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The first great collection of American folk song recordings,
This review is from: Anthology of American Folk Music (Edited by Harry Smith) (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. Additional Note: There is also an excellent website put together by the Smithsonian Folkways that will tell you for not only alternate titles (e.g., "The Wagoner's Lad" is also known as "Loving Nancy" and "My Horses Ain't Hungry"), but other recorded versions organized by styles (e.g., traditional American Folk, Folksong revival, Post revival, Country/String Band, Bluegrass, and British). Like everyone else, I have been greatly impressed by the way the Smithsonian Institute has been protecting our nation's heritage when it comes to folk music. They take their job seriously and they are very, very good at it.