“Hard Times Come Here No More” was a tune written back in 1854 by Stephen Foster and became a song covered by many modern artists, including Dolly Parton and Bob Dylan. It is again appropriate and fitting, but so are the 20 songs collected on the new releases from the Alan Lomax Archive, titled Songs of Hard Times: Up, Over & Through (1936-1982).
As Rock & Roll Globe (RRG) points out, “they say music has charms to soothe a troubled heart,” and that is exactly what was in the mind of Nathan Salsburg, head of The Association for Cultural Equity (ACE), who curated this collection.
Salsburg says that he “got the idea for this collection just as stuff started hitting the fan. Everyone wants to contribute something meaningful to the conversation, however small. Folk music has always addressed the reality of the times, socially and economically. I thought some of the music recorded by Alan Lomax could provide a bit of comfort and perspective to people, to let them know other folks have gone through similar hardships.”
RRG notes that Alan Lomax, founded ACE to promote and preserve the folk music, dance, and oral traditions of the world for future generations. During his long career, he made about 17,400 recordings of folk music, as well as folk musicians talking about the cultural background that gave rise to their craft. The ACE collection includes Lomax’s first recordings, using the newly invented tape recorders of 1946, and continues on to the recording and collecting he did until he retired in 1996. He also recorded music for the Library of Congress/Smithsonian Institute on aluminum discs from 1933 to 1942, including material by Jelly Roll Morton, Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly and Muddy Waters, as well as songs from Haiti and Eastern Kentucky. Those recordings remain in the Smithsonian archives. The material on Hard Times is the property of ACE, the organization he started after leaving the Library of Congress.
Since the current COVID-19 pandemic is spread all over the world, the collection also includes songs from Italy and Spain, two of the countries among the most hit by the epidemic.
“The songs that became hits during the folk revival are part of the national consciousness,” Salsburg said. “I feel my role is to provide access to the unheard voices and material in the collection. I used what Lomax recorded, with no truncation or editing. Knowing most of the audience speaks English; I wanted to make sure that the bulk of the lyrics could be understood. Some things were great performances; some were powerful textually and musically. I chose lyrics relevant to the current situation, particularly the Spanish, Italian, and Caribbean recordings. “