Saturday, February 28, 2015

Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project

Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project
Borealis Records

Alan Lomax (1915-2002), who started as an assistant to his father, the pioneering folklorist John Lomax, was one of the most important folklorists and ethnomusicologists – if not the most important – of the 20th century. His thousands of recordings of traditional artists from all over the world, including of such important figures as Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, Muddy Waters and Jelly Roll Morton, most of them field recordings, is one of the most important repositories of traditional music.

For Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project, his most ambitious project yet, Canadian banjo master Jayme Stone has surrounded himself with a stellar cast of singers and musicians – among them Tim O’Brien, Margaret Glaspy, Moira Smiley, Bruce Molsky, Brittany Haas, Eli West, and Drew Gonsalves – who reinterpret and reimagine 19 songs and tunes collected by Lomax over the years.

Being released to celebrate the centennial of Lomax’s birth, it is an extraordinary collection at once timeless, traditional and utterly contemporary. Jayme and his collaborators – he refers to the album as a “collaboratory” – breathe new life into the music. And to be sure, this is not a Jayme Stone star turn. The lead vocals are left to others and his banjo playing is part of the ensemble on most tunes, doing exactly what needs to be done in service to the songs and tunes.

While each of these 19 performances is very special, I’ll call attention to a few of my favorites.

Among them are a couple of songs from the repertoire of the amazing Bessie Jones and the Georgia Sea Island Singers. “Before This Time Another Year,” features Tim O’Brien on lead vocals and guitar (the only instrument) with stunning harmonies by six other singers. Tim, who happens to be the same age as me, adds a few lines of his own to the traditional verses to mark the milestone birthday he passed this past year. Then on the spiritual “Sheep, Sheep Don’tcha Know the Road,” the same singers, this time led by Moira Smiley, do an amazing a cappella call-and-response rendition punctuated by their infectious hand clapping.

The shanty “Shenandoah” receives an interpretation that is at times hauntingly beautiful and at times exciting thanks to the sublime singing of Margaret Glaspy, Jayme’s banjo, and Brittany Haas’ fiddling.

The duet by Margaret and Tim on the old cowboy song “Goodbye, Old Paint (Leaving Cheyenne)” is sad and beautiful, while Margaret’s duet with Bruce Molsky on “Now Your Man Done Gone,” although sung a cappella, captures all the essence of the blues.

Lomax recorded some of the great early calypso singers and one of the most infectious pieces here is Drew Gonsalves’ version of “Bury Boula for Me” on which Jayme’s banjo playing stands in perfectly for steel drums.

This sublime album includes a beautiful 52-page booklet with detailed song notes, photos, and essays by Jayme and Stephen Wade. An essential album.

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--Mike Regenstreif

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