Prison Songs, Vol. 1: Murderous Home

Prison Songs, Vol. 1: Murderous Home

     
 

These 1947-48 field recordings by renowned folklorist Alan Lomax of work songs, shouts, and hollers by prisoners at the infamous Parchman Farm Prison in Mississippi aren't technically blues. Instead they document a pre-blues song style with roots reaching back through slavery to Africa. With the exception of "Prison Blues" by Alex, a solo harmonica piece in the…  See more details below

Overview

These 1947-48 field recordings by renowned folklorist Alan Lomax of work songs, shouts, and hollers by prisoners at the infamous Parchman Farm Prison in Mississippi aren't technically blues. Instead they document a pre-blues song style with roots reaching back through slavery to Africa. With the exception of "Prison Blues" by Alex, a solo harmonica piece in the Sonny Boy Williamson style, and "Stackerlee" by Bama, the traditional bad man ballad as a simple blues, there's little or no concession to popular trends in black music. This is unadorned music to while away the time -- a lot of time in some cases. Function begets form with a cappella singing accompanied by the hard and pronounced rhythms created by axes and hoes on the riveting "Old Alabama" by B. B. & Group. There's a beauty in the simplicity and syncopation of songs like 22's "Prettiest Train," as these men reflect on their lives and lament their condition. They exhibit a certain resilience of the human spirit, as well as the blues esthetic of using music as catharsis and a means to address adversity.

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Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Richie Unterberger
In the late '40s, ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax went to Parchman Farm in Mississippi to record African-American prisoners. This penitentiary was renowned for its anachronistically harsh conditions, and it's something of a miracle that Lomax was allowed in to document the music in the first place. Most of the material was recorded while the men were actually at work, and reflects the rhythms of chopping trees, splitting fireweed, chopping weeds, and other such tasks. The liner notes make much of how the subjugation and misery of the community are reflected in the music. While the dreariness of their lives was no doubt genuine, the music itself -- mainly gospel-ish work songs and chants geared toward getting the men through their daily grinds, usually sung a cappella, often by groups -- is not depressing to hear. True, it's hard to call it uplifting knowing what the prisoners were enduring, but there's an enormous pride and spiritual strength. It's as convincing as any gospel, and a number of these made their way into pop and rock repertoires in adapted forms, such as "Rosie," "Early in the Mornin'," and "Stackerlee." [This record was originally issued on LP in 1957 as Negro Prison Songs, on Tradition 1020, and the tracks can also be heard on Legacy International's Negro Prison Blues and Songs, released in 1994. The Rounder CD has a new title and different, historically slanted liner notes.]

Product Details

Release Date:
11/13/2001
Label:
Rounder / Umgd
UPC:
0011661171428
catalogNumber:
1714
Rank:
37017

Tracks

  1. The Murderer's Home  -  Jimpson
  2. No More, My Lord  - Blind Lemon Jefferson
  3. Old Alabama  -  B.B. & Group
  4. Black Woman  -  B.B. & Group
  5. Jumpin' Judy  - Fuzzy Red
  6. Whoa Buck  -  C.B.
  7. Prettiest Train  -  Twenty Two
  8. Old Dollar Mamie  -  Twenty Two
  9. It Makes a Long Time Man Feel Bad  -  Twenty Two
  10. Rosie  -  Axe Gang
  11. Levee Camp Holler  -  Bama
  12. What Makes a Work Song Leader? @@CB
  13. Early in the Mornin'  - Little Red
  14. How I Got in the Penitentiary  - Alan Lomax
  15. Tangle Eye Blues  -  Tangle Eye
  16. Stackerlee  -  Bama
  17. Prison Blues  -  Alex

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Album Credits

Performance Credits

Alex Laipeneiks   Track Performer
Alan Lomax   Track Performer
C.B.   Track Performer
Twenty Two   Track Performer
Tangle Eye   Track Performer
Alex   Harmonica
Bama   Track Performer

Technical Credits

Alan Lomax   Producer,Engineer
Robin Roberts   Liner Notes
Steve Rosenthal   Contributor
Phil Klum   Mastering
Bess Lomax Hawes   Contributor,Collection Consultant
Matthew Barton   Contributor,Series Research
Anna L. Chairetakis   Series Research
Gideon d'Arcangelo   Contributor,Collection Consultant
Jay Sylvester   Illustrations
Traditional   Composer

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