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Classic Railroad Songs from Smithsonian Folkways

January 10, 2006

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Product Details

  • Original Release Date: January 10, 2006
  • Label: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings
  • Copyright: (c) 2006 Smithsonian Folkways Recordings
  • Total Length: 1:12:28
  • Genres:
  • ASIN: B005JZSUYY
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #124,388 Paid in Albums (See Top 100 Paid in Albums)

Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Dixie Diamond on June 25, 2007
Format: Audio CD
There are a lot of good songs on here but I was disappointed that so much of the album is made up of Folk Revival era covers rather than "roots" versions. I cannot imagine that there weren't enough Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, and older songs about trains for them to fill this out without resorting to pop-type groups like the New Lost City Ramblers.

There are other CD's in this series, though, that are very good.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Alfred Johnson on January 30, 2009
Format: Audio CD
The first paragraph is taken from a PBS review of railroads in the 1930's

"American Experience: Riding The Rails, PBS Productions, 1998

Growing up in the 1950's I had a somewhat tenuous connection with trains. My grandparents lived close to a commuter rail that before my teenage years went out of service, due to the decline of ridership as the goal of two (or three) car garages gripped the American imagination in any age when gas was cheap and plentiful. In my teens though, many a time I walked those above-mentioned abandoned tracks to take the short route to the center of town. As an adult I have frequently ridden the rails, including a cross-continental trip that actually converted me to the virtues of air travel. Of course, my `adventures' riding the rails is quite different than that being looked at in this American Experience documentary about a very, very common way for the youth of America to travel in the Depression-ridden 1930's, the youth of my parents' generation. My own experiences were merely as a paying passenger. Theirs was anything but. The only common thread between them and me is the desire expressed by many interviewees to not be HERE but to be THERE."

That said, for those who have an remembrance of the old rails or who long for a slower, more thoughtful way to travel (if only in the mind) here is a compilation that should fit right into your dreams. I note that, as was to be expected, the western railroads have first place in the railroad song pantheon. Moreover, it does not hurt to have certain knowledge about the nicknames for the various lines and some railroading terminology. For that the Smithsonian Folkway booklet of copious liner notes, as always, is very helpful, for the historian and the novice alike.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By J. C Clark VINE VOICE on October 24, 2007
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
These Folkways samplers clearly are trying to be, if not all things to all people, at least satisfactory to some pretty cranky constituencies. Some feel that songs such as these should be performed only by gritty voiced veterans of wandering the tracks. Others abhor the slick sounds of the studio. Still others demand to hear the appropriate number of minorities represented. And yet others want good music well performed. Tradition. Authenticity. Diversity. All goals important to some. Not to me. I place myself firmly in the last group: those for whom quality is the most important.

There is a lot of that on this CD. I am not one who believes good musicians or good singers can't sing traditional music. After all, we sure don't know that the gravel voiced smoker has seen the inside of a box car any more than we know that the sweet voiced tenor hasn't. This CD offers some very good singing, some great singing, and a heap of exquisite picking. Elizabeth Cotten's sumptuous guitar playing on "Freight Train," Walt Robertson's glorious finger work on "Railroad Bill," and the always excellent Doc Watson are highlights for me. Pete Seeger, not my favorite performer, performs wonderfully on "Jay Gould's Daughter."

A couple of the "authentic" voices are excellent as well. Haywire Mac and Furry Lewis, names I knew but unknown as performers, both delighted me. Leadbelly owns this genre, and three of his classics are perfect. With a few exceptions, Rosalie Sorrells being the worst, this is an excellent compilation, nicely framed by twenty seconds of steam engine on both ends.

And of course the incomparable Cisco Houston, even if the chosen song isn't his best railroad tune, is superlative.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By William E. Adams on January 21, 2008
Format: Audio CD
I think I would love a job in the recording industry in which I dig back through an archive and assemble 20-30 songs for a compact disc. I like, however, those which represent a single artist or group more than I like the thematic compilations featuring a wide variety of musicians with varying skills, recorded over 30 or 40 years, with all the differences even in recording technology displayed. Smithsonian did a great job with their "Cisco Houston: The Folkways Years" and with "Woody Guthrie Volume One". Their "Don't Mourn, Organize" tribute to Joe Hill was excellent, and their "Maritime Classics" is worth the money. This one falls beneath the quality of the above titles. For sure, as one reviewer posted below apparently does not realize, being limited to the tracks Moses Asch got from his friends in the NYC Folkways Studios from the '40's through the '60's is one reason the disc is inconsistent. Yet I am familiar enough with the Folkways catalogue to believe that a much more satisfying album could have been made with fewer artists doing better songs. Cisco Houston's output for Folkways had great versions of "Wreck of the Old '97" and "Railroad Bill." Pete Seeger laid down good renditions of better hobo songs than the deservedly obscure "Jay Gould's Daughter." Of the 27 full tunes on here, my favorites are the two by Doc Watson, and Cisco's solo, and the two showcasing Woody, with Cisco and Sonny Terry along for the ride. If this was titled "Classic Railroad Singers" its contents would be more justified. When you call something "Classic Railroad Songs" you should release the finest versions of each set of lyrics you can get your hands on, even if only four or five artists end up on the product.
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