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The Alan Lomax Collection: Caribbean Voyage - Dominica Creole Crossroads

Alan Lomax & Various Artists

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Album Review

The history of the recording industry can be described superficially as the development of mediums with longer and longer playing time. Whether this benefits the pop industry with its three-minute song obsession is questionable, but there's no denying the impact on documentation of world music. Projects such as the Caribbean field recordings of Alan Lomax in the early '60s were simply too expansive to even consider releasing on vinyl in an era when box sets were the exclusive turf of Beethoven and his crew. The CD market has been a veritable welcome mat for new international recordings, to the point where even the fans start to gripe about not being able to keep up. On top of that come reissues of everything ever done by musicologists in the past, most often in an extremely expanded form. The material on this release, the result of research funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, was apparently submitted to many record companies at the time — nobody was interested. So Dominica - Creole Crossroads represents basically an all-new release, although it certainly represents the state of things in 1962, close to half a century before the performances became available commercially. One of the most interesting things about field recordings from different periods relates to the recording technology issue again, as well as the obvious documentation of evolving folk music forms in different eras. Lomax felt it was important to set up a playback system wherever he went to record, allowing the performers and other listeners the chance to actually listen to the accomplishments of his handy recording equipment. The charge and resulting inspirations performers often get from hearing themselves on tape has to be a universal thing, no doubt leading directly to developments in individual performances and music on a grand scale as well, details too complex to isolate but a major part of the tapestry nonetheless.

Complex details also pack the descriptions of what Lomax found when he stepped onto these islands, musical influences coming in from England, Africa, Poland, and Brazil — just to pick the names of four countries from a CD booklet that is almost too fat to fit into its jewel case. An initial, unprepared audit done prior to an assault on this booklet reveals a program that benefits strongly from actual study of the lyrics and backgrounds of the songs, all of course provided in the text. The domination of variations on the French language on these islands would be enough reason for those that cannot parlez-vous, but even those fluent in French have been observed in states of mystification upon contact with singing in Creole. Stylistically there is much diversity between the different styles and ensembles featured, although it is an easy flow without jarring transitions. Once more this can be considered a benefit of longer playing time, allowing extended space to a performer who might have gotten one track on an LP. The style and type of ensemble known as jing ping is an endearing concept in whatever variation it shows up, featuring accordion and banjo in combination with an assortment of weird homemade plastic percussion paraphernalia. There is also charming material performed by and for children, including possibly the best versions of "Home Sweet Home" ever recorded. The lullaby entitled "Night, Night, Night" has one of the most direct English lyrics ever written for such a song: "I want you to sleep, I want you to sleep." Jing ping groups also present material such as Polish mazurkas and the quadrille, a 19th century European dance form, a provocative similarity with the influence of similar music on the Tex-Mex musical culture. Lomax of course loves his work songs, best of which here is "Lamo Pa Dou" because it has a righteous recording of a saw in action. Workers also sing about chopping with axes and pulling and rowing boats. Percussion enthusiasts will find almost all the material of great interest, not just for the ring-ding of jing ping but for the presence of small, hand-held rhythm instruments throughout much of the other material. The sounds of these instruments are often used to provide simple but effective accents at the end of phrases rather then becoming engaged in any type of steady, repetitive accompaniment — almost like the percussionists in a symphony orchestra.

Biography

Born: 15 January 1915 in Austin, TX

Genre: World

Years Active: '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Few figures deserve greater credit for the preservation of America's folk music traditions than Alan Lomax. Scouring the backroads, honky tonks, and work camps of the Deep South, he unearthed a treasure trove of songs and singers, documenting the music of the common man for future generations to discover; through Lomax's pioneering efforts, cultural traditions ranging from the Delta blues to Appalachian folk to field hollers continue to live on, with his invaluable recordings offering a compelling...
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The Alan Lomax Collection: Caribbean Voyage - Dominica Creole Crossroads, Alan Lomax
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