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Virginia Work Songs / Various

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  • Virginia Work Songs, another release in the impressive Virginia Traditions series put together by the Blue Ridge Institute for Appalachian Studies at Ferrum College in Ferrum, VA, collects field recordings of singing watermen, factory workers, crab pickers, and gandy dancers from the 1930s, combining them with more recent field material from the 1970s and 1980s, to create an intriguing document of labor-related songs from the region. Many of the older recordings presented on the disc are difficult to hear, sounding a bit like voices singing in a tin hut during a hailstorm, but their historical and archival value offsets that somewhat. Even with those unavoidable sound problems, this is a fascinating survey of secular unaccompanied singing (since not everything here is technically a work song), ranging from the absolutely terrifying fire and brimstone solo gospel version of "The Man Was Burning" recorded by Joe Lee in 1936 to the polished group singing of William Thompson and crew on two pieces, "Every Mail Day" and "Lazarus," recorded in 1980. Casual listeners may find Virginia Work Songs tough to bear at times, but this is truly America singing (albeit 70 some years ago), and its archival value is immense. ~ Steve Leggett
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