Deep River of Song: Alabama: From Lullabies to Blues

During the late 1930s, indefatigable musicologists John and Ruby Lomax searched the American Southeast for vanishing forms of vernacular song.

During the late 1930s, indefatigable musicologists John and Ruby Lomax searched the American Southeast for vanishing forms of vernacular song. In Sumter County, Ala., they found and recorded many—mostly a cappella—renditions of folk songs still in currency among the black population. Although not as famous as other talents (such as Lead Belly or Jelly Roll Morton) discovered by John Lomax or his son, Alan, the voices of Vera Ward Hall, Dock Reed, and Rich Brown are unforgettably haunting. The levee-camp songs and lullabies found here would provide the source code for blues revivals in the '60s and beyond. Like op-ed pages in song, these lyrics contain biblical allusions, accounts of violent crime, and depictions of life as experienced by a downtrodden minority. Alabama: From Lullabies to Blues is charged throughout with the immediacy and detail of a portfolio of Walker Evans photographs. Kudos to Rounder for yet another stellar entry in its ongoing reissues of the "Alan Lomax Collection."—RBH