FAME Review: Ballads, Blues, & Bluegrass - A Film by Alan Lomax (DVD)
Ballads, Blues, & Bluegrass - A Film by Alan Lomax (DVD)

Ballads, Blues, & Bluegrass

A Film by Alan Lomax


Available from Amazon.com.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

Hmmm…a "film" that's a little over a half hour long, to which is appended a 20-minute making-of short, how does one regard that? Maybe it should first be noted that it's highly amusing to see the legendary Alan Lomax as a lo-rent, scruffy bearded, seedy, post-beatnik impressario a la a Hugh Hefner slumming back in the early 60s. One can't help but understand that Al was mindful of Hef's Playboy's Penthouse show on TV, satirizing it a tad, grinning like an imp. But once the killer footage of remarkable players gets under way, once Roscoe Holcomb starts picking at that banjo and singing in his falsetto voice, it's obvious that, agonizingly brief as this presentation may be, it's a treat nonetheless, with footage found nowhere else.

Ernie Marrs contributes a surprisingly contemporary protest song, Pop Goes the Missile, a play on Pop Goes the Weasel, followed by Clarence Ashley's band with the first known footage of Doc Watson. The entire short collection, from the moment Holcomb starts up is almost completely musical with a few interview questions tossed in between renditions. One must wonder if, and indeed hope, there's further footage and, if so, why it hasn't likewise seen the light of day. Especially after viewing a righteous Willie Dixon playing a rousing contrabass in duet with Memphis Slim and a pump organ Lomax had laying about, the inquiry takes on burning importance.

What you won't know until you watch the Making Of segment is that the loft room was packed with prominent or one-day-to-be-prominent people like a very young Maria Muldaur. John Cohen, h eof the New Lost City Ramblers, despite his age has a very sharp eye and memory and pores over stills of camera shots to identify and place each and every face. He knows music inside out and his comments arise from a deep love of the hillbilly musics as well as an infectious enthusiasm about the entire scene of the day. Thus, by the time the whole hour is done, you realize you got just as much out of his backgrounding as you did from the clips themselves. That only, quite wistfully, leaves you wanting a whole lot more. Let's hope someone somewhere discovers other cannisters from these sessions, 'cause this is stuff you don't see much of anymore in the modern age of hybridization.

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2012, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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