TRC

The Almanac Singers: Songs of Protest (1941-42) 2001

Songs of Protest

Track list:

01. I Ride an Old Paint (WG)[!^]
02. The Dodger Song (LH)[!^]
03. The Golden Vanity (PS)[*]
04. House of the Rising Sun (WG)[!^]
05. Blow Ye Winds, Heigh Ho (PS)[*]
06. Haul Away Joe (PH)[*]
07. Blow the Man Down (WG)[*]
08. Ground Hog (PS)[!^]
09. State of Arkansas (LH)[!^]
10. The Coast of High Barbary (PS)[*]
11. Hard, Ain’t It Hard (WG)[!^]
12. Away, Rio (LH)[*]
13. Billy Boy (JW/ML)[!]
14. Ballad of October 16th (PS)[!]
15. Plow Under (PS)[!]
16. Get Thee Behind Me Satan (PH)[^]
17. The Strange Death of John Doe (PS)[!]
18. Round and Round Hitler’s Grave (PS)[!*]
19. The Sinking of the Reuben James (PS)[!*]
20. Liza Jane (PS/WG/JW)[!]
21. All I Want (PS)[^]
22. Union Maid (PS)[^]
23. Talking Union (PS)[^]
24. Which Side Are You On? (PS)[^]
25. Deliver the Goods (PS)[!*]
26. C for Conscription (PS)[!]
27. Washington Breakdown (PS)[!]
28. Dear Mr President (PS)[!*]
29. Round and Round Hitler’s Grave – Radio Broadcast (PS)

Personnel:

Woody Guthrie
Millard limpell
Bess Lomax Hawes
Baldwin “Butch” Hawes
Pete Seeger
Arthur Stern
Lee Hays
Agnes ‘Sis’ Cunningham

 

01 Songs for John Doe

[!] Songs for John Doe:
Released: May 1941
Recorded: A Central Park West studio, New York, Late March or early April 1941
Label: Almanac Records 102]
Producer: Erin Barnay
Album credits: Pete Seeger – vocal, banjo; Lee Hays – vocal; Millard Lampell – vocal; Josh White – vocal, guitar; Sam Gary – vocal.

02 Talking Union & other union songs

[^] Talking Union & Other Union Songs:
Released: 1941
Label: Keynote K-106 / Smithsonian Folkways FH 5285 [1955]
Producer: Eric Bernay
Album credits: Pete Seeger – vocal, banjo; Lee Hayes – vocal Millard Lampell – vocal; Josh White – vocal, guitar; Sam Gary, Carol White, Bess Lomax Hawes, vocal.

03 Deep Sea Chanteys and Whaling Ballads

[*] Deep Sea Chanteys and Whaling Ballads:
Released: 1941
Recorded: July 7, 1941
Label: General
Producer: Alan Lomax
Line-up: Millard Lampell, Lee Hays, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger.

04 Sod Buster Ballads

[!^] Sod Buster Ballads:
Released: 1941
Label: General
Producer: Alan Lomax
Line-up: Woody Guthrie, Millard Lampell, Lee Hays and Pete Seeger.

05 Dear Mr President

[!*] Dear Mr. President:
Released: 1942
Label: Keynote K – 111
Producer: Alan Lomax
Album credits: Pete Seeger – vocal, banjo; Millard Lampell – vocal; Arthur Stern – vocal; Agnes “Sis” Cunningham – accordion, vocal; Bess Lomax Hawes – vocal, mandolin; Baldwin “Butch” Hawes – vocal, guitar.

 

2001 compilation:
Released: December 2001
Label: Prism Leisure

*****

Protest Music is a long-standing part of American culture, but it wasn’t always considered to be part of the folk music tradition.

There was a certain consensus among some of the earliest folklorists and song collectors that songs of protest weren’t universal enough to fit under the folk music umbrella.

Then came the Almanac Singers, who sought out the songs of the labor movement and other traditional tunes of the working class – along with their own original compositions – hoping to use folk music as a tool to organize communities.

It’s was kind of an experiment with folk songs and, as the mid-century protest song movement can attest, it sort of caught on.
The Almanac Singers were one of the first, most influential groups of protest singers in the history of contemporary American folk music. Singing labor songs in union halls and daring to use music to speak out against oppression, the Almanacs have moved generations of topical singers to action.

The Almanacs used songs to organize people, to inspire action, and to nurture communities around the notion of standing up to injustice.

Their “Songs of Protest” is easily one of the best recordings in the history of folk music.

The Almanac Singers’ Songs of Protest also included what was, arguably, one of Woody Guthrie’s greatest topical story-songs, “The Sinking of the Reuben James.”

The song tells the story of a U.S. Naval ship which was attacked by the Nazi military in 1941, killing 86 people.

In Guthrie’s quintessential empathetic songwriting style, he created a song that humanized the large number of deaths in the tragedy.

It was Guthrie’s gift of humanizing history that inspired so many of the political folksingers that followed, and this song was one of the Almanac Singers’ greatest efforts (its chorus was actually written by Seeger and Lampell).
Other great highlights from this recording include the traditional “Blow the Man Down” and “The Dodger Song”, both of which sung to a suspicion against the government and those who seek to abuse the system.

Overall, Songs of Protest is not only an excellent introduction to the work of the Almanac Singers – and, in turn, that of Seeger, Guthrie, and the others – but is also an excellent primer on the history of the American protest song.

*****

 

*****

This European compilation contains 28 of the 35 studio recordings made by the Almanac Singers in 1941-1942, plus an aircheck of “Round and Round Hitler’s Grave.”

The recordings were released originally on five albums of 78s.

The CD gathers all seven tracks from the group’s debut album, “Songs for John Doe”, five of the six from “Talking Union” (not including “The Union Train”), all six from “Deep Sea Chanteys and Whaling Ballads”, all six from “Sod Buster Ballads”, and four of six from “Dear Mr. President” (not including “Beltline Girl” and “Side by Side”).

But the first-time listener is bound to be surprised by the album’s title, “Songs of Protest”, at least while listening to the first 12 tracks, all of which are drawn from the non-political third and fourth albums.

The compilers have decided against chronological sequencing, which is a big mistake when it comes to the Almanac Singers.

The group changed their view radically during the course of their career.

“Songs for John Doe”, recorded prior to American involvement in World War II, was scathingly anti-war, while “Dear Mr. President”, recorded after Pearl Harbor, was just as scathingly pro-war (as a title like “Round and Round Hitler’s Grave” suggests).

Even 60 years later, sequencing songs from these two albums beside each other creates considerable confusion.

Aside from this gaffe, folk fans should welcome having these historical recordings on a single disc.
~William Ruhlmann[allmusic.com]

*****

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