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Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013

The Southern Journey of Alan Lomax (W.W. Norton), by Tom Piazza

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Alan Lomax helped preserve the fast-fading traditions of the American South with his Library of Congress field recordings, which influenced the wider culture through their occasional release on LP from the 1940s through ‘60s. Without Lomax, many songs that form the Americana repertoire might have been forgotten. Less known than the recordings by America’s most prominent ethnomusicologist are the photographs he took along the way.

The Southern Journey of Alan Lomax
includes a selection of those pictures along with informed essays by contemporary scholars. In his introduction, Chapel Hill history professor William R. Ferris reminds us that for Lomax, song chasing represented nothing less than the pursuit of beauty and truth in the culture of everyday folk and was the basis for a coherent philosophy of cultural diversity and civil rights for the marginalized. The photos are worth a look, including shots of Southern prisoners in striped garb breaking rocks in the hot sun, robed congregants singing gospel in church and musicians playing guitar and pipes at home.