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Our Singing Country

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Our Singing Country
Folk Songs and Ballads. Collected and Compiled by John A. Lomax and Alan Lomax. Music Editor, Ruth Crawford Seeger. Introduction by Judith Tick. (Dover Publications, Mineola, New York: 2000. Pg. xl, 416.) ISBN: 0-486-41089-7.

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - March 30, 2005

John A. Lomax and Alan Lomax were a father and son team of traveling folklorists who traveled around the United States during the 1930 and 40's making field recordings of thousands of folk songs and ballads - sung by common folk. One result of their massive study was a series of books that detailed the songs and stories that they collected during their field research. The first of these was American Ballads and Folk Songs which was originally published in 1934 and its companion volume, Our Singing Country: A Second Volume of American Ballads and Folk Songs which was originally published in 1941. This current Dover edition is an unabridged republication of Our Singing Country. Other books that grew out of these field recordings included Negro Songs as Sung by Leadbelly, published in 1936 and Folk Song: U.S.A., which was published in 1947.

This volume includes the words and music to about 200 songs. These songs are accompanied by commentaries that provided information about the songs and the informants that sang them for the Lomaxes. This edition includes the original introduction written by Archibald MacLeish as well as new introduction written by Judith Tick. Ruth Crawford Seeger was the music editor for this volume.

The songs in Our Singing Country are organized into six main sections, and most of these sections are further divided into subsections. The best way to get a feel for the breadth of material covered in this collection is to take a brief glance at a list of these sections and subsections. You may notice that some of the terms used to denote these sections are not longer in common usage. However when this book was written, these were considered acceptable terminology.
  1. Religious Songs
  2. Social Songs
  3. Men at Work
  4. Outlaws

  5. Hollers and Blues

  6. Negro Gang Songs
Our Singing Country is a wonderful songbook for both scholars and hobbyist. This book provides an intriguing glimpse at a unique aspect of American popular culture in the 1930's and early 1940's. The Lomaxes traveled to almost every state during their song hunting excursions, and many of the songs they collected may have died away had they not saved them from extinction. Also included is the excellent, albeit now dated, bibliography that accompanied the first edition of this text. An superb edition to any library, personal or public, looking to add a source book on American folk songs and ballads.

Related Reviews:

The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, edited by Francis James Child.
Child's monumental comparative study of 305 English folk ballads. This five-volume edition is an unabridged republication of the original ten-part series published between 1882 and 1898.

When This Bloody War is Over, by Max Arthur.
Soldiers' Songs of the First World War - Historically annotated lyrics to nearly 100 songs from The Great War.

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