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Anthology of American Folk Music

4.9 out of 5 stars 64 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Vinyl
  • Label: Folkways Records
  • ASIN: B001EUCR4C
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
I half heard a story about the Anthology on Natl Public Radio a few months ago while I was getting ready for work. The story kept coming back to me, until I had to buy the Anthology to get some peace. Instead of peace, I find that I am now disturbed, intrigued, and haunted.
Music is ill-suited to being described in words, so I'll use an entirely different experience to try and convey what listening to this Anthology is like.
I once knew a fellow who had grown up on Bechtel construction project sites around the world. As a kid playing in the dirt at these sites, he'd collected a box full of those stone tools that humans made and used for something like three million years. I found that once I had turned one of these slips of chipped obsidian or shale over for a moment, it settled naturally into my hand. There was a spot for my thumb, another spot for my forefinger, and my hand was making a scraping or digging motion with the thing. The tool and my hand still remembered their ancient partnership, without any volition from me. This sensation was simultaneously disturbing and satisfying and made the hair stand up on my neck.
This sensation is very close to what I feel listening to this anthology. You will not hear the familiar, highly produced music we're now so comfortable with. You will hear the voice and sound of music as it has been for millions of years -- and you will recognize what you are hearing as being utterly, essentially human.
These recordings were, of course, made only 75 years ago in the 1920's, surely part of the modern era. Yet this was the last moment in time between the old world and the new world. We still sing and play music for the same reasons we always have, but the way we used our voices and instruments for millions of years has been changed by technology.
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Format: Audio CD
My review title says it all. Of course, that won't stop me from saying more...
Let's just say I wouldn't trust a musician that did not have at least a passing familiarity with one of the following: 1. The Anthology of American Folk Music; or 2. An artist that appeared on The Anthology of American Folk Music; or 3. At least a few songs from TAAFM.
That said, I feel very strongly that even if you are not a musician, regardless of the style of contemporary music you listen to (and I ravenously devour current music), whether it be Radiohead, Fishbone, Wilco, D'Angelo, Dr. Dre WHATEVER, if you listen to this collection, you will hear the roots of modern music. Somewhere I read a review of TAAFM and it called it a "genetic code" for modern music, which is entirely appropriate.
As a collection of songs and performances, this collection is entertaining, educational, shocking, delightful, scary (try listening to the first few tracks of disc 2-B alone in the dark...) revelatory, essential. As a stand-alone document, The Anthology is a kind of Rosetta Stone, having influenced every aspect of popular music through the years both directly and indirectly (subconsciously, even).
It makes me think that perhaps these songs already exist in everyone's psyche...they are there, but you do not know it until you hear them. The songs are both familiar and strange, and at times some selections seem so fragile and precious, they might crumble if you listen too hard (yet you always do).
And by the way, even if initially you absolutely HATE a FEW selections (and trust me, you will...I did!), they will be internalized nonetheless, and you will subsequently embrace them, and come to love them.
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Format: Audio CD
The "Anthology of American Folk Music" put together by Harry Smith was originally issued in 1952 in three volumes of 2 LPs each, with a total of 84 tracks collected from old records. It is said that this collection played a seminal role in the folk music revival of the late 1950s and early 1960s, influencing and inspiring the generation of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Once you listen to these songs you will have little doubt that was indeed the case. The three volumes focus on Ballads, Social Music, and Songs respectively. I did not recognize enough of these 84 songs to use all of the fingers on my guitar picking hand and I could not care less. You can look over the playlist above and see if anything looks familiar, but, obviously, that is beside the point here. These songs involve a definition of "folk" that is expansive enough to include blues singers like Blind Lemon Jefferson and Richard "Rabbit" Brown. The authenticity of these songs is overpowering, transporting you to a time and place when radio was just starting to make inroads into the backwoods of America.
The collection includes a 100-page booklet that features harry Smith's original handbook of songs, an essay by critic Greil Marcus, along with other essays, song notes, photos, graphics, and recollections by legendary artists about how this anthology inspired their own careers. The overall effect is like taking a college course on American Folk Music. Whether your interest in this type of music comes from listening to the Weavers, Peter Paul, & Mary, or the soundtrack to "Brother, Where Art Thou?" hopefully your enjoyment of folk music will lead you back to this seminal collection.
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