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Which Side Are You On?

Almanac Singers

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Album Review

As much a political and philosophical collective as they were an actual singing group, the Almanac Singers, whose entire recorded output was done in the span of a year between March 1941 and February 1942, were in many ways the godfathers of the urban folk revival that broke into the commercial radar (and the pop charts) two decades later. Anchored by the hybrid banjo sound (part Appalachian, part his own invention) of Pete Seeger, the group also included, at one point or another, Lee Hays, Millard Lampell, Bess Lomax, Arthur Stern, Sis Cunningham, Josh White and his wife Carol White, and when it suited him, Woody Guthrie, who famously noted that the Almanac Singers were "the only group in the world that rehearsed on stage." A lesson in applied folk song, the group played Southern folk songs given a whole new utility by being filtered through a left-leaning political agenda and a strong belief in the power of labor unions. The Almanac Singers may have sounded like a stylized and urban version of a mountain string band, but they were hardly the folks you'd call to play a Saturday night sugaree. Hit the picket line on Monday morning, though, and this was your band. This 31-track, single-disc set from Britain's Rev-Ola Records contains virtually everything of note that the Almanac Singers recorded, including an intimate, unassuming version of Guthrie's "Hard, Ain't It Hard," a decidedly non-blues take on "House of the Rising Sun," and a stirring rendition of "The Sinking of the Rueben James." The sound is wonderful, bringing out the loose (and as Guthrie reminds) unrehearsed intimacy that was the Almanac Singers greatest strength. Everything you need is here.

Biography

Formed: 1941 in New York, NY

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '40s

The Almanac Singers lasted for barely a year and only left behind three dozen songs, and their work was at least as controversial as it was popular. But they were among the very first folk music groups organized for political purposes to record, and their lineup — Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, Woody Guthrie, and Millard Lampell — was a virtual "who's who" of topical and popular folk music for the next 20 years. They were the group where Seeger first hooked up officially...
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Which Side Are You On?, Almanac Singers
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