye and the intellect of the citizen---how distinct the language of form that they babble---how different from the rustic drawl of the landscape.

No longer can the landscape figure dominate man’s eyes. Once it gave form to his soul. Feelings and woodland rustlings beat together.


Can you still hear a gentle breeze drift through the great forest of oaks when the sun is high at midday? The splashing of the water in the brooklets, the kils, the creeks? Near the shore of the lake can you still see a a ten pound trout break water for reasons known only to I? Vultures float along the skyways looking for clouds to sit on and, of course, just as the-all-about-you is alive and growing unseen and unheard, the universal cyclicity demands the decomposition of all above the earth below the earth, not announced itself, why should it, it’s there anyway, it goes on and on and on and on.


Now, you know that you can see or hear parts of the nature process. But don’t you know that every man has an organ to feel the never-ending process?

Don’t you know that every man has an organ to feel the never-ending process?

Regard the flowers at eventide as, one after the other, they close in the setting sun. Strange is the feeling that then presses in upon you --- a feeling of enigmatic fear in the presence of this blind dreamlike earth-bound existence. The dumb forest, the silent meadows, this bush, that twig, do not stir themselves, it is the wind that plays with them. Only the little gnat is free – he dances still in the evening light, he moves whither he will.

A plant is nothing on it’s own account. It forms a part of the landscape in which a chance made it take root. The twilight, the chill, the closing of every flower – these are not cause and effect, not danger and willed answer to danger. They are a single process of nature, which is accomplishing itself near, with, and in the plant. The individual is not free to look out for itself, will for itself, or choose for itself.

An animal, on the contrary, can choose. It is emancipated from the servitude of all the rest of the world. This midget swarm that dances on and on, that solitary bird still flying through the evening, the fox approaching furtively the nest – these are little worlds of their own within another great world. An animal-cule in a drop of water, too tiny to be perceived by the human eye, though it lasts but a second and has but a corner of this drop as its field – nevertheless is free and independent in the face of the universe. The giant oak, upon one of whose leaves the droplet hangs, is not.

Servitude and freedom – this is in the last and deepest analysis the differentia by which we distinguish vegetable and animal existence. Yet only the plant is wholly and entirely what it is; in the being of the animal there is something dual. A vegetable is only a vegetable; an animal is a vegetable and something more besides. A herd that huddles together trembling in the presence of danger, a child that clings weeping to its mother, a man desperately striving to force a way into his God – all these are seeking to return out of the life of freedom into the vegetal servitude from which they were emancipated into individuality and loneliness.


Okay, now let us look at the goods, the items in the AAFM.

There is a story in these records. There is a Weltanschauung, lots of Weltanschauungen.


So why is there no discussion of Weltanschauung in Greil Marcus?

And what about the Zeitgeist? Everybody knows that the Zeitgeist has a great deal of influence on the Weltanschauung.

Okay now here comes the story. Frank Cloutier, walking down the street one fine day with Harry Smith! Cloutier talked Smith into issuing his, Cloutier’s "Moonshiner’s Dance",

#41 on the AAFM.

Now, this side is a crazy, contradictory, confusing collection. It really doesn’t fit on the AAFM. It’s a recording of a NORTHERN hotel band with horns, banjos, tubas, castanets, clarinets, tambourines, steam calliopes, rhinoceroses, elephants, jungle natives, multiple choruses and orchestras.

Why on earth did these guys perpetuate this outrageous, confusing tour de force on the public?

Smith notes, correctly, that there is a great deal of humor in this performance. Mixed together are songs from Ireland (Maggie), the USA (Turkey In The Straw), a middle European polka an Alap from north India, a Brazilian tango, a South African cremation ritual song, a gamelan, a hymn tune "Standing At The Cross", and several other pieces I cannot identify, played quickly and in short order, with a surprising, unexpected and eerie conclusion


What can we say about the notorious Frank Cloutier, confidant of Harry Smith? As of this day we do not know much about Cloutier. In the year 2005 Harry Smith’s bio of Frank Cloutier will be released by the Harry Smith Archives time release vault by the equally notorious --


Harry Smith’s heir and curator of the archives.

Well, we do know, if only from, infertile evidence that Cloutier was a Northerner, a Populist, a practitioner of New England transcendentalism, a proselytizer of Fredrich Hegel’s Transcendental Idealism, and an avid student and believer in the many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many writings of Emanuel Swedenborg.

Now, I do not say that Mr. Cloutier is a melting Populist. I do not say this because I did not know him personally or impersonally, and yet I think that it is easily inferable from the melting populist sentiments expressed on this track where practically every ethnic group is honored.

Now, you will note, that I do not say that Frank Cloutier, is, in reality, Charles Ives. No, I do not say this because I do not know either one of these spun characters. And I do not know either one of them personally, or impersonally, individually or in concert. Or in tandem.

But I do say that the Cloutier piece is a precursor of some of Charley Ives’ pieces, especially his Fourth Symphony.

Do I say that? Yes, I do say that, and not only that but I posit it as a fact. Furthermore I assert it. Furthermore I promulgate it. I do not merely sit back and imply or suggest it.

I insist upon it.

Granted the truth lies with some Ives maven.

Any Ives maven will do.

Go and ask this Ives maven if he thinks Ives would have liked the Cloutier piece.

I rest my case

Someone may well ask, was Cloutier a Schiller-lover.

I certainly hope not. There is absolutely no evidence for this noxious suggestion whatsoever, be it internal, infernal, or external.


Now let us turn to the second part of the story of America: the Fatal Flower Garden by Nelstone’s Hawaiians.

I really hate to say this but Harry Smith made a mistake here. Obviously he got mixed up here because Nelstone’s Hawaiians were quite dead by the time they made this recording. Listen to it! Death permeates this record, and probably suggested to Harry Smith that the little kid got killed or that somebody got killed.

But in fact if you listen carefully to the words you will find that instead of getting killed, the little boy gets seduced by the evil gypsy lady and shacks up with her and writes phony goodbye letters to his parents because he gonna stay there, baby, and go bangabangabangabanga all night long, and all day long with the beautiful gypsy broad.

Oh yes…listen to the words...

The theme of the Melting Pot, and the theme of loss of innocence is established in these two songs. And not just the innocence of the little boy but the innocence of the whole nation. Item number two is a warning against foreign, alien, aesthetic extremes especially of those of the orient and southern latitudes., the occult the----

Now, before we go any further, let us note that this collection is a very bloody and a very nasty compilation. Let us make a body count of all the people who get killed in this anthology of folk music. Twenty people are killed or commit suicide on the domestic scene, and 1,513 people died when the Titanic sank. If we add to that the 15 million people killed in WWI an event mentioned by Blind Lemon Jefferson and Cannon’s Jug Stompers we get a total 15,001,533 deceased. If we average this figure out among the 84 selections, we get 178,587.67 people killed per song in this collection!

…Tomorrow I will further introduce you to The Great Kelvinator, the Kelvitron and their relationship to me, THE GREAT KOONAKLASTER.


That’s a pretty big average. 178,587.67 horizontals per song on the AAFM.

Looking around and thinking about all these previous corporeals the official thought the USA had been judged by God and found wanting and was therefore under

JUDGEMENT. (See Sister Mary Nelson, # 47) And they said so again and again.

The sins? Murder, suicide, infidelity, blasphemy and idolatry, especially as in #23 where people express worshipful sentiments toward gigantic engines, modes of transportation and electric power. Where people like George Alley states that he "wants to die with for the engine I love, 143." So Georgie dies, Kassie Jones dies, John Henry dies and others die who were involved in building America.

Were these people nuts or what?

Do you want to go horizontal with some stupid engine?

There is no optimism in these songs. There is no looking forward in any off these songs. The story, or at least the public dream of America is seen to be baloney, a put-on, perpetuated by both the powerful and the poor.

Both participated in these lies and false hopes and idolatry. For this reason the "class struggle" cannot be a central fact or even a significant causative factor in the amount of alienation in de lan’.

Guilt is everywhere and although there is plenty of traditional preaching by these (Protestant) preachers they are seen as spokesmen for the official story.

As with the government or any large powerful institution, the unofficial, the folk, do not trust or believe in the words or sentiments of the members of any religious organization.

They perceive the preachers as liars.

OK, then how can you tell what it is that the real folk do believe and trust?

Anything? Is there any kind of transcendence for them?

Yes, in a way.

They believe in the possibility of the manifestation of their own wisdom based on their own experience, like the logo on the Missouri license plates "Show me".

Thus skepticism and cynicism and sense of humor and irony are essential as a defense against disaster.

And American folk music is full of cynical lyrics. Thus American folk music becomes a matter of self defense, a weapon.

A weapon against the despair that the official republic creates through its promises, propaganda and the ultimate disappointment amongst the proletariat when they discover that they have been screwed---when they realize they have been trapped in self-deception awaiting the great payoff which never comes, and franchizement. The cynicism is an important means of communication, a secret language.

The lyrics must be self-revelatory to the other members of the KARAS, to THE OTHER.

You can recognize THE OTHER through the irony and THE OTHER can recognize you through your irony.

But if you start talking about big things, government, religion, money , power---I know you by your language. You are part of the Official Republic. You are The Enemy.

The cynicism is also a mans of communication, a secret language.

The lyrics must be self revelatory to other members of the Karas, to The Other.

You can recognize through my irony and I could recognize you through your irony, but if you start talking about big things, government, religion, money, power----I know you by your language. You are one of the officials. You are The Enemy.

This folk religion is self- reliant but hopes for intimate communion with The Other.


Nevertheless, it should be remembered that American folk music is essentially a martial art. Its purpose is self-preservation. The preservation of the invisible karas, the mystical body, the unofficial, invisible body.

This cynical person will not worship or even honor any of the granfaloons in the official society, much less worship the entire entity.

Members of the invisible karas must of necessity stand outside the official social contract and must forever remain there. This is what genuine American folk music is, music of outsiders.

Death: Since it is a self-preservative system it must never consciously acknowledge a desire for death and yet it can never completely escape from a desire to return to pure vegetation. For underneath it knows that life is an unhappy affair, interrupted only occasionally by joy.

The folk never forget the inevitability of death and


No, never.

This folk religion is highly ethical and highly altruistic. It is an orchestra of those who have been wounded by members of the official combine and see through it.

It is an orchestra of those who can see the members of the official and see that they have sold out, that they have bought into the Great Beast of the visible institution.

Of course the official must exist and must continue to exist out of its own necessity, but also because of its own complicity in the Great Scheme, the Great Game, so visible if one will only look: Like a great red light shining brightly to show the members of the alternative culture by no

means of internal contradiction what is not authentic, not true, and in a sense not even real.

The official society always appears to be strong. For the Great Beast the alternative does not have a chance of accomplishing anything of significance, much less of winning.

Therefore remember what I, the Great Koonaklaster taught you through my magic apples:

1. The official is appearance only. In the long run, the strongest are the weakest.
2. The official exists for the sole purpose of your edification, and making your edification the more actual, enduring and real.
3. He who has ears let him hear.
4. The humorous cynicism I taught you in reason, science, and music----that the exercise of this organ alone or in concert, is the greatest source of joy and wisdom short of the forthcoming all-in-the-all and the altogether in the altogether, when we shall all be one.
5. Finally the source of daily strength and joy comes by chanting the mantras I have given you in "John Fahey"’s book SPANK.


And finally--- the strongest of all:


Consequently I, the Great Koonaklaster declare on this day the 13th day of December 1998,

1. There is a mystical and invisible body.
2. The mystical body is older than the institutional body. In fact it is ancient.
3. The unofficial and invisible body of the people of the USA is the culmination and the logical goal of all the wisdom of all the wisdom and knowledge contained by or known by this ancient body of people, most of whom did not know each other.
4. I knew them all.
5. There has been a form of unobserved, unacknowledged and even unknown method of communication between the members of this mystical group.
6. Through me, through my mantram and through the indirect cynical communication, all of which I have taught you above, you may remain
8. in my consciousness, and I in yours, and you may remain in the great happiness, which I AM.

I, The Great Koonaklaster, hereby declare the Invisible Republic to be a frighteningly visible and gigantic insane asylum, disguised as a city-state, consisting of streets that go around and around and around and around in circles and lead nowhere, avenues which are dead ends, roads sided by false facades of buildings which are nothing but different wards for various types of diseased minds, sidewalks which lead to a gigantic maze, from which there is no exit, no escape, and finally people milling about in great confusion and perplexity, all of whom have been decided by the DIRECTOR as to their own identity and their own experience.

The director himself is insane.

The director’s name is Greil Marcus.

The book about the visible insane asylum is dangerous to the public health because it is full of factual errors and half truths and full of confusion. It contains false implications. Its main thesis is that there is a significant connection between AAFM and Bob Dylan, along with a collection of his tapes, which he made in some basement, along with a group of musicians called The Band. This contention is not proved. Furthermore, the hypothesis and its supposed proof, which does not exist, is obscured by endless babbling about various folklore items and informants, Marcus’ own free-association regarding such people and items, and finally his own spurious interpretations of his narcissistic and solipsistic and loony projections.

The musicians on the AAFM sing with little affect. Bob Dylan sings with great affect. He is much more dramatic than the AAFM folk. He is personal, hypnotic, focused, charismatic, clever, very often brilliant. He with premeditation uses any vocal or rhythmic technique or trick he can uncover to get you under his spell.

Everything he does is designed to elicit an emotional reaction on the part of the listener.

Sometimes his songs are quite lengthy.

Bob Dylan is therefore part of the Official Republic.

Bob Dylan is not a member of this insane asylum

The insane asylum exists only in Greil Marcus’ Kopf.

I think I shall disguise myself as John Fahey and enter my time machine and visit THE ROCK OF ETERNITY. Maybe while I’m out there in space I’ll see Captain Marvel and the Mole Men, or maybe Mr. Mind, president of the Monster society of Evil, or Billy Batson, or maybe even Mary Marvel.

I always liked Mary Marvel’s gams.

* * *

Har, har, you think I’m finished now. Har har you don’t know me. I never stop.

Back to Greil Marcus. Is there anything good to say about Greil Marcus?

Absolutely. He likes Doc Boggs. He talks a lot about Doc Boggs. Without comprehension, of course. Everybody knows that now. Boggs strikes a chord in Marcus. Marcus wrote lots of words about him. So now Boggs, dead, is selling more records than he ever did when he was alive.

Boggs is a big dead.

Boggs is in last month’s Atlantic Monthly.

That’s amazing.

Now I, the real John Fahey, am gonna’ write about Doc Boggs.

Har har.

Why not?

Everybody else is.

Know what I mean?


But I’m not gonna’ post it for awhile because I gotta’ post some more axioms and corollaries and short observations before we continue with the natures of reality.

But not right now.

I, the real John Fahey, am tired.

Gonna’ get some sleep

I love you, as the Great Koonaklaster loves me.

You know who I mean.

See you in my dreams

'Night Barry.

See ya’ soon.


Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, Volume Four

Review by Richie Unterberger

The Harry Smith-compiled three-volume Anthology of American Folk Music set, originally released in the 1950s and reissued to much brouhaha in 1997, was one of the most important records in launching the folk revival. It was not well known, though, that Smith compiled a fourth volume that was unissued. Revenant finally put it out in 2000, and like its three predecessors, it contains classic pre-World War II American country, blues, and folk music, with some gospel and Cajun too. It does differ from the first three volumes in its focus on a slightly later period, with all the tracks culled from the years 1928-1940. Leadbelly, Robert Johnson, Joe Williams, Bukka White, Memphis Minnie, and John Estes are all major blues artists; the Monroe Brothers, the Carter Family, Uncle Dave Macon, and the Blue Sky Boys all giant country/bluegrass pioneers; and the Hackberry Ramblers are one of the pre-eminent Cajun groups. A few of these songs are archetypes that have burned their way into the American collective musical consciousness: John Estes' "Milk Cow Blues," the Carter Family's "No Depression in Heaven," Joe Williams' "Baby Please Don't Go," and the Monroe Brothers' "Nine Pound Hammer Is Too Heavy." Other less famous performances are quite intriguing, like Sister Clara Hudmon's "Stand By Me" (believed by some to be Bessie Smith recording under a pseudonym) and Jesse James' raw and rollicking piano blues "Southern Casey Jones." At 28 songs spread over two CDs, it's a little shorter than might be expected for a box set, though as compensation, it's enclosed in a pretty incredible 96-page liner-note-sized hardcover book with writing by Dick Spottswood and John Fahey.

"There were to be four of them, and four volumes in the series. Red, Blue, Green were issued [on the original Folkways set], so that the element that was left out was earth..." . - Harry Smith from 1968 interview with John Cohen

Harry Smith was a true polymath--avant-garde filmmaker, alchemist, occultist, folklorist, painter, magician, archivist and expert on string figures, paper airplanes, and Ukrainian painted eggs--but is perhaps best known for his pioneering three-volume Anthology of American Folk Music, originally released in 1952 and reissued to great acclaim in 1997 by Smithsonian/Folkways. Compiled by Harry Smith contemporaneously with the first three volumes, Volume 4 of Harry's historic Anthology went unissued for almost 50 years. Til now.

In conjunction with the Harry Smith Archives, Revenant presents Smith's "secret volume" in its intended song sequence, including tracks by the Monroe Bros., Carter Family, Robert Johnson, Bukka White, Lead Belly, Uncle Dave Macon and Sleepy John Estes. Featuring the first in-depth narrative on Smith and his work, with essays by Harry's friend Ed Sanders (the Fugs), John Cohen (New Lost City Ramblers), John Fahey, Dick Spottswood and Greil Marcus, and previously unpublished photos, including a teenage Harry Smith engineering some of his earliest field recordings.

Two CDs housed in a 96 page hardbound book.

"...Vol 4 is lavish....Smith was a master of the segue...[and] had a prophet's ear..." - Rolling Stone

"...More lives have been touched by the music in these volumes than almost any other source. Dig in and dig it." - Mojo

"Legendary filmmaker/cultural icon Harry Smith (1923-1991) was the living definition of the term "culture vulture." Smith pioneered animation in film and associated with everyone from Jean-Luc Goddard to Billie Holliday and Jimmy Page, and in the early 1950's compiled the six-volume Anthology of American Folk Music for Folkways Records. This collection's aim was to document the entire continuum of American roots music in all its diversity. It succeeded fabulously (and helped spark the folk boom of the '50s and '60s). After 50-odd years, Revenant in conjunction with the Harry Smith Archives has released VOLUME FOUR.

This two-CD set details the beginnings of both 20th century country music and bluegrass (The Blue Sky Boys' "Down on the Banks of the Ohio") as well as their roots in Appalachian/Celtic folk (The Carter Family's "Black Jack David"). The blues, and its impact on folk and rock & roll, is represented by Leadbelly's epochal "Packin' Trunk" (a direct influence on Carl Perkin's rockabilly classic "Matchbox"), and the Memphis Jug Band's rollicking, irreverent "Memphis Shakedown." Anyone wishing to explore the roots of these classic American musics would do well to acquire this edition of Harry Smith's Anthology." - Interview

"Today, it is impossible to overstate the historic worth, sociocultural impact and undiminished vitality of the music in Harry Smith's Anthology, and Smith's idiosyncratic scholarship and instinctive wisdom." - David Fricke, Rolling Stone

"FINALLY REPRESSED! Harry Smith was by all accounts the most eccentric of characters, a polymath who would count avant-garde filmmaker, alchemist, occultist, folklorist, painter, magician, archivist and expert on string figures, paper airplanes, and Ukrainian painted eggs among his many, many vocations. However in recent years he has become best known for a short series of folk music collections. In three volumes, Smith collected up some of the finest American Primitive music the world had ever heard and this anthology went down in history as an essential part of the development of American music. However there was a fourth part which had remained unissued until 2000, when the ever-reliable Revenant label finally gave the collection the lavish treatment it deserved and allowed the world to hear Smith's final gift to music. Now after huge demand Revenant have pressed the double-disc package once more, giving those of us who missed it the first time around another chance to sink into a world of crackling folk music, proto-blues and rock 'n roll, early country and vintage bluegrass. For a child of the 1980s this is like an alien landscape to me, but it's such an important part of musical development that I can hear even now how these early ideas have impacted on music being made in 2007. It's only in the last few years that folk music has made a real comeback in the eyes of the contemporary music scene, and since the folk music we're hearing now is a reaction to folk music of the 60s, which itself was a reaction to the folk music of the 20s and 30s it's almost crucial to discover the origins. Across two discs we are introduced to fabulous selections from The Carter Family, Leadbelly, Jesse James, Robert Johnson, Minnie Wallace, Uncle Dave Macon and many more artists but it's fruitless for me to go into this track by track, as each track is essential and important in its own way. This anthology needs to be bought, enjoyed and discovered by anyone who claims to have an interest in music, that's all there is to it - grab it before it disappears again for another 7 years!" - Boomkat

Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music Vol. 4
Seattle Weekly
By Mike McGonigal,

THE BAD-ASS, the strange, the desperate and the sublime rub shoulders on Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, Vol. 4, a double-disc set of deep roots music that includes Robert Johnson, the Carter Family, Bukka White, Uncle Dave Macon, the Monroe Brothers, and more. Smith compiled these 28 songs at the same time as his three-volume Anthology of American Folk Music (released in 1952 and reissued to much acclaim in '97).

The Anthology jump-started the folk revival of the '50s and influenced a shitload of other music, too. It inspired Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, Joan Baez, and continues to cast a long shadow today. It was an unerring collection, showing the breadth of our immediate cultural past, in all its strange (sacred harp spirituals), unique (weirdly tuned Cajun music), and arresting ("I Wish I Was A Mole In The Ground") qualities. The records were arranged not according to race or geography, but the way Lucretius or Plato might have made a mixed tape: "Ballads," Social Music," and "Songs." John Fahey considers it the best single collection ever assembled, and it's tough to argue.

A collaboration between the Harry Smith Archives and Fahey's archivist-minded "raw musics" label Revenant, Vol. 4 is deluxely hard-bound with a 96-page booklet. The notes are worth the price of admission alone, especially Ed Sanders's lengthy biographical essay and historian Dick Spottswood's ultra-detailed notes on each song. But this set's major revelation is the fact that it exists at all. You see, the track listing for this volume was long thought lost by the notoriously irascible genius, artist, filmmaker, and self-described "ethnopharmacologist." It certainly would have fit a pattern: More than 150 major paintings and other works were lost in the '60s, discarded by an unpaid landlord. And Smith was prone to do things like roll the sole print of a super-detailed, hand-painted film-which had taken years to create-down Broadway in the rain, in a fit of rage. "There were to be four of them," Smith told musician and filmmaker John Cohen in 1968, "four volumes in the series. Red, Blue, Green were issued so that the element that was left out was earth. The real reason it didn't come out was that I didn't have sufficient interest." The folks at the Archives were interested, however, and the sleuths uncovered a reel-to-reel preserving the intended track listing.

The first three volumes consist of music, as Smith himself wrote, "made between 1927, when electronic recording made possible accurate music reproduction, and 1932 when the Depression halted folk music sales." But Vol. 4's recordings were made between 1928 and 1940, and this is no small difference. The immense regional distinctions that existed just a few years earlier begin to fade in front of your ears, while the personalities of individual musicians, as well as the dazzling qualities of their musicianship, becomes increasingly important. Vol. 4 shows an America struggling with itself-with the rising costs and deep despair of the Depression, with the mechanization of society, overseas assassinations, and backyard starvation. Intensely raucous jug band party music, kazoo-and-scat-powered jook blues, dour country-gospel, nimble-fingered Delta, and rollicking hill country blues are all here, plus one of the coolest, cruelest hillbilly-busting tunes you'll ever hear (Al Hopkins & His Buckle Busters' simple, crooning, yodel-and-violin-driven "West Virginia Gals.")

The words on Vol. 4 tell of a man who has to kill a woman because she will not marry him; what a drag it is to be locked up in the state penitentiary; a towering worker named John Henry vanquished by a machine; and corruption in Tennessee politics. Lip-service is paid to the idea that a better world awaits off in the sky; there is redemption in the Heavenly Gospel Singers' "Mean Old World," but an awful lot of rage as well. By all means grab this revelatory set and learn these songs well; they'll come in mighty handy when the next Depression rolls around.

Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, Volume Four

Released: 2000
Contents: 2 CD's, 96 pg. hardbound book [book not included]
Revenant No. 211

Track Listing
Disc 1
1. Memphis Shakedown, (Memphis Jug Band)
2. Dog and Gun (An Old English Ballad), (Bradley Kincaid)
3. Black Jack David, (The Carter Family)
4. Down on the Banks of the Ohio, (Blue Sky Boys)
5. Adieu False Heart, (Arthur Smith Trio)
6. John Henry was a Little Boy, (J.E. Mainer's Mountaineers)
7. Nine Pound Hammer is Too Heavy, (Monroe Brothers)
8. Southern Casey Jones, (Jesse James)
9. Cold Iron Bed, (Jack Kelly and his South Memphis Jug Band)
10. Packin' Trunk, (Lead Belly)
11. Baby Please Don't Go, (Joe Williams' Washboard Blues Singers)
12. Last Fair Deal Gone Down, (Robert Johnson)
13. Parchman Farm Blues, (Bukka White)
14. Mean Old World, (Heavenly Gospel Singers)

Disc 2
1. Hello Stranger, (The Carter Family)
2. Stand By Me, (Sister Clara Hudmon)
3. West Virginia Gals, (Al Hopkins and His Buckle Busters)
4. How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?, (Blind Alfred Reed)
5. Wreck of the Tennessee Gravy Train, (Uncle Dave Macon)
6. Governor Al Smith, (Uncle Dave Macon)
7. Milk Cow Blues, (John Estes)
8. No Depression in Heaven, (The Carter Family)
9. I'll be Rested (When the Roll is Called), (Rosevelt Graves and Brother)
10. He's in the Ring (Doing the Same Old Thing), (Memphis Minnie)
11. The Cockeyed World, (Minnie Wallace)
12. Barbecue Bust, (Mississippi Jook Band)
13. Dans le Grand Bois (In the Forest), (Hackberry Ramblers)
14. Aces' Breakdown, (The Four Aces)

The holy grail.
mp3 vbr 224kbps | w/o cover | 135mb

"Currently out of print. Will be repressed at an undetermined future date.......... hopefully soonish!!" - Revenant

see Revenant Records:

Oh, and in case you didn't know, there's a fantastic blog dedicated to exploring the AAFM, its artists and its songs. See The Old Weird America.

May 21, 2009

Munir Bachir - In Concert in Paris

Until his death a dodecade ago, Munir Bashir was considered by many to be the greatest oud player alive. Or, rather the best musician who plays the oud. Quite frankly, even now most would argue he was the best of all time. Imagine a combination of John Fahey and John Coltrane, and you'd have some sense of Munir's importance in the field of Arab classical music, a sense of his mastery, mystery, and originality. And haunting. God, is it ever haunting.

You see, Munir doesn't just play the oud, he inhabits it. Or more accurately, he inhabits the music, be it maqam or taksim or whatever, and he molds it to the shape of his dreams, a cathedral made of shifting desert sand. And there are dancing shadows on the walls of the cathedral, and the walls are floating, and when you listen, you'll float on your shadow too. This music will transport you to another dimension; it will bend and fold your senses until time disappears. The magic of Munir Bashir is this: when you listen to him - I mean really listen, beginning to end - you begin to hear music in the silence, and all the silence around you becomes pregnant with a quivering life, about to leap into being.

Munir bachir was born in Mosul (Iraq) in 1930 into a long established family of musicians. His father taught him to play the Oud at a very young age. He then spent six years standing at the Baghdad institute of Music, directed by Serif Muhiddin Targan. Later he completes a doctorate of musicology in Budapest. Munir bachir, passionate defender of Arab music is in constant rebellion against the misrepresentation of this music and its use for commercial ends. More recently he has fought to establish his lute as a solo recital instrument. He travels the world as a true ambassador for Arab classical music, bringing it to specialists as well as to a larger audience, restoring credentials to a music that has become debased though bending to the tasters of colonial nostalgia. Faithful to the letter and the spirit of traditional Arab music Munir Bachir improvises from fully authenticated sources. As much creator as performer, his music is forever evolving, never repetitive. Munir Bashir died in 1997.

Allmusic Biography by Craig Harris:
A master of the mode-based, raga-like Arabic Taqsim, Munir Bashir transformed the oud (Arabic lute) into an important solo instrument. His improvisations inspired comparison to jazz's most inventive players. According to, Bashir's "improvisations (were) elegantly melodic. He (tended) to favor short phrases and certain moments remind me of the kind of development one might find in unaccompanied saxophone solos by Anthony Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell." Descended from a long line of musicians, Bashir was shown the basics of the Arab lute, by his father, as a child. He continued his musical training at the Baghdad Institute of Music, which he entered at the age of six. Bashir's musical career was balanced by his experiences as an educator. Receiving a doctorate in musicology in 1955, he began lecturing for the folk arts department of Budapest's Academy of Sciences. He eventually rose to directorial positions at the Higher Institute of Music in Baghdad and the Music Service of Iraqi Public Radio. Previously unreleased recordings found by Bashir's children shortly after his death in October 1997 were released as Raga Roots. Bashir's musical legacy is continued by his son, Omar.

Here's an excerpt from an interview with Simon Shaheen, one of the finest living oudists:

"Munir Bashir--I know his playing. This is more the Iraqi school of playing the oud. Now, when we say the Iraqi school of playing the oud, it's not necessarily pure Iraqi. We are talking about the Iraqi musical tradition coinciding with the Turkish way of playing, because there were two excellent Turkish, musicians who came to Iraq and established the school of playing the oud in Iraq. We are talking about the 19th and early 20th century. So what the Iraqis, people like Munir Bashir, did was they took the technical aspects of the Turkish way of playing on the oud, and some of the ahank, which are the musical pulses, not exactly ornaments--colorings, if you will--and he applied them to the Iraqi style of playing. So it was a matter of combining both Turkish technique and color with the Iraqi traditional vocal instrumental style.

But actually, if you want to listen to a really impressive performance, you should listen to Munir Bashir's earlier recordings. Listen to something in the 60s and early 70s. I met his son [Omar Bashir] in Greece. I was giving a workshop and there was a gathering of instruments from around the Mediterranean, and I heard him playing. He is very much a replica of his father, very much influenced by his father's playing. He has good abilities, but we ought to see in the future how he will develop. But Munir Bashir as a player, definitely he was a fantastic player, and of course, he improvised a lot, and he utilizes both worlds, the Turkish, the Iraqi. He uses very much the Iraqi maqam. When we say the Iraqi maqam, it's not necessarily the scale system. The Iraqi maqam is something like a suite. They have very structured compositions called the Iraqi maqam. And each suite has its own modal structure and forms. So he used this in much of his playing and in some of the pieces he composed. He had his own sound. It's very important that we listen to somebody you know it's him. This is his sound."

- read the whole (excellent) article here

Munir Bachir - In Concert in Paris

Year: 1988
Label: Inedit

Review by John Storm Roberts, Original Music

Here's Ud virtuosi of two generations and two traditions. Munir Bachir is perhaps the finest living player in the great Iraqi school. In this Paris concert he concentrates on the high-classical tradition in four maqamaat.

1 Maqam Yekah et Aoudj - 16:20
2 Maqam Nahawand - 14:58
3 Maqâm Bayât - 12:34
4 Maqam Hijaz - 12:32

the shape of silence
mp3 192kbps | w/o cover | 77mb

for more Munir & Omar Bashir recordings, check out WeLove-Music and FolkMusicSMB.
and for more amazing oud music, check out the Hamza El-Din posts in the archives, and also browse around WeLove-Music and FolkMusicSMB.

if anybody has his Quartet album, the Stockholm Recordings, or Concert in Budapest, I'd love to hear 'em. Thanks!

May 19, 2009

New England Contra Dance Music

As requested, here is Kicking Mule's 1977 LP New England Contra Dance Music, generously provided by BanjoReinhard. For those of you who have never gone to a contra dance before, I highly recommend it. The music's great and the dancing is a helluvalota fun. It's a great way to meet people and interact in a physical and playful way, without the pressure of performance or the sexual undercurrents of many other dance forms. Not that there's anything wrong with those, but this is the sort of dance that all ages can do, with great live rootsy, old-timey music. This album is, I suppose, a classic of the genre (I haven't heard of any other specifically contra-dance albums, though much of the repertoire is common among old-time, British, Scottish, and Irish traditional musics). It's actually a pretty neat blending of all those traditions, unified by their danceability. Needless to say, the album is long out-of-print!

If you're wondering just what contra dance is and what makes it different from square dances, English Country dances, and other folk dances, I've snabbed these definitions from the interweb:

Definition 0: the only real definition

The only real answer to the question "What is contra dance?" comes when you try it. Check out Charlie Seelig's Contra Dance Links to find a dance in your neighborhood.

Definition 1: an earnest attempt

A caller, usually working with a group of live musicians, guides new and experienced dancers alike through a variety of dances.

A dancer and his or her partner dance a series of figures, or moves, with each other and with another couple for a short time. They then repeat the same figures with another couple, and so on. The figures are similar to those of old-time square dancing. The figures are combined in different ways for each different dance.

The caller teaches each dance before it is actually done to the music. This gives everyone an idea of what to expect so the movements can be easily executed. The caller leads the dances while they are being done to music, so dancers are able to perform each movement to the music. Once the dancers appear to have mastered a particular dance, the caller may stop calling, leaving the dancers to enjoy the movement with music alone.

People of all ages and lifestyles, including children, are welcome. Contra dances are a place where people from many walks of life come together to dance and socialize. Dancers often go out to a restaurant after the dance, have a potluck before or during the dance, or hang out with musicians in jam sessions and song circles.

Children as young as seven can participate in adult dancing; your mileage may vary. As long as parents are responsible for keeping non-dancing children out of harm's way, everyone will enjoy everyone else's presence.

Some groups sponsor family dances. These are dances designed for participation by the whole family. In addition to dancing, the leader of a family dance might also initiate other activities such as games and singing, and singing games, and dances with singing.

First-time dancers will likely find experienced dancers extremely friendly and helpful. If this does not seem to be the case, talk to the dance organizers. They need to know! Or, depending on your location, you could find another dance group.

An evening that includes contra dancing might be called a Contra Dance, an Old-Time Contra Dance, an Old-Time Country Dance, a Barn Dance, or similar. Most contra dance events will include a few dances of other kinds: traditional squares, waltz, polka, swing and other types of couple dance.

At most dance events in North America, we dance with a different partner for each dance, although dates who attend together and significant others might dance with each other more than once.

This is [insert current year here]. Women can ask men to dance. At a contra dance this is certainly true and has been for some time. It might be just as common as men asking women, or more so. Women will sometimes dance with women, and men will sometimes dance with men. In general, especially for the men, this happens only when a gender imbalance exists in the hall (men tend to be real chicken about dancing with other men otherwise).

The above notwithstanding, it is a good idea at some point to dance the opposite role. It's a real eye-opener! Be warned, however, that you'll need extra alertness and concentration.

Contra dancers make eye contact whenever possible. This adds to the connectedness of the dance, and helps reduce dizziness, especially during the swing. It is also uncomfortable for some. Don't let anyone tell you that you must make eye contact, but give it a try even if it's a little uncomfortable. Expand your comfort zone. You might get used to it and even like it. Remember: they're gazing into your eyes not because they love you but because they want to make the connection, and they don't want to throw up on you.

Definition 2: what contra dance is not

Contra dancing is not the same as country line dancing.

Contra dance groups receive absolutely no funding from Oliver North.

No classes are required, or even offered (in general), except for a non-required half-hour or fifteen minute introduction to contra dance before the dance, at many regular dance events.

We do not wear costumes (except on Halloween) or any particular style of clothes. Some groups ask that you bring a separate pair of soft-soled (non-scuffing) shoes to protect the dance floor. Tennis shoes are quite adequate for the first-time dancer.

Very little footwork is required in contra dance. The most common type of movement is a smooth walking step.

Definition 3: whimsical

Contra dance is a form of dance that thrusts a different person of the opposite sex into your arms every 30 seconds or so.

Actually, this is only true sometimes. It might be more prudent, but less whimsical, to say that contra dance is one of the few dance forms where by the end of the evening you are likely to have danced with everyone.

Definition 4: analytical

Contra dancing takes place in sets. A set consists of two lines, with your partner usually across from you in the other line. The set is subdivided into minor sets, which nowadays usually consist of two couples. A contra dance with such minor sets is a duple minor contra dance.

A contra dance with minor sets of three couples is a triple minor contra dance.

The minor set dances one time through the dance. Each couple moves on to a new couple, forming new minor sets, and repeats the dance. Some slightly more advanced dances involve interaction with dancers who are not in the minor set. Other dances involve two minor sets each time through, and you move on to the third minor set. These dances are called "double progression." There are even a few, rarely called, triple and quadruple progression dances.

The dances are done to live music, usually reels or jigs. The music consists of an A part and a B part, which are related much like a chorus and a verse. Each part consists of 16 beats, or steps, and is repeated twice. So a complete dance goes A, A, B, B, and consists of 64 beats total. (Musicians will usually say 32 measures.) The A and B parts are usually specified A1, A2, B1, B2. The music is phrased in 8-beat sections, and to a lesser extent, in 4-beat sections. A typical figure takes up 4, 8 or 16 beats of music.

Definition 5: an analogy

"A contra dance is like an amusement park ride we make for ourselves." --Unknown


At the end of the 17th century, English country dances were taken up by French dancers; hybrid choreographies exist from this period using the steps from French court dance in English dances. The French called these dances contra-dance or contredanse. As time progressed, English country dances were spread and reinterpreted throughout the Western world, and eventually the French form of the name came to be associated with the American folk dances, especially in New England (this Frenchified name change may have followed a contemporary misbelief that the form was originally French).

Contra dances were fashionable in the United States until the early to mid-19th century, when they were supplanted in popularity by square dances (such as the quadrille and lancers) and couple dances (such as the waltz and polka). By the late 19th century, square dances too had fallen out of favor, except in rural areas. When squares were revived (around 1925 to 1940, depending on the region), contra dances were generally not included. In the 1930s and 1940s, contra dances appear to have been done only in small towns in widely scattered parts of northeastern North America, such as Ohio, the Maritime provinces of Canada, and particularly northern New England. Ralph Page almost single-handedly maintained the New England tradition until it was revitalized in the 1950s and 1960s, particularly by Ted Sannella and Dudley Laufman.

By then, early dance camps, retreats, and weekends had emerged, such as Pinewoods Camp, in Plymouth, Massachusetts, which became primarily a music and dance camp in 1933, and NEFFA, the New England Folk Festival, also in Massachusetts, which began in 1944. These and others continue to be popular and some offer dancing and activities besides contra dancing.

In the 1970s, Sannella added heys and gypsies to the contra dances. New dances, such as Shadrack's Delight by Tony Parkes, featured symmetrical dancing by all couples. (Previously, the actives and inactives —see Progression below— had significantly different roles). Double progression dances, popularized by Herbie Gaudreau, added to the aerobic nature of the dances, and one caller, Gene Hubert, wrote a quadruple progression dance, Contra Madness. Becket formation was introduced, with partners next to each other in the line instead of opposite. The Brattleboro Dawn Dance started in 1976, and continues to run semiannually.

In the early 1980s, contra dance musician Randy Miller started the first Saturday dance in the Peterborough Town House, which remains one of the more popular regional dances. Tod Whittemore started the popular Thursday night Boston area dance. As musicians and callers moved to other locations, they founded contra dances in Michigan, Washington, California, Texas, and elsewhere.

Gender free or queer contra dancing started in the 1980s as well. In 1981, a group in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota called "Les be Gay and Dance" was started, in which contra dance was done without any reference to gender, avoiding calling moves with any reference to "ladies" or "gents." In 1987, Chris Ricciotti started a gay dance group in Providence, R.I. using the terms "ladies" and "gents" although dancers were not lining up according to gender. Other gender-free dance groups started up in the area after that, and in 1989, at the gender-free dance group in Jamaica Plain, MA, a group of dancers led by Janet Dillon protested the use of these terms, and the armband system was devised: the traditionally male-role dancers (leads) would wear armbands and be called "armbands" or just "bands," and the traditionally female-role dancers (follows) would be called "bare arms" or just "bares." The Lavender Country and Folk Dancers organization now serves as an umbrella organization for dances in Massachusetts, New York, Georgia, and California.

New England Contra Dance Music

Year: 1977
Label: Kicking Mule (KM 216)

1. Strathspey - Hull's Victory
2. Arm & Hammer String Band - Medley: Kitty McGee/A Hundred Pipers
3. Alan Block - Double File
4. Strathspey - Medley: Ross's Reel/Batchelder's Reel
5. George Wilson - Swing Away
6. Strathspey - My Home Waltz
7. Arm & Hammer String Band - Medley: Salamanca Reel/The Hunter's Purse/Tarbolten
8. Strathspey - Medley: Turnpike Side/Tobin's Fancy
9. Arm & Hammer String Band - Medley: Goin' Uptown/Avalon Quickstep
10. Strathspey - Medley: Farewell To Whiskey/Mara's Wedding
11. Arm & Hammer String Band - Medley: Apples In Winter/Hitler's Downfall
12. Arm & Hammer String Band - Westphalia Waltz
13. Strathspey - Mountain Ranger

take your partner by the hand.
mp3 128kbps | w/ b&w scans | 34mb

BIG thanks again to BanjoReinhard