Bascom Lamar Lunsford,
Ballads, Banjo Tunes &
Sacred Songs of
Western North Carolina

(Smithsonian Folkways, 1996)

This is much, much more than a music CD; this is history, tradition and an echo of life as it once was. Having been born and raised in the North Carolina foothills, this music is especially significant to me.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, music was a way of life in the North Carolina mountains; thanks to Bascom Lamar Lunsford, that old way of life and culture is not completely lost to us in this modern age. Lunsford had many professions during his long life, but the music he grew up with was his passion. He recorded many songs that would almost certainly have been completely lost to us; not only that, he described each song, talked about where he heard it, who played it, etc. He was called "the Minstrel of the Appalachians" because he collected songs from all over western North Carolina and preserved them. He played the fiddle, banjo (in two distinctive styles) and mandoline (sort of like a mandolin), and he sang, recording hundreds of the living tunes of his friends, neighbors and neighborly strangers over the years -- all sorts of songs, including ballads, folk songs, gospel songs, fiddle tunes and banjo tunes. He also wrote a few songs of his own, including the classic "Old Mountain Dew."

No American contributed more material to the Archive of Folk Song than Lunsford, and all but five of the recordings on this album come from his "memory collection" recordings made at the Library of Congress in 1949 (the "memory collection" actually consists of no less than 318 songs); the other five were recorded for Brunswick Records in 1928.

I can't really describe all of these tunes and do them justice; they are all so much more than just songs. How do you describe the lone voice of a culture that no longer exists? You have to hear it for yourself. Lunsford does describe many of the songs on his recordings, and the accompanying CD booklet features a lot of valuable information about each tune. The only one of these recordings I was at all familiar with was "Old Mountain Dew," but Grandpa Jones' recording didn't include all of the verses of Lunsford's original version.

After listening to this album, one has to ask where all of the other 300 or so Lunsford recordings are. This music is so pure and historically important, it seems a shame that Lunsford's entire "memory collection" of tunes is not available in a box set. Lunsford recorded these songs so that they would never be forgotten, and I for one would love the chance to listen to every single recording Lunsford ever made.

by Daniel Jolley
24 September 2005

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