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The Harry Smith Project: The Anthology Of American Folk Music Revisited (2 CD/2 DVD BOX SET) Box set

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Audio CD, Box set, October 24, 2006
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Harry Smith's 1952 collection of American folk music inspired a whole generation of musicians in the '60s, but his influence didn't stop there younger musicians like Beck, Nick Cave, Elvis Costello, Wilco and older eminences like Lou Reed and Richard Thompson held a series of concerts in 1999 and 2001 to honor the man and the songs he rediscovered. The best performances from those concerts comprise the two CDs; then there's a DVD presenting performances from London, New York and Los Angeles plus three of Harry's experimental films, and a DVD featuring a brand-new documentary on the man himself. A 40-page booklet offers even more info. From Steve Earle's Prison Cell Blues to Geoff Muldaur's K.C. Moan , one discovery after another.

Revisionism can be as rewarding as rediscovery; indeed, they often make a compelling duo. Those sentiments drive veteran producer Hal Willner's tribute to pioneering musicologist Harry Smith's documentation and preservation of American folk forms--music that was already an endangered species by the time he originally compiled them for Folkways Records in the early '50s. As he's done on similar tributes to musicians as varied as jazz giants Monk and Mingus, Italian film scoring legend Nina Rota, and songwriters Kurt Weill and Leonard Cohen, Willner puts together a group of musicians as intriguingly eclectic as the vintage songs they're covering. That Smith's own original efforts helped fuel the '60s folk boom that in turn inspired more than a few of the musicians here helps give the collection the warm sensibility of musical traditions coming full circle.

Spread across two CDs and a pair of DVD's are a rich slate of performances captured in Los Angeles, New York, and London in 1999 and 2001, as well as documentary material about Smith's own pioneering efforts that helped inspire them. Beck and Lou Reed spin spare, harrowing takes on blues godfathers Robert Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson, respectively, while Elvis Costello, Wilco, Richard Thompson, Steve Earle, Van Dyke Parks, the McGarrigles, and others offer up covers characterized by varying degrees of reverence. But, as is typical of most Willner projects, it's the more unlikely musical pairings here that yield the greatest intrigues, be they Pere Ubu's David Thomas recasting "Fishin' Blues" in his forceful persona or Bill Frisell's distinctive jazz sensibilities--the latter also suffusing Gavin Friday's "Fatal Flower Garden" with ghostly elegance. A welcome sense of playfulness also surfaces throughout, one whose good humor even makes room for a relevant clip from Chris Guest's A Mighty Wind folk mockumentary, as well as amusing recollections by some of the artists influenced by Smith's original musical archaeology. More than merely revering history, this is a collection that cheerfully revels in its reinvention. --Jerry McCulley

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. Old Dog Blue - David Johansen
  2. Prison Cell Blues - Steve Earle
  3. James Alley Blues - Wilco
  4. Frankie - Beth Orton
  5. Last Fair Deal Gone Down - Beck
  6. Sugar Baby - Kate & Anna McGarrigle
  7. The Butcher's Boy - Elvis Costello
  8. Way Down The Old Plank Road - David Thomas
  9. The Coo Coo Bird - Richard Thompson with Eliza Carthy
  10. My Baby Done Left Me - Ed Sanders
  11. John The Revelator - Nick Cave
  12. Oh Death Where Is Thy Sting? - Eric Mingus with Gary Lucas
  13. Dry Bones - Roswell Rudd with Sonic Youth
  14. No Depression In Heaven - Garth & Maud Hudson
  15. K.C. Moan - Geoff Muldaur
  16. When That Great Ship Went Down - Gavin Friday with Maurice Seezer

Disc: 2

  1. A Lazy Farmer Boy - Robin Holcomb
  2. Sail Away Lady - Van Dyke Parks with Mondrian String Quartet
  3. Poor Boy Blues - Geoff Muldaur
  4. Spike Driver Blues - Marianne Faithfull
  5. See That My Grave Is Kept Clean - Lou Reed
  6. Ommie Wise Part 1 & 2 (What Lewis Did Last...) - Kate & Anna McGarrigle
  7. Fatal Flower Garden - Gavin Friday
  8. I Wish I Was A Mole In The Ground - Bob Neuwirth with Eliza Carthy
  9. Fishing Blues - David Thomas
  10. He Got Better Things For You - Mary Margaret O'Hara
  11. Harry Goes A Courtin' (The Mowo! Live Hootenanny Throw-Down) - Mocean
  12. The House Carpenter - Robin Holcomb & Todd Rundgren
  13. This Song Of Love - Don Byron, Percy Heath & Bill Frisell
  14. Shine On Me - Nick Cave
  15. James Alley Blues - David Johansen
  16. Single Girl Married Girl - Petra Haden

Product Details

  • Audio CD (October 24, 2006)
  • Number of Discs: 4
  • Format: Box set
  • Note on Boxed Sets: During shipping, discs in boxed sets occasionally become dislodged without damage. Please examine and play these discs. If you are not completely satisfied, we'll refund or replace your purchase.
  • Label: Shout Factory
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #169,990 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By bogus picker on January 21, 2007
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
If you are curious about this but are not familiar with the original "Anthology of American Folk Music"--GET IT, and listen. It is like looking back in time, sort of like the Hubble telescope, only we are looking at images from our own human heritage, and perhaps ourselves.

As Hal Willner says, there are pieces you will love and pieces you might not like. But in truth, this is how the artists in this collection interpreted the originals. And even in the ones I was less than enthusiastic about, I saw something, and went back with a greater appreciation of the original. As a result I developed more enthusiasm for the new performance. This is something to be savored over and over.

I had been listening to Folkways LPs and subscribing to Singout! since the early '60s, and aquired the anthology in the early '70s. I had no previous knowledge of many performers in this set. So this was an eye-opener for me. I even read a review of a person, although generally positive, who wondered why "The Folksman" were in this. My answer is, "we perhaps should not take anything too seriously, and what if the gift of life itself is just a joke?"
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By ad9000 on April 21, 2007
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I attended the concert on the first night in LA, from which a majority of the material here was drawn (I actually stuck it out 'til the 2:00 am conclusion!) What drew me to the show is much the same as the appeal of this set - the chance to see 30 or more of your favorite singers and musicians on the same stage (and a few who you could do without), playing songs from what just might be the greatest and most influential compilation (or "mix tape") of all time! At the very least, this is a very nice souvenir of the event. The interviews and backstage/rehearsal footage in the DVD are very illuminating and are ample testimony to the mad genius of Hal Willner (creator/producer).
Some of the performances here are a lot less impressive that my memory of them, while others (David Johansen, Richard Thompson and Elvis Costello, among others) hold up very well. Willner should be commended for showcasing criminally underrated artists like Robin Holcomb and Van Dyke Parks, as well as for pushing some people (like Beck and Beth Orton) out of their comfort zone material-wise, resulting in some very memorable performances. Some of my other favorites here: Sonic Youth (with trombonist Roswell Rudd) burn up the stage on "Dry Bones", David Thomas is an insane genius, Bob Neuwirth, Geoff Muldaur and Steve Earle all individually show they are up to the task.
There were some classic moments from the night I attended that didn't make it to this release, including Garth Hudson's bizarre and amazing "Recessional Music" on the Royce Hall pipe organ, and Daniel Lanois' mini-set of the Anthology's Cajun songs (accompanied by his super-loud electric guitar). The pre-Mighty Wind Folksmen, introducing some much needed perspective, are rightfully represented here.
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Format: Audio CD
I came late to this party, but finally picked this set up. I'm a big fan of Harry Smith's original compilation, and of old-time music in general, blues, country, you name it. But it seemed as if many of the performers involved with this project had no idea about the source material. There are a few gems, like Nick Cave's ballsy renditions and Steve Earle's version of "Prison Cell Blues," but for the most part it was the blues aspect that was most wanting. So many of Smith's original choices were African-American singers, and here we have only three African-Americans, and two are instrumentalists only. It sure is a white crowd for so much black music. There are some performances that are just awful, such as those of Petra Haden (who doesn't even seem to know the simple chords of her song -- it's obvious she doesn't know the lyrics without reading them), Gavin Friday with Maurice Seezer (absurdly over the top), and David Thomas (drink much?). Basically this makes me want to go back to the originals to hear how they *should* sound.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Robert W. Zachary, Jr. on August 17, 2008
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I had the pleasure and honor of knowing Harry Smith. There is a perceptible link between the folk revival in the '50's and early '60's that had a direct influence on the cultural change in the US--especially the Civil Rights Movement--credit Harry Smith, Moe Asch and Ralph Rinzler--teachers of American indiginous American culture to Americans--there remains much work to be carried on in a tradition Smith began with his colleagues.
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The Harry Smith Project: The Anthology Of American Folk Music Revisited (2 CD/2 DVD BOX SET)
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