Appalachia Music from Home
Lonesome Records 094

Appalachia and bluegrass are so synonymous that a lot of people forget that the latter was only invented in the 1940s and isn’t really “roots music” in the strictest sense. A new collection of Appalachian music—a companion to the PBS series Appalachia: A History of Mountains and People—contains plenty of bluegrass, but it’s also a reminder that the region’s roots are deep, broad, and stretch beyond the Mason-Dixon Line. Appropriately enough, it opens with a corn dance sung by Seneca peoples living on a reservation in New York State.

Appalachia is where the first “song catchers” scoured the hills for variants of British ballads and dance tunes. These are represented on this collection, with Jean Ritchie turning in a dry-toned “Pretty Saro,” Molly Slemp an emotive version of “The Blackest Crow,” and fiddlers such as Martin Fox and Benny Thomasson laying down solid old-time melodies. Also included is “Coal Creek March,” a classic Dock Boggs banjo performance.

Other reminders of Appalachia’s musical diversity come in the form of shape-note hymns, a stately rendition of “Haste to the Wedding,” and union songs. The album is a fine mix of lesser-known performers and those who have graced stages worldwide. The latter, however, do shine brighter. Standout tracks include Darrell Scott’s reworking of “Old Joe Clark” and a gorgeous song from Robin and Linda Williams, the melodic and memorable “Don’t Let Me Come Home a Stranger.” And no Appalachian collection is complete without the incomparable Ralph Stanley, whose “Gloryland” could convert sinners and atheists alike.

A notable omission: Although slavery was not as widespread in the Piedmont as along the coast, the region nonetheless contained hundreds of thousands of chattels. Where are their songs? Carl Martin’s bluesy “Let’s Have a New Deal” is a small step in the right direction, but another way to break Appalachian stereotypes is to add more color to the narrative.--LV

Click here for a nice cover of "Don't Let Me Come Home a Stranger."

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