Music News 10/15/2020

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In 1952, Folkways Records issued the Anthology of American Folk Music, three 2-record sets of songs issued on 78s between 1926 and 1934, collected, curated, and annotated by Harry Smith—artist, archivist, film-maker and “eccentric polymath.” The collection—ranging from blues, gospel, and mountain ballads to spirituals, Cajun two-steps, and shape-note singing—helped shape the folk and blues revival in the decades to come.  Now, in a grand project, Dust to Digital label is issuing THE HARRY SMITH B-SIDES (Dust to Digital, 4-CD box set with book, $81.98), the “flip side” of the songs in the Anthology.  

The packaging—in a cigar box with a Harry Smith design on the cover—includes 84 newly-remastered tracks on four CDs, with a full-color 144-page book featuring archival images, original artwork by Smith, and essays by John Cohen, Lance Ledbetter, and Eli Smith. There are transcriptions and annotations for each track by more than 80 artists, writers, and musicians that have been inspired by Harry Smith’s work including Daniel Bachman, Devendra Banhart, Rosanne Cash, Dom Flemons, Will Oldham, Nathan Salsburg, and Peter Stampfel.  Read the feature on the history of this project, and of the label, in this New York Times profile

And Amanda Petrusich wrote a great article on Harry Smith and the Anthology for the New Yorker (she also contributed to the notes of the B-Sides). 


In 1952, Folkways released the Anthology. In 1987, Folkways found a new home, and is now Smithsonian Folkways, and continues its mission to keep all the Folkways titles in print, and release new titles in the same adventurous spirit. 

New on the label: 

 LONG TIME PASSING: Kronos Quartet & Friends Celebrate Pete Seeger (Smithsonian Folkways, $16.98) – The Kronos Quartet collaborates with vocalists Aoife O’Donovan, Sam Amidon, Maria Arnal, Brian Carpenter, Meklit and Lee Knight, for new arrangements of Pete Seeger classics. 

Leyla McCalla, VARI-COLORED SONGS (Smithsonian Folkways, $16.98) – This is a reissue of one of my favorite albums: singer and cellist Leyla McCalla’s debut album from 2014, Vari-Colored Songs, featuring her new music for poems by Langston Hughes, as well as Haitian songs. Ms. McCalla has released two subsequent albums, and is also a member of Rhiannon Giddens’s collective project, Our Native Daughters (also on Folkways). 

Don’t forget, Folkways was also known for recording poets. THE VOICE OF LANGSTON HUGHES (Smithsonian Folkways, $16.98) is a compilation from albums released in the 1950s: poetry from The Dream Keeper and Other Poems, prose from Simple Speaks His Mind, and narration from Hughes’s texts The Story of JazzRhythms of the World and The Glory of Negro History


BYG Actuel was a short-lived French label started in 1967 which championed some of the leading American musicians associated with the “free jazz” and avant-garde movements. Between 1969 and 1971, they issuded pivotal recordings by Don Cherry, Archie Shepp, Sun Ra, Anthony Braxton, Sunny Murray, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, among others.  Releases by three of those pioneers have now been re-issued, lovingly produced in deluxe packages, remastered, and with a profusion of new notes and documentation. 

Don Cherry, “MU” FIRST PART / “MU” SECOND PART / ORIENT (BYG Actuel, 2 CDs, $19.98) – Mu: First and Second Part were two duet recordings with Cherry (on pocket trumpet and other instruments) and drummer Ed Blackwell, a bond forged in Ornette’s quartets. Orient includes some dynamic live performances with South African bassist Johnny Dyani and Dutch drummer Han Bennink. 

Art Ensemble Ensemble of Chicago, A JACKSON IN YOUR HOUSE / MESSAGE TO OUR FOLKS / REESE AND THE SMOOTH ONES (BYG Actuel, 2 CDs, $19.98) – The Art Ensemble recorded three albums for Actuel in 1969 during their extended stay in Paris. 

Sun Ra and His Solar-Myth Arkestra, THE SOLAR-MYTH ARPPROACH VOLS. 1 & 2 (Corbett vs Dempsey, 2 CDs, $25.98) – Originally released in 1971 

Next week: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, A LETTER TO YOU (Columbia)