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Various Artists

The Warner Collection, Volumes 1 & 2 – 2000 (Appleseed)

Reviewed by Brad San Martin

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These two separately-sold disks are extraordinary chronicles of rural American vocal music, recorded onto primitive recording devices by Frank and Anne Warner between 1940 and 1966. Eschewing instrumental music (which is more than adequately collected on other albums) in favor of ballads, minstrel songs, blues and all nature of song, the Warners library of recordings has languished in the the Library of Congress since their recording. While they aided Anne's enormously influential book "Traditional American Folk Songs," these source recordings have lingered unreleased until now.

The most striking thing is how listenable they are. Over the course of 99 mostly brief performances (58 on Volume 1, 41 on the second), an fascinating array of singers offer not only well-known and obscure tunes, but reminiscences and amusing tales behind the songs. The Warners playfully interview the performers, but never condescend. The feeling is one of genuine interaction and good nature. Pretty soon the listener is taken into the living rooms and front porches where these songs were recorded, and the experience is exhilarating.

Volume One is broader overview of the Warner's collection, while volume two focuses (not exclusively) on the family of North Carolina's Frank Proffitt. Both are essential, with meticulous notes, as-good-as-can-be-expected audio fidelity, and the inexplicable rush of discovery.