Vol. 1: Murderous Home
Vol. 2: Don’tcha Hear Poor Mother Calling?
Recordings 1947–1948 by Alan Lomax
Notes by Alan Lomax, Matthew Barton, and Anna Wood
John A. Lomax and Alan Lomax, and other collectors before and after their
time, found some of America’s most powerful vernacular music in the
oppressive and violent prison system of the South where men worked from “can’t
see in the morning to can’t see at night.” Songs like these,
the Lomaxes noted in 1941, had been sung all over the South. “With
the coming of the machines, however, the work gangs were broken up. The
songs then followed group labor into its last retreat, the road gang and
the penitentiary, flourishing there because they were essential to the
spiritual as well as the physical survival of the black prisoners.” These
wood-cutting and tie-tamping songs, field hollers, lies, and the occasional
blues, were recorded by Alan Lomax on Magnacord paper tapes at Parchman
Farm, Mississippi, in 1947 and 1948 and first published as Negro Prison
Songs LP on Tradition in 1958.
“The good thing about these is that they’re so raw, they’re
recorded so raw, that it’s just like listening to a landscape. It’s
like listening to a big open field. You hear other things in the background.
You hear people talking while they are singing. It’s the hair in
the gate.” —Tom Waits