Sunday, January 24, 2010

Lomax-a-Day, Day 24

On Day 6, I found that Jim Henson had long ago beat me to the idea of puppet bands singing classic American folk songs. On Day 9, I discovered that Walt Disney, among others, beat me to the idea of modern kids' entertainment based on animal tunes like "Cock Robin." Yesterday I realized that Roger McGuinn, lead singer of the Byrds, has been cataloging American folk music, including most of the Lomax songs I've chosen, on his website McGuinn's Folk Den. And today I found out that Dan Zanes, who also beat me to the idea of being a kids' performer who doesn't make adults want to throw up in their mouths, has an album of 25 songs from Carl Sandburg's American Songbag (where Lomax found many of the songs he includes in Folk Songs of North America). As folk music has proven throughout time, there is no such thing as an original idea.

Both McGuinn and Zanes recorded versions of "Wand'rin," which Lomax calls "one of the most beautiful of American folk songs" and the "finest of American hobo songs." McGuinn gives it a Byrds-y treatment, with his clean Rickenbacker guitar work and high-pitched croon (which, I must say, has seen better days). Zanes' version is a lovely, lazy shuffle with guitars meandering through the mix like so many hobos through a train yard. Lomax's version has a slightly different chord structure, with a major III and VI instead of minor like in McGuinn's version. McGuinn's and Zanes' chords flow bittersweetly into one another with an ease of motion that Lomax's chords complicate. I think I like the off-kilter sound of Lomax's chords. The hobo feels the twinge of melancholy in his life of wandering, and half-apologizes in the refrain. But before he can get too down, he feels that chugging rhythm of freedom lifting his feet again.

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