various artists,
Happy Land:
Musical Tributes
to Laura Ingalls Wilder

(Pa's Fiddle, 2005)

The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder have been in print for 74 years now. Read by millions, adapted for television, Wilder's stories cover life in America from 1867 to 1885 with painstaking detail, so that fans of the series know the clothing, food and music of her life better than they might know their neighbors.

Still, Dale Cockrell and Butch Baldessari apparently thought the Little House needed something more: an audible sample of the actual music of the time, as Laura Ingalls Wilder herself might have heard it.

Listening to Happy Land: Musical Tributes To Laura Ingalls Wilder, it's hard to disagree. It's one thing to know that Pa sang "Uncle Sam's Farm," another to hear the lyrics, not just glowing with optimism but almost begging good Americans to travel west. "Captain Jinks," like most jokes, is never as funny in the reading as when performed by a proper comedy troupe like Riders in the Sky. The contrast between the sympathy and cheer of the Indian maid in "The Blue Juniata" sounds a much sharper note of contrast to the settlers' expansion in The Little House on the Prairie as a true song then when words on a page.

Cockrell and Baldessari have done an amazing job of selecting performers to match the feeling of the Little House books. Many musicians have tried to keep the traditions of American folk alive, and this album is a chance for them to practice it in its most old-fashioned form without apology.

The greatest find must be Jasper "Jep" Bisbee, a fiddler born only eight years after Pa Ingalls and within 50 miles of his birthplace. The recordings of Bisbee's playing, made when Bisbee was in his 80s, offer a rare chance to hear a voice and technique with origins as similar to Pa's as any likely to survive on record.

Baldessari and Cockrell provide lyrics and liner notes for each of the songs in the collection. The liner notes tie each song to its place in the Little House books for those trying to follow along at home or use the CD in study plans, but they also provide extra background material on the songs as independent entities. The songs of Happy Land: Musical Tributes to Laura Ingalls Wilder contain all the conflict, humor and hope that have made the series so beloved. That makes it a necessary companion for anyone who loves the books, but it also makes it a fine choice for anyone who loves real American folk music.

by Sarah Meador
19 August 2006

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