Photography by Michael Wilson. Words by Rose Skelton.
Alan Lomax, the American folklorist, ethno-musicologist and filmmaker spent his life travelling the world making field recordings. He is best known for his work in the prisons, farms and plantations of the American South and the Caribbean. It is these recordings that Canadian banjo player and composer Jayme Stone sought to bring back to life with various collaborators on this awe-inspiring piece of work. At the centenary of Lomax’s birth, Stone revisits 19 songs and tunes from Lomax’s body of work: sea shanties, Scots ballads, gospels, West Indian love songs, work tunes, eastern Appalachian fiddle tunes. The album comes with extensive notes and artwork celebrating both Lomax’s life and the making of this album.
Outstanding among the tracks are ‘Shenandoah’, a heart-breaking sea shanty sung by the ethereal-voiced Margaret Glaspy, and ‘I Want to Hear Somebody Pray’, a rousing Caribbean gospel sung by a glorious vocal chorus. Stone accompanies the latter with his banjo, fitted with a deadening piece of foam to emulate the West African ngoni sound in order to reinforce the song’s African roots. ‘Julie and Joe’ are two conjoined Appalachian tunes, with fast-beating fiddles and banjo bearing the energy of the region’s signature sound. As in all the tracks, the banjo is understated. Stone’s quiet influence speaks not just through the sensitive contributions of his instrument but also through the research, coordination and care he has taken with this groundbreaking piece of work.