Roots of FolkRoots of the Blues

Various Artists
Roots of Folk

(Vanguard)

Various Artists
Roots of the Blues

(Vanguard)

First Appeared at The Music Box, May 2003, Volume 10, #5

Written by John Metzger

gif

Back in the 1960s, Vanguard Records was one of — if not the — leading labels for folk music. Last fall, the company raided its undoubtedly vast archives to compile two magnificent three-disc packages: Roots of Folk and Roots of the Blues. In obvious tribute to Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, each of these 45-song collections is organized by style. The folk package includes the subsets Roots of Folk, Singers & Songwriters, and Folk Blues, while the blues set focuses on Folk Blues, Delta & Country Blues, and Urban Blues.

Unfortunately, there are two glaring deficiencies with the combined collection. The first is a lack of historical documentation regarding the individual tracks; even the date of recording is missing. Essays within each set attempt to put the music in perspective, but given the significance of the songs, neither summation really does justice to its respective set. The other problem is that there is actually some overlap between the two packages. Granted, each is meant to stand on its own merits, but why anyone would settle for one set over the other is a mystery. The two collections complement each other perfectly, and were it not for a pricing issue, surely they would have been combined into one giant box set.

Setting these quibbles aside for the moment, what one does get is some rather brilliant passages from the annals of music history, including some previously unreleased material. Not to mention, the array of artists is simply astounding. The folk set features Odetta, Judy Collins, The Weavers, Joan Baez, John Hammond, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, Donovan, The Chambers Brothers, Jerry Jeff Walker, Muddy Waters, Country Joe & the Fish, Mississippi John Hurt, and Pete Seeger — to name a few. As for the blues set, a quick perusal turns up an equally formidable list of names that includes Dave Van Ronk, Bill Monroe, Jim Kweskin Jug Band, Rev. Gary Davis, Son House, Sleepy John Estes, Memphis Slim, Otis Rush, James Cotton, Buddy Guy, and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

It’s hardly surprising, then, that highlights are abundant. Roots of Folk features Judy Collins’ stunning rendition of Turn, Turn, Turn, Eric Anderson’s beautiful Violets of Dawn, Maybelle Carter’s classic It Takes a Worried Man, Rev. Gary Davis’ captivating Samson & Delilah, a lovely duet by Donovan and Joan Baez on Catch the Wind, Jerry Jeff Walker’s playful Mr. Bojangles, and Ian & Sylvia’s airy take on Gordon Lightfoot’s Early Morning Rain. As for Roots of the Blues, it showcases Memphis Slim’s gorgeous jazz-blues interpretation of How Long, the smoldering groove Buddy Guy lends One Room Country Shack, John Hammond’s stirring Statesboro Blues, Big Mama Thornton’s monumental Ball & Chain, and the soaring vocal swing Odetta gives Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out. Indeed, these songs merely scratch the surface of the terrific moments on these collections — each of which provides a generous overview of the 1960s folk and blues resurgence from the perspective of the record label that stood at the center of it all.

gif

Roots of Folkstarstarstarstar

Roots of the Blues starstarstarstar

gif

Roots of Folk is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!

Roots of the Blues is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!

gif

Ratings

1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!

gif

Copyright © 2003 The Music Box