Appalachian Folk Ballads
This recording could be regarded as a specialty type of recording or perhaps simply appealing to a "niche" of music lovers. I have been having a great deal of difficulty deciding how to describe it, though the subtitle Appalachian folk ballads is true. The trouble that people went to or through to find or "round-up" these songs is an interesting tale unto itself. The forty-page booklet/liner notes does a remarkably thorough job that I found downright intriguing and much of it had to be a labor of love. A labor of "old-timey music" is the underlying force of these songs. Fully two thirds of these songs can be said to come from nineteen seventeen and eighteen, the remainder are from the thirties.
The origins of the songs in many cases were determined by Fletcher Collins who field-recorded hundreds of them starting in the thirties - yes, the thirties. Three hundred of them are now in the Library of Congress' Archive of American Folksong.
Custer La Rue is a well-known soprano with a voice that somehow "nicely fits the type of songs sung here". In addition to a number of unaccompanied solo albums she and the Baltimore Consort (or members of the Consort) have recorded together at least ten times so far. The arrangements are sparse and approximately a third of the songs are performed without any accompaniment, a third with only Ronn McFarlane on the lute and the other third adds either or both Mary Anne Ballard and Mark Cudek playing either the bass or treble viol and a few times the cittern. What in the world the cittern is doing here I can not guess. Popular in the fifteen and sixteen hundreds, reference books say it had died out before the nineteen hundreds; precursor of the guitar, it was an important and popular instrument of the Renaissance period, and that is a long, long time ago.
Often there are stories behind these songs and at times the songs are simply sung stories. Many of the songs were passed down from person to person or from singer to singer and not always written down until more recently. Even then they may have simply been recorded, as mentioned previously by Fletcher Collins, or others, to preserve another part of our heritage. In this case that is the folk music heritage of the United States' Appalachian area. Since this is a bit difficult to describe or perhaps to understand, I am going to exactly copy the forward or story behind a song and then copy the words of a (different) song - a short one to keep it brief while giving you ideas of what is going on here:
Lady Gay (The Wife of Usher's Well)
Text as sung by Mrs. I.K. Flannery, Berea, Kentucky, May 30, 1917 and by Mr. Nathaniel Morris, Harriston, Virginia, October 13, 1935. TUNE as sung by Mrs. Minnie Poke, Wasioto, Kentucky, May 1, 1917 and by Mrs. Fred Hite Thaxton, Virginia, October 13, 1936.
There are dozens of collected versions of this song; Bronson, in The Traditional Tunes to the Child Ballads, has seventy-nine. There is, however, only one basic melody for this ballad. Now I will quote the words for one of the songs (I am doing this because most of you have never heard even one of them):
The Lady and the Dragoon
There was a little soldier, just lately come from war.
The sound quality suits the music and performers quite well. Overall it is tight and clean and not the least bit overblown, rather intimate is an appropriate description. This was done as a 20-bit recording and released before Dorian went to their new xCD series done in 24-bit format.