22 with Group - Prettiest Train [1947]

Field recordings are always a different kind of listen. It's music as document and document as music. Where songs often live in an abstracted space of sound and emotion, field recordings exist in a specific place at a specific time. There's a gravity in them that won't let you float off into harmony and rhythm.

Alan Lomax's recordings of work songs from the Mississippi State Penitentiary stand out among the genre as some of the most painful and captivating. Made at the prison's Parchman Farm, which operated essentially as a continuation of slave labor, the music here isn't simply a means to artistic satisfaction or the entertainment of an audience, but rather a temporary salvation from constant suffering.

This is music where the percussion of axes hitting against wood isn't just a rhythmic element for its own sake, but rather the whole reason the men are there singing at all. They build their songs around it to survive the pain it brings them. It makes me feel guilty to have access to someone else's misery, but it would also makes me feel naive to ignore it.

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