Thursday, January 7, 2010


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In 1952 Harry Smith released the original Anthology of American Folk Music. This was a collection of music recorded between 1927 through 1932. The content of the Anthology came from Smiths personal record collection. This may have been the start of the "bootleg" craze, as Smith had acquired the rights to only a few of these songs. But, hey it was 1952 and I guess one could get away with that back then.

 Hal Willner filmed 3 live shows of various artist  preforming  songs from this 1952 compilation.  The shows took place in London, Brooklyn and L.A. between 1999 and 2001.  Beck, Nick Cave, Elvis Costello, Steve Earle, Beth Orton, Lou Reed, Sonic Youth, Richard Thompson and Wilco were just some of the artist that Willner captured on film.  These three shows were released in 2006 as  The Harry Smith Project: Anthology of American Folk Music Revisited.  Two Cd's of music and two Dvd's from the three live shows.

I was gifted this 4 Cd box set a couple years ago and honestly, at first I didn't think I would enjoy it. I had no idea what I was in for, but a closer look set me straight.  Once I listened to the first song on the first disc I was hooked. David Johansen starts it all off with Old Dog Blue. I don't know who matched musician with song, but whoever it was did a great job.Nick Cave gives up a beautiful version of John The Revelator. Elvis Costello provides the only original song for this package. First he preforms Omie Wise Part 1 & 2 with the McGarrigle Sisters, then alone he sings What Lewis Did Last, his answer to Part 1 & 2.

This box set comes with a booklet of information going into much detail. It gives a great history of Harry Smith. Lot's of good photos. Considered one of the most important figures of the folk movement of the 1950's and 60's Smith influenced the likes of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. So important was this collection it is refered to as the Bible of folk music.

And I think it's fitting that Harry Smith died, in 1991 in room 328 at the Chelsea Hotel, the same place he recorded Alan Ginsberg's album New York Blues: Rags, Ballads and Harmonium Songs.

You can find the Anthology of American Folk Music at Amazon for around $40.

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