John A Lomax Jr

REVIEW: John A. Lomax Jr. “Folk – Live – The Gardner Recordings”


John A. Lomax Jr. – Folk – Live – The Gardner Recordings

Released only in high-quality heavy vinyl this document (taken from reel-to-reel tapes) was recently discovered. Compiled by John Lomax III the son of archivist & performer John Lomax Jr. (June 1907-December 1974) these 18-cuts are tunes made up of recordings created for a Houston radio program in 1965. The songs were written as far back as 1909 & encompass 4-generations.

Folk – Live – The Gardner Recordings (Drops Jan. 13–Houston Folk Music Archive). Despite its age, the 1965 recordings are pristine. “Long Summer Day,” originally performed by Clear Rock in 1933 was covered by English skiffle singer Lonnie Donegan.

The Lomax Family was responsible for capturing on tape many original black traditional work songs, prison songs, slave songs & Appalachian mountain folk songs that would’ve been lost.

Despite that, the songs aren’t as vintage as the originals these songs still capture a rich aged sound that’s preserved well. The Beach Boys had the most recognizable version of “Sloop John B,” but after dozens of covers Lomax offers a rendition more than likely as it was originally intended & the sound is exceptional.

John A. Lomax

The collection has bits of narration, but it never interferes. If anything, it offers authenticity. “Duncan & Brady,” was covered by Bob Dylan. Leadbelly recorded an early take at Parchman Farm (a prison) in 1937 & he also sang “Yellow Gal,” a bit faster & with additional verses than the Lomax one.

What Lomax achieves is to update these venerable melodies & offer a clue to how these songs originated. Many were either never recorded or if they were of primitive quality. Lomax re-records these folk songs & succeeds to capture the atmosphere with rural ambiance. In some instances, he has made the songs more accessible.

Tunes are sung acapella (no accompaniment) & the effort is obvious that he didn’t intend to add sugar or pasteurize them for mass consumption or even commercialize them. “Bye, Bye My Roseanna,” Lomax comes close to emulating the deep baritone of Paul Robeson — but not having his pure timbre.

Lomax is not an entertainer like Sinatra, Baez, or even Pete Seeger. He does retain the magical range vocally of the music’s history. He possessed the soul of the songs as written, as they were meant to be.

Some will catch a folk music fan’s ear. Woody Guthrie’s familiar “So Long It’s Been Good To Know You,” & 1909’s “Dink’s Song.” Recorded by Dave Van Ronk, Bob Dylan & many other 60s folk singers.

Brook Benton hit in 1961 with “The Boll Weevil Song,” & this is the way we hear the original 1924 tune as “Ballad of the Boll Weevil.” I’m older now — discovering where & how songs originally came from satisfies the wonder. Then you can move on to groups like the Fairfield Four’s “Po’ Lazarus.”

The most entertaining & jubilant track by Mr. Lomax is “Long John.”

Image of John Lomax III courtesy of Amanda Lomax.

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