Thursday, May 28, 2009
Sounds Of The South : Spirituals
Vera Hall - Trouble So Hard (1959)
I've always wondered what would all these musicians from 50 years ago or more have thought if they'd knew that their recordings would still be heard in the 21st century, studied by scholars in universities in the whole world.
So imagine Vera Hall (see picture above), wife of a coal miner from Livingston, Alabama, recorded by Lomax fifty years ago, learning she sung on an international smash hit in 1999...
So here we go gain with our Sounds of the South antholgy, dedicated today to religious music, with black and white spirituals. Sadly this great box set is out of print, but wait until the next (and final) post and you might get a special bonus..
Mississippi Fred McDowell - Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning (1959)
Fred McDowell (above with his wife) is one of -if not THE- biggest discoveries of Alan Lomax. Lomax and Shirley Collins met him with his wife in the Como area, after visiting the Hemphill and Young families. They were struck by his talent, his pure Delta blues slide guitar playing. The guitar is another voice that responds to the singer, sometimes finishing verses, in the same style as Blind Willie Johnson, the Texas preacher, a way of playing that was common before the war.
Viola James and Congregation - Is There Anybody Here Who Loves My Jesus (1959)
Reverend G.I. Townsel - A Sermon Fragment (1959)
Attending mass in the ageing, Catholic churches of France is a gloomy thing most of the times. People barely sing, the hymns are boring as hell. Always makes me wish I was in a baptist church in Mississippi listening and singing with Viola James or in Alabama with Reverend G.I. Townsel. (Not that I go to church so often, now it is only for the occasional wedding or baptism, I confess). I really can't imagine any catholic priest engaging in a sermon like Rev. Townsel !!!
Alabama Sacred Harp Singers - Cavalry (1959)
Sacred harp singing is one of the most spectacular forms of hymn singing, especially in the Southern states. Still practised nowadays (see picture above), its most famous ambassadors were the Alabama Sacred Harp Singers recorded in 1942 and here in 1959. If it is much more formal and written than the black hymns and sermons we heard before, it is not less passionate and beautiful.
In the last post about Sounds of The South you heard a song by Virginia singer and fingerpicker Estil C. Ball. He was a very religious man who later recorded a lot of spirituals. So we'll quit with his rendition of "When I Get Home", with his friend. His guitar playing is typical of Piedmont, same as Doc Watson's. Something that strikes me is how much prewar religious songs were obsessed by death, seen as a relief from this world. An idea totally alien to our Western modern (and sometimes fake or exaggerated) optimism.
Estil C. Ball & Blair Reedy - When I Get Home (1959)
DOWNLOAD HERE the full Disc 3 of Sounds Of The South (92MB)