Southern Journey

Recorded by Alan Lomax, with assistance from Shirley Collins and Anna Lomax

Includes original notes by Alan Lomax

Series Editors: Matthew Barton and Andrew L. Kaye

Pioneering the use of stereo recording in the field, Alan Lomax made his “Southern Journey” in 1959–60, returning to the rural South (after 10 years abroad) and rediscovering its still-vital traditions. He traveled from the Appalachians to the Georgia Sea Islands, from the Ozarks to the Mississippi Delta, recording blues, ballads, breakdowns, hymns, shouts, chanteys, and work songs. When they were released by Atlantic Records (1960) and Prestige Records (1962), these recordings served as inspiration and guide to a new generation of musicians passionately interested in the heritage this music represents. These remasterings of the originals, including previously unissued tracks, offer us a new opportunity to appreciate and learn from these vibrant performances recorded in their home settings.

“Over-estimating the importance of this collection is impossible.” —The Economist

“Superb, beautifully recorded, evidently heartfelt, richly contextualized here as treasures of an American culture not yet in thrall to mass mediation.” —The Wire

“Raw, honest soulful, and spiritually and emotionally moving… Be warned, though: once you start digging into stuff as authentic and visceral as this, it’s hard to go back.” —Ray Gun

“This collection shows how vital musical history can be.” —Wired

“Mind-boggling and beautiful.” —The Louisville Eccentric Observer

“These recordings are all in stereo and they are absolutely STUNNING!” —The Tracking Angle

Southern Journey, Vol. 1 - Voices from the American South

Additional notes by Matthew Barton

This 24-track sampler anthology provides a comprehensive introduction to the thirteen-CD Southern Journey series.

Southern Journey, Vol. 2 - Ballads and Breakdowns

Additional notes by Andrew L. Kaye

Recordings of old-time Blue Ridge Mountain music — fiddle tunes, banjo breakdowns, ballads, and lullabies. On this disc we find songs inherited from Britain belonging to the famous Child ballad canon along with newer blues lyrics, songs recounting local history, lyrics of lost love, remorse, revenge, and comedy; and instrumentals for parlor and porch. “Old Joe Clark,” “Single Girl,” “Pretty Polly,” “Single Girl,” “The Willow Garden,” and “Bonaparte’s Retreat” are among the many selections.

Southern Journey, Vol. 3 - 61 Highway Mississippi

Notes by Matthew Barton, adapted from the writings of Alan Lomax

Work songs, spirituals, lullabies, fife and drum and old-time Black string bands from the Mississippi Hill Country; and, of course, Delta blues, including the historic first recordings of country blues artist ‘Mississippi’ Fred McDowell. Includes “I’m Going Home” recorded by Ervin Webb with prisoners at the notorious Parchman Farm; an interview with Webb; and “Clarksdale Mill Blues” by John Dudley.

Southern Journey, Vol. 4 - Brethren, We Meet Again

Additional notes by Matthew Barton

Folk hymnody of the Southern White Protestant tradition from Kentucky, Virginia, Arkansas, and Alabama — includes Old Regular Baptist lining hymns, testimony, shape-note singing, and country gospel, sung by Preston and Hobart Smith, Almeda Riddle, the Alabama Sacred Harp Singers, and many others.

Southern Journey, Vol. 5 - Bad Man Ballads: Songs of Outlaws and Desperadoes

Additional notes by Andrew L. Kaye

Defiant, larger than life rebels Railroad Bill, Brennan on the Moor, Jessie James, and the tragic hero John Henry are among those celebrated in folk songs performed by Virginia coast quartets, Mississippi mountain balladeers (such as Spencer Moore and Neal Morris), and Mississippi prisoners. Includes the original version of “Po’ Lazarus” by James Carter and fellow prisoners featured in the film and soundtrack O Brother Where Art Thou?

“My favorite disc of the first 6 is Volume 5.” —The Tracking Angle

Southern Journey, Vol. 6 - Sheep, Sheep, Don’t You Know the Road

Additional notes by Andrew L. Kaye

The clash between stark dichotomies of sin and salvation that characterized the grass-roots religious movements of the rural South engaged and inspired generations of folk artists and performers, African American and white. Both sides of the coin are represented here — from the title track by Bessie Jones and the Sea Island Singers, and “Straighten ’Em,” by the Bright Light Quartet, to Hobart Smith’s “Drunken Hiccups.” 

“A lot of music and sociology to love, study and comprehend....While much of this music is already gone from everyday life — forever — Alan Lomax ensured that it will never die. The oral tradition, even on CD, is still alive and well.”—David Fricke, Rolling Stone

Southern Journey, Vol. 7 - Ozark Frontier

Original notes by Alan Lomax adapted and expanded by Anna Lomax Wood

Ballads and old-time music from Missouri and Arkansas, the territory that gave us Jesse James, Jimmie Driftwood, Mark Twain, and Bill Clinton, and that saw the birth of ragtime. It was a meeting place for several cultural strains — the Northern topical ballad and the banjo-picking, high lonesome musical style of the South, resulting in a freewheeling and distinctively creative American folk idiom. Includes Neal Morris’s “Sing Anything.”  

“We should have more recordings from the free and easy Ozarks.” —Alan Lomax

Southern Journey, Vol. 8 - Velvet Voices: Eastern Shores Choirs, Quartets, and Colonial Era Music

Additional notes by Matthew Barton

African-American music from the Eastern Shores. The Bright Light Quartet, Bessie Jones and the Sea Island Singers, and others perform menhaden fishermen’s chanteys, jubilee and gospel singing; and Ed Young’s and Hobart Smith’s reconstruction of a pre-revolutionary-style fife and four-string-banjo duet made during the filming of a documentary about Colonial Williamsburg.

“Travelers through plantation country of the Eastern Shore often described the thrilling rowing chants of the Negro slaves. Here, too, Colonel Higginson listened with rapture to the spirituals of his Negro regiment in the Civil War and wrote the first account of this already mature religious music. This primordial spiritual tradition still exists in the most isolated of the Sea Islands in Georgia, and I have heard replicas of these songs sung as far west as Louisiana and Texas by ex-slaves. There can be little doubt that the East Coast tradition moved west with the expanding frontier and formed the basis for new folk song everywhere in the South.”  —Alan Lomax, 1961

“Another fine example of Alan Lomax’s profound desire to preserve Southern roots music.” —Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange

Southern Journey Vol. 9 CD Cover
Southern Journey, Vol. 9: Harp of a Thousand Strings
Southern Journey, Vol. 10 - And Glory Shone Around

Original notes by Alan Lomax adapted and expanded by Matthew Barton

Old-time Southern shape note singing from the Sacred Harp hymnal — vibrant, cascading folk polyphony captured in full swing and in stereo at the 1959 United Sacred Harp Musical Convention in Fyffe, Alabama — truly a “joyful noise.”

Southern Journey, Vol. 11 - Honor the Lamb: The Belleville A Cappella Choir

African-American spirituals sung in the richly textured and tightly harmonized style of the Belleville A Cappella Choir of the Church of God and Saints in Christ, a Virginia-based church tracing its lineage to the lost tribes of Israel. At the wish of their founder Prophet Crowdy, the choir assimilated elements of university-trained black choirs such as the Fisk Jubilee Singers, as well as aspects of later jubilee and modern gospel styles. Although their singing conforms to conventional art-music harmony, all songs and their parts have always been transmitted orally and sung without written text or notation, creating a spontaneous “folk” feeling even in their most complex pieces.

“I myself have heard no group which combines in such an engaging way a repertoire of fresh and thoroughly inspired songs, a conventional choral technique, and which at the same time has not lost the rhapsodic, swinging style which ennobles and enlivens American Negro folk music.” —Alan Lomax, 1961 

Southern Journey, Vol. 12 - Georgia Sea Islands: Biblical Songs and Spirituals

John Davis, Bessie Jones, and the legendary Georgia Sea Island Singers (including some performers whom Alan Lomax first recorded in 1935 with Zora Neale Hurston and Mary Elizabeth Barnicle) perform spirituals, work songs, and ring dances in the constantly overlapping, part-crossing polyrhythmic African style of their forefathers, whose way of life as independent fishermen and farmers on the offshore islands of the Georgia coast continued long into the present.

“When you finish this album, you will feel like you've been there — both to St. Simons Island and to heaven.” —Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange

Southern Journey, Vol. 13 - Georgia Sea Islands: Earliest Times