"Jail House Bound: John Lomax's First Southern Prison Recordings, 1933"
An unusual release for WVU Press, this is a fascinating collection of 1933 field recordings made by John Lomax and his son Alan in Southern prisons. Decades earlier, Lomax had documented American folk and cowboy songs, but for this collection his mission was to record traditional African-American songs.
To find the versions least affected by popular culture, he sought out musicians who had been culturally isolated in prison camps. The 24 tracks were taken from Lomax's original wax cylinders housed at the Library of Congress. Once your ears get attuned to the format, the sound quality is surprisingly good.
In addition to now-familiar songs like "The Midnight Special," "John Henry," "Stewball" and "Alabama Bound" (which already had been around for decades), there are evocative -- and well arranged -- field hollers and work songs that are first cousins to the songs sung by the jubilee quartets.
The set, which also includes a revealing interview with the Lomaxes, was compiled by Mark Allan Jackson, a WVU alum and professor at Middle Tennessee State University. Longtime Morgantown studio guru Mark Poole cleaned up and mastered the tracks.