Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Important New Book on Folk Music

(This review aired on the June 20th edition of Around Cincinnati on WVXU 91.7. Please go to the audio link provided by the show's producer, Lee Hay, to enjoy the music excerpts.)

New this month from Ohio University Press comes a treasure trove for all folk music lovers, Stories from the Anne Grimes Collection of American Folk Music by Anne Grimes, compiled and edited by Sara Grimes, Jennifer Grimes Kay, Mary Grimes, and Mindy Grimes who are the author's daughters.

During the 1950s when many song collectors headed to the mountains, armed with reel-to-reel tape recorders and knowledge of the Child Ballads, Anne Grimes collected in the major cities of Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati as well is in most of Ohio's 88 counties. "Everybody thinks you find folk music in the hills, " Grimes told a reporter for The Columbus Citizen-Journal in 1971. "You don't," she continued, "It's in their heads."

Along her collecting journey, Grimes sang several times at the National Folk Festival and recorded on Folkways, crossing paths with folk music legends like Pete Seeger,Harry Belafonte and Bob Gibson. She also became an expert in the lore and techniques of the plucked or lap dulcimer. Many of her life's endeavors come together in this book plus companion CD collection, which is filled with interesting songs, stories, photos, and notations that illuminate Ohio history, folk lore and folk song.

Throughout the book are photos taken by Anne's husband, James W. Grimes, that reveal how much the collector's passion must have involved her entire family. The photos document Grimes' cherished song contributors as well as many of their unique instruments and styles of playing. The Grimes family sorted through thousands of tapes--housed in total at the American Folk Life Center--in order to select the 33 tracks that are featured on the CD. I'd just like to share with you some representative highlights.

Grimes explains Child Ballads, for those new to folk song collecting, as "classic British ballads that go way, way back--some from as early as the thirteenth century." She then goes on to explain about the scholar Francis James Child who classified and numbered the 305 ballads he researched and published in the late 1800s. Grimes was always running into new versions of these ballads in her collecting. In fact, a woman named Bertha Bacon of Belmont County brought Grimes one of the 27 versions of the Child ballad, "Lord Lovel" still sung in Ohio in the 1950s. The book includes the text of Bertha's version. But, I'd like you to hear a snippet of a rare tune Bertha Bacon sang for Grimes that is probably Irish in origin. It's entitled "The Death of the Devil":

Track 2--"The Death of the Devil"

Anne Grimes met up with Bob Gibson when he attended an Ohio Folklore Society meeting in search of good songs. He ended up sleeping in the basement of the Grimes home after a party. At another session in her home, he contributed this version of "Our Goodman," a Child ballad for which Anne had collected several Ohio versions.

Track 12--"Our Goodman"

In Gallipolis, Grimes recorded dulcimer player, Brodie F.Halley, as he shared his style of dulcimer playing.

Track 13 "Watermelon/Beautiful home."

The author herself demonstrates her own spirited style of dulcimer-playing in this distinctly Ohio murder ballad entitled "John Funston."

Track 15

At the National Folk Festival in St. Louis, Grimes was able to record May Kennedy McCord and Pete Seeger doing their versions of ballads at an after-concert hootenanny. Here are clips from "Hangman" and "Jefferson and Liberty."

Tracks 22 & 24

And for a final clip, I'd like to share this gem of a song about the practice of "lining out hymns." I think the performance by Bessie Weinrich of Vigo, Ohio speaks for itself. Here's "My Eyes Are Dim."

Track 29

Anne Grimes died in 2004 while working on this book about her contributors. Her family decided that it was work too important not to be finished. If Ohio's place in folk song is near to your heart, Stories from the Anne Grimes Collection of American Folk Music will bring you hours of pleasure. If you are a scholar of rare songs or a seeker of ballads, this well-documented resource can steer you toward more gems in your own backyard.

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