The Warner Collection,
It may surprise some people that other folklorists beside John and Alan Lomax conducted numerous field recordings. Anne and Frank Warner, in fact, proved as dedicated as the father-son Lomaxes, collecting for over 40 years. Without an overabundance of funding though, their collecting was relegated to hobby status, and they would spend their weekends, vacations, and any spare time recording traditional American music along the Eastern Seaboard. In 1972, their collected recordings would be housed at the Library of Congress. Now, Appleseed has decided to release a number of these recordings on Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still. |
There are several things a listener will notice when first placing this CD in their disc player. First, that the number of selections-58-is a little overwhelming. The sheer number guarantees that many are under a minute, and only a few are over two. Individual singers perform many of these songs a cappella or with spare accompaniment. The fidelity ranges from very good to scratchy, but all of the words are clearly discernable. These factors make it perfectly clear that this CD, as wonderful as it might be, is neither destined for the popular radio or MTV.
There are a number magnificent recordings on Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still. Frank Proffitt is featured on seven tracks, and his performances include the ballad Tom Dooley, a song later borrowed and made famous by the Kingston Trio. Less polished and less romanticized, this version is sung at a brisk pace and accompanied by rhythm guitar. He performs a nice, long version of Little Maggie, a song that would become a bluegrass standard. Here, the haunting lyric is driven by Proffitt's guitar and retains its old-time flavor. Richard Hamilton offers two beautifully sung blues pieces, Freight Train Blues and Deep Elm Blues. A soldier stationed in New York, the Warners invited him to dinner and he brought along his guitar, leaving them with these soulful performances (and more than paying for his supper). There are a number of fairly morbid songs including Dorothy Howard's Babes in the Woods, an anonymous singer's Skin and Bones, and Eleazar Tillett & Martha Etheridge's rendering of Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still. On this latter song, the singers deliver a devastating performance, complete with eerie, haunting vocals.
There is a nice balance between male and female performers on this album. It is interesting to note that when several people sing together, as on Wayfaring Stranger, the performers seldom harmonize. There is also an occasional instrumental, as with Been to the East by fiddler Steve Meekins. In several instances the performers are allowed to just talk, giving one a taste of their dialogue and the rhythm of their speech.
Once one takes the plunge into field recordings, there is no turning back. These recordings provide a listener with a reasonably priced way to enter and explore the beliefs and views of a completely different culture. Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still grows on the listener until there is nothing left to do but go out and purchase Nothing Seems Better to Me: the Music of Frank Proffitt & North Carolina, the second volume in the series. Hopefully your significant other and children/pets will understand. Appleseed has done an excellent job putting this collection together, and one can only hope that more volumes will be released in the near future.