From Publishers Weekly
The song "House of the Rising Sun," which became a chart-topping hit in 1964 by the Animals, has a murky history, said to have originated in Appalachia, maybe New Orleans and perhaps even England, as well as having a thriving universal afterlife among cover bands and karaoke singers. Anthony, an editor for the Associated Press, crisscrossed the globe in search of the twisted roots and many spreading branches of this lonesome ballad of unknown origins. The song's ultimate odyssey began in 1937 when folklorist Alan Lomax recorded a version by 16-year-old Georgia Turner Connolly in Middlesboro, Ky. Lomax published the lyrics as "The Rising Sun Blues" and from there it grew in popularity and was performed and recorded by many, including Bob Dylan on his first record in 1962. The story seems promising, but Anthony's narrative is an uneasy mix of memoir, dissertation-like detail (with tedious repetitions of multiple versions of lyrics), journalistic feature writing and esoteric trivia. Anthony at times unconvincingly adopts the authoritative voice of an American studies expert, and he also lacks the musical or poetic knowledge to dissect the song. This exploration will be of most value to those who share Anthony's unbridled obsession with this ubiquitous ballad. (June)
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Depending on age and background, folk-music fans associate "The House of the Rising Sun" with Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Josh White, or Bob Dylan. Many more remember what some consider its definitive rendition, recorded by the sixties English rock band the Animals. Anthony travels to places throughout America and a few beyond its borders to uncover the song's origins for this musical detective story that is also in part straightforward music history. We meet early country-music stars Clarence Ashley and Charlie Poole, several record collectors, and renowned folk-song collector Alan Lomax, who also recorded early commercial versions of the song. Anthony even hunts down the harmonica player at the 1937 session in which 16-year-old Georgia Turner recorded the song for Lomax. Anthony's travels take him from Middlesboro, Kentucky, to Springfield, Missouri, and down to New Orleans, where the house ostensibly operated. Although Anthony's style veers from the poetic to the prosaic, the tale he tells remains fascinating, especially for enthusiasts of traditional songs, folklore, and folk music. Sawyers, June Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved