I spent the afternoon listening to all five discs of the heralded American Epic box set while reading about race, labor, inequality, and the deafening sucking sound of American capitalism’s profit vacuum really cleaning “the carpet.” I’m not going to go into all that, but I will say that this collection will cross-reference about any decent book you might be reading while it’s playing.
Some simple observations:
1) I got it for Christmas, as every American household should have, for free, at the cost of the government.
2) The shit holds up extremely well after almost 90 years. In terms of emotional intensity, lyrical wit, and, heck, catchiness, it makes much current American music sound sleep-walked through.
3) As an owner of the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music, American Epic‘s predecessor and model, I can confirm the sound is audibly improved (sometimes astonishingly so), there’s not that much song overlap, the non-Anthology selections are astute, the lyrics are consistently a trip, and the annotations are mostly primary sources–the performers themselves when possible–rather than scholars.
4) Not just because it’s different than the Smith collection–and it is, it’s got a different organizing principle–but it occurred to me that I no longer like Greil Marcus’ adjective “weird” in his famous quote about this stuff. It’s not weird; in fact, it’s the sound of normal humanity wrestling with life. Maybe it sounds weird to many of us because we’re more effectively repressed…not to say muzzled.
5) At $45 (the price I see most frequently), it is a bargain, baby. I’m thinking about buying one for a former student!
A favorite of mine from each disc for you to sample if you don’t know what this is–and, folks, there are no tracks that are merely good among the 100:
I am still cranking The Best of the Ronettes in “The Lab”–my nickname for my truck cab, where I can be fully immersed. Such divine and sexy salvos!