“There were supposed to be four volumes you know, like for earth, air, fire: red, blue, yellow and green.” – Harry Smith
In 1952 Smith purposefully altered the future of both American music and culture in general with the release of his Anthology of American Folk Music. That compilation was, is, and will continue to exist as a Bible, an encyclopedia, a declaration of values for those who dish out the cash for it, and a generally timeless cultural monument. Smith was a classic weirdo, a maniacal collector of 78s whose rampant financial instability and eccentric tendencies left him consistently on the verge of homelessness. So it’s no surprise that after the anthology proper was released in '52, he sold the records that were to constitute this collection (and some others) to the NY Public Library, and lost his notebook of detailed historical records for those records. Furthermore, an argument with a Folkways staff member about whether to include a song about FDR’s reelection halted the project. Smith thought the song sucked, and in his words, “it was the, you know, whatever it’s called, immovable object meeting the irresistible force.” Flash forward to John Fahey’s Revenant Records, formed in ’96 and located in Austin, and finally the compilation sees the light of day. By now, most of these songs are widely available on other collections, but the experience of them together, as intended by Smith, is something approaching a religious one. Similarly to the original anthology, the music covers the scope of rags, blues, ballads, jug band tunes, fiddle tunes, etc. I encourage reading the liner notes for detailed info on the musicians and the worlds of this music, because it is an altogether foreign one to ours, maybe.