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Tradition Years: I Wonder As I Wander

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Album Review

John Jacob Niles is one of the forgotten folksingers who helped preserve and introduce traditional folk music to others before the Great Folk Scare broke in the late '50s. The songs included on Tradition Years: I Wonder as I Wander, in fact, were recorded on the eve of the revival. Niles is in good voice, but one only has to listen to "Waken, Little Sheperd" to understand why posterity has passed him by: his simple dulcimer accompaniment would satisfy even the most rabid folk purist's idea of tradition, but Niles' high alto is another matter. To put it in the worst way, Niles' singing voice is pretty, falling more in the tradition of classical vocals. His version of "John Henry," then, sounds nothing like Pete Seeger's, and it's easy enough to picture Niles performing the song in a recital before well-dressed patrons. Still, folk fans should realize that while Niles' style hasn't aged well, listeners really loved his interpretations at the time. He also reminds listeners today that there were always a number of ways of covering folk tradition. Tradition Years: I Wonder as I Wander will strike many as an oddity from yesteryear, but it represents the careful work of a diligent collector and a fine folk interpreter. ~ Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr., Rovi


Born: 28 April 1892 in Louisville, KY

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s

Music played an important part in the early life of John Jacob Niles, and he would spend his life collecting, composing, and performing folk songs. By the age of 15 he had begun collecting songs in the Appalachian Mountains, a habit he would continue while serving as a ferry pilot in the U.S. Air Corps during World War I. Niles remained in France after the war, studying music at the Universite de Lyon and the Schola Cantorum in Paris. He would continue his studies for two more years at the Cincinnati...
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Tradition Years: I Wonder As I Wander, John Jacob Niles
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