Saturday, January 22, 2011

An illustration of a reel-to-reel tape machine graces the cover of "Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World," the first biography of the renegade folklorist who, says John Szwed, "changed not only how everyone listened to music but even how they viewed America." The drawing shows the type of portable, hi-fi recorder that made possible Lomax's most influential fieldwork, like the 1959 recording of a Mississippi prison work gang that later appeared on the soundtrack for the movie "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" (2000).

"Po Lazarus"—rendered by black convicts chopping wood and singing in unison—is vintage Lomax in its utter fidelity (sonic and otherwise) to a world where the grace of artistic expression can rise from the depths of misery. The song is part of the vast Lomax archives. They include more than 5,000 hours of sound recordings, which have been mined by artists from Aaron Copland and Miles Davis to Bob Dylan and Moby, a fitting legacy for a visionary outlaw who believed, says Mr. Szwed, that "folk culture could become pop culture."

This is about Alan Lomax. One of the unsung heroes of American music. RTWT here

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