Peggy Seeger (with her family and Tom Paley)

Here are two out-of-print albums featuring Peggy Seeger, another talented member of the Seeger family clan. The first one was recorded in 1957, before Peggy moved to England (she would spend most of her musical life there with her husband Ewan McColl). She’s accompanied with her two younger sisters Penny and Barbara. Together they sang the many folk songs they heard at home, while their parents transcribed them from field recordings. Many are children’s songs, play-parties songs and lullabies. They accompany themselves with banjo, autoharp and guitar.

The Three Sisters



The second lp, from 1965, was recorded with Tom Paley, after he left the New Lost City Ramblers and came to live in England. It’s a great collection of folk songs, played with guitar, banjo, autoharp and mountain dulcimer.

Tom Paley & Peggy Seeger 



Appleseed records issued lately a new record by Peggy Seeger with brother Mike called “Fly Down Little Bird”. It would be the last recordings Mike Seeger made before he passed away last year. Peggy and Mike wanted to record once again the folk songs they learned in their childhood, when mother Ruth Crawford Seeger would play field recordings from The Library of Congress over an over to transcribe them for songbooks. Most of the songs were recorded in 2008 at Mike’s home and this is really a “Close to Home” album. As Peggy said on the back of the disc, these are not “Children’s songs” but “Grown-up songs” as “we grew up on them”. The singing and playing of Mike and Peggy is really outstanding in its (apparent) simplicity and joyfulness. They revive this old songs with an elegant spirit and an authentic feel that is hard to match these days. This is easily one of the best folk record issued this year and a great testimony of Mike Seeger’s unique contribution to American Folk Music.

Listen to “The Dodger’s Song” , “Cindy” and “Blood Stained Banders”

-Visit Peggy Seeger’s website (you can buy “Fly Down Little Bird” there and read the lyrics of the songs)

Published in: on June 27, 2011 at 10:19 am  Comments (2)  

Versions and variants of Barbara Allen (Library of Congress lp)

This lp, issued by The Library of Congress in their series “Folk Music of The United States”, compiled 30 different versions of the old ballad “Barbara Allen” as sung by american men and women in the 1930’s, in different Southern states but also in California. The recordings were made by Alan or John Lomax and other folklorists who worked for The Library of Congress at this time. Some tracks are complete versions of the song while others just give to listen one or two stanzas. The first versions are all sung a cappella and use a beautiful  modal and archaic melody (used for other ballads as well). By the middle of the record and until the end, we hear different variations of the most-well know “Barbara Allen” melody using a major scale while the guitar is introduced on some tracks. The lp ends with a rare african-american version of the ballad sung by Moses (Clear Rock) Platt, recorded at The Central State Farm in Sugarland, Texas in 1933. Most of the singers here were recorded “in the field” and are not well-known with the exception of Bascom Lamar Lunsford, Aunt Molly Jackson and Horton Baker.

Hearing different versions of the same ballad (on my blog dedicated to  “Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music” , The Old Weird America, you can hear for each post, different version of the same song or tune) is always interesting as it seems everyone bring something a little different to the same story, varying some words or notes, and of course, the singing style or type of performance can vary a lot from version to version. (It is said that Harry Smith could tell from which county you were by singing to him your version of Barbara Allen!).

The lp includes a big booklet written by Charles Seeger (father of Pete, Mike and Peggy) which study in depth the performances of the disc. To read it, click here.

Download the lp here

-As a bonus, here’s Jody Stecher’s version, which appear on his great cd of ballads “Oh The Wind and Rain” (You can buy it directly from Jody’s website). I think this version of “Barbara Allen” is a real masterpiece. For more than 12 minutes, Jody sings with his powerful voice, with a fretless banjo accompaniment and manage to shift from the major scale melody to the modal melody heard on the first selections of the lp in the middle of his performance. The shifting itself from one scale to another is very subtle and sounds very natural and make this version one of my favorite of the old ballad.

Published in: on May 24, 2011 at 3:57 pm  Comments (7)  

Betsy Rutherford-Traditional Country Music

This out-of-print lp was the only recording of Betsy Rutherford, from Galax, Virginia. Raised in a musical family (her uncle was Fields Ward, see my post of this great musician), she kept singing the old songs she learned from her parents or from the Carter Family at a time when many young Virginians turned their back on the mountain traditions and the music was revived by urban students in the Northern states. Like Hazel Dickens, she sang country songs with a powerful and dignified voice, with a traditional instrumental back-up or a cappella on the beautiful Jean Ritchie song “The West Virginia Mine Disaster”. On “Amazing Grace”, she sings in the lining out fashion like in the Primitive Baptist churches and it’s one of my favorite recording of this famous hymn. She can be heard singing with the great Ola Belle Reed on a recent cd issued by Smithsonian Folkways called “Rising sun melodies” (on “I believe in the old-time way” and “I am the man Thomas”). Young appalachian singer Elizabeth LaPrelle cites Betsy Rutherford was one of her favorite singer and sang “Rain and Snow” on her first record.

Track list:

1.Faded coat of blue

2.Rain and snow

3.John Hardy

4.The West Virginia mine disaster

5.Tramp on the street

6.Boys, be good to dear old dad

7.Drunkard’s doom


9.Will the circle be unbroken

10.Amazing grace

Download here

Published in: on April 4, 2011 at 4:22 pm  Comments (5)  

Hobart Smith and Robert Pete Williams lps

Here’s a double offer this month with two giants of traditional american music, Hobart Smith and Robert Pete Williams. Smith was one of the greatest old-timey musician to come out of the Appalachians, a mountain virtuoso on fiddle, banjo, guitar, piano, harmonica, etc…, playing all these in a energetic style combining the huge influence of african-american music with the traditions of his family who passed on to their children the old ballads (Texas Gladden,Hobart’s sister, was a great ballad singer) and fiddle tunes of their forefathers that came from England. Smith was recorded early on by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress and by Moe Ash in New York, and appeared in many festivals during the Folk Revival of the early 1960’s.

-Here’s an lp recorded in 1963 and issued later on Topic Records in England. It’s called “The Old Timey Rap”, a term used by Hobart to describe his banjo pickin style…

Track list:

1.Soldier’s Joy (banjo)

2.Peg and Awl

3.The great Titanic

4.Banjo group 1 (Black Annie, Sally Ann, Chinquapin Pie, Last Chance, John Greer’s Tune)

5.Short life of trouble

6.The devil and the farmer’s wife

7.Soldier’s Joy (fiddle)

8.Sitting on top of the world

9.Stormy rose the ocean

10.Bonaparte’s retreat

11.Cuckoo Bird

12.Columbus Stockade Blues

13.Banjo group 2 (Cindy, The girl I left behind me, John Hardy)

14.Meet me in rose time Rosie

15.Uncloudy Day

This lp is available now on a cd by Folk Legacy records with three bonus tracks (Buy it here)

Listen here

Robert Pete Williams is one of my favourite Country Blues artist. He had a unique style of singing and playing the guitar, very reminescent of African music in fact, giving to each of his performances a hypnotic and improvised mood. Here’s a bit of biography from Wikipedia:

Williams was born in Zachary, Louisiana, to a family of sharecroppers. He had no formal schooling, and spent his childhood picking cotton and cutting sugar cane. In 1928, he moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana and worked in a lumberyard. At the age of 20, Williams fashioned a crude guitar by attaching five copper strings to a cigar box, and soon after bought a cheap, mass-produced one. Robert was taught by Frank and Robert Metty and began to play for small events such as Church gatherings, fish fries, suppers, and dances. From the 1930s-1950s, Williams played music and continued to work in the lumberyards of Baton Rouge.

He was discovered in Angola prison, by ethnomusicologists Dr Harry Oster and Richard Allen, where he was serving a life sentence for shooting a man dead in a local club in 1956, an act which he claimed was in self-defense. Oster and Allen recorded Williams performing several of his songs about life in prison and pleaded for him to be pardoned. Under pressure from Oster, the parole board issued a pardon and commuted his sentence to 12 years. In December 1958 he was released into ‘servitude parole’, which required 80 hours of labor per week on a Denham Springs farm without due compensation, and only room and board provided. This parole prevented him from working in music, though he was able to occasionally play with Willie B. Thomas and Butch Cage at Thomas’s home in Zachary. By this time, Williams’ music had achieved some favorable word-of-mouth reviews, and he played his first concert outside Louisiana at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival.

By 1965 he was able to tour the country, traveling to Los Angeles, Massachusetts, Chicago and Berkeley, California. In 1966 he also toured Europe. In 1968 he settled in Maringouin, west of Baton Rouge and began to work outside of music.

In 1970, Williams began to perform once again, touring blues and folk festivals throughout the United States and Europe. His music has appeared in several films notably, the Roots of American Music; Country and Urban Music (1971); Out of the Blues into the Blacks (1972) and Blues Under the Skin (1972) the last two being French-made films.

His most popular recordings included “Prisoner’s Talking Blues” and “Pardon Denied Again”. Williams has been inducted into the Louisiana Blues Hall of Fame.

Williams had slowed down his work schedule by the late 1970s, largely due to his old age and declining health. Williams died in Rosedale, Louisiana on December 31, 1980, at the age of 66.

-This lp was recorded for an Italian Blues label in 1977, while he was touring Europe, near the end of his life. He would record his last session three years after in Paris.

Track list:


2.Big fat mama


4.Must be another man

5.Promise land


7.Gamblin man

8.Talking Blues

9.Matchbox Blues

10.Watch yourself boy round by that deep blue sea


12.Greyhound Blues

Download here

Published in: on March 3, 2011 at 3:54 pm  Comments (3)