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VARIOUS ARTISTS "Rivers Of Song" Smithsonian Folkways SFW40086

This is one for those people who say folk music is dead and gone. It isn't, and never will be. People need music in many settings: in church, at the carnival, in the pub, at hen parties and many other settings. On each occasion the style and tone of the music will vary.

We only ever think folk music is dying because we look for the wrong thing. The 19th century antiquarians looked for signs of ancient songs, and discarded all the social music they could identify. That didn't stop bits of music hall and contemporary slipping in unidentified, of course. We revivalists accepted all their subjective judgements, and added our own prejudices until we created a record-buying elite and a series of "folk festivals" at which you will never see an ordinary person.

In the USA, of course, they haven't that sense of the "ancient", and with only 200 years of history - about six generations - to fall back on it was easier to chart the course of all this varied social music from the middle of America and realise its significance as the modern music of the people.

The result is a marvellous collection of blues, cajun, jazz and the unclassifiable. There's a wonderful piece of gospel shouting in "We Praise Your Holy Name"; some authentic Red Indian music from Chippewa Nation and "Pow-wow Song" and some pure cajun from the wonderful DL Menard with "La Porte d'en Arriere".

Altogether nearly 130 minutes of music on thirty-six tracks and two CDs. In many ways this is a chart of how the ethnic music of the USA combined to make rock-and-roll, and makes a convincing argument for that to be regarded as the folk music of today.

There are tracks by John Koerner, John Hartford, Sonny Burgess, The Memphis Horns and Ann Peebles, and many more you won't have heard of, Wonderful stuff. Buy a posh car with a CD and play it loud in the street.

Bob Harragan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 34 of The Living Tradition magazine.