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JAMES P. LEARY

FOLKSONGS OF ANOTHER AMERICA - FIELD RECORDINGS FROM THE UPPER MIDWEST 1937-46

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Dust-To-Digital (DTD-43)

An awesome presentation featuring 5CDs & DVD packaged within a high quality hardback book.

Even before breaking the cellophane that this stunning new package arrived in, it was instantly clear that Dust-To-Digital had again delivered yet another prestigious, significant and lovingly-prepared presentation that the label has built its wondrous reputation on.

Presented in a high quality hardback book format that contains an impressive 456 pages of essays, photographs, song-by-song notes, artist profiles and lyrics, it is extra-ordinary to think that this is just the supporting material to the rather wondrous 5CDs and DVD that serves up some of the most unusual, heart-wrenching and amazing music you can hope to hear.

Alongside the sheer quality of the music, packaging and presentation, the over-arching concept also adds to the cultural heft and significance of this release. It has been developed as a ‘redemptive countercultural project’ to rectify a perceived imbalance of how American folk music has been presented and sold in the age of recorded music, now extending to close on 100 years. For these 187 songs and tunes present a much more diverse, complex and inter-connected story of folk music in the USA than we have to date been encouraged to appreciate. Far from being a pre-dominantly Anglo-American (meaning English-language) dominated tradition, there is a ‘hidden other’ tradition of indigenous and immigrant folk music that survived and thrived away from our gaze. The songs included here are delivered in a staggering array of more than 25 indigenous and immigrant languages incorporating Native American, French-Canadian, Finnish, Serbian, German, Czech, Italian, Swiss, Lithuanian, Ho-Chunk, Swedish, Icelandic, Celtic (Welsh, Scottish, Gaelic and Cornish) and more.

These recordings have been marvellously curated and compiled by James P Leary from the recordings made on field trips to America’s Upper Midwest between 1937 and 1946 by Library Of Congress collectors - notably, Alan Lomax, Sidney Robertson and Helene Stratman-Thomas. Most of these recordings have never surfaced before, or certainly not at the sound quality achieved by the digital restorations included here. Whether these remained in the vaults for commercial, cultural or political reasons is only speculated at here in the impressive notes. What is more certain is that what is contained in these 187 songs is merely a ‘tip of the iceberg’ of the music being played at the time, being distilled from roughly two thousand recordings captured from a relatively small number of field trips.

As well as the amazing sounds spread across the five CDs, the DVD is also jaw-droppingly impressive, containing digitally restored silent colour footage of Alan Lomax’s field trips. These intriguing films are overlaid here with the music of the CDs and with readings from Lomax’s correspondence and field trips related to this period.

You don’t of course have to buy into, or worry unduly, about the ‘redemptive countercultural’ intent of the project. It helps if you do but this is a set that works on all levels and can be approached and enjoyed simply as a marvellous collection of little-known folk music from communities across the USA that have largely been ‘hidden from history’. Either way, Dust-To-Digital has achieved the un-achievable - surpassing the quality and achievement of their previous output with this staggering new release!

Review Date: August 2015

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