Anthology of American Folk Music

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April 18, 2010


Lyle Lofgren

Thanks for bringing up the collage point, Kurt. I've always maintained that the order of the pieces in the Anthology is extremely important, and it would diminish it greatly to play it on "shuffle." But I based this on comparing the Anthology listening experience with repeated listening to my reel-to-reel tapes, which have material that is not chosen for the relationship or order of each piece to another. And I had no way of expressing why I was so convinced that the order mattered, since the statement smacks of the same sort of mysticism that Smith himself used.

Your essay gets me closer to a way of expressing this importance: a collage may use random pieces, but it is not assembled at random.



"Moonshiner's Dance, Part One" is the Anthology’s only medley.

That and "Brilliancy Medley," of course ... and, you could argue that the folk-lyric style of, among others, Lunsford's "I wish I was a Mole in the Ground" and Jackson's "Old Dog Blue" are collages of impressions, lines of varying degrees of meaning which, for some reason or another, lodged themselves in the collective conscious.

The Celestial Monochord

Celestial Monochord responds:

Yes, "of course" is right. I've edited the thing about the medley to soften the claim. Thanks, Sam!

I did think about mentioning floating stanzas, "Old Dog Blue" and all that. It's an excellent point, and worth pondering. But in the end, I decided my essay had too much to chew on already.

After all, if you go down that road, you also have to see that all lyrics are collections of words, tunes are collections of notes, etc. At some point, you do have to click "Publish."

Lyle, that's awfully interesting. In the 1950s/1960s, the Anthology was pretty expensive for college student folkies, and I suspect that the Anthology has always been a rumor people heard about, more than a thing people owned and listened to. To the extent people heard it, I bet they heard it on reel-to-reel, scrambled ... that's what I suspect. I'd love to talk to you, to see if this is bunk or what.

Jake Faulkner

Wonderful essay. A sentiment shared about the importance of the sequencing. I deeply enjoy your point about the importance of "Moonshiner's Dance, Part One" being the half way point of the Anthology.

I take one issue, though. You state that of the 112 sides (and 84 sides of the original anthology) "Moonshiner's Dance Part One" is the only recording that isn't Southern. However, on 2-a the Cincinnati Jug Band makes an appearance with "Newport Blues", which they recorded for Paramount in Chicago. I do not believe this discounts your argument, but adds a deeper level to the quilt work Smith left for us to untangle. Cincinnati is about 414 miles from Memphis, it's pretty amazing and bizarre to have a jug band out of there. I believe Smith is trying to convey the universality of the social music, the extreme being Moonshiner etc., but this could explain his inclusion of Henry Thomas in 2-a as he had such a wide repertoire. (though both songs on the Anthology that are Thomas' are from the same 78... maybe it was the only one he owned.)

thank you for the article,
Jake Faulkner

The Celestial Monochord

Celestial Monochord responds:

Jake! Many thanks for the very kind words. I really appreciate it.

I included two fudge words, "unambiguously" and "basically". With that in mind, I stand by my claim.

"The South" is such a sprawling, complex idea that you'd expect all manner of interesting exceptions and caveats to a collection of 111 "southern" recordings. So, it's surprising how FEW such exceptions there really are in the Anthology.

-- Cincinatti Jug Band, led by a guy from the "Georgia-Alabama state border," according to the 1997 liner notes. Cincinatti is very much a border zone, an "Upper South" community, immediately across the Ohio River from Kentucky (and the town of Newport, Kentucky).

-- Ken Maynard was from Vevay, Indiana, also immediately across the Ohio River from Kentucky. His Lone Star Trail is a cowboy song about a Texas cattle drive.

-- The two Chicago church congregations in Volume 2 were led by, and surely composed of, fairly recent migrants from the South -- Great Migration migrants.

So, those four cuts are "southern," although in variously complex ways. Anyway, they sure as hell ain't Moonshiner's Dance, which is a big-ass flaming orgy of Minnesota culture.


David Polacheck

I love this! Now how about "Moonshiner's Dance Part Two"? I would really like to download an mp3 of this. Is it possible?

David Polacheck, Austin TX

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