May 10, 2013

Angola Prison Spirituals (1959)

This superb Arhoolie release counts as one of the more interesting products of the 50s blues revival. For a brief period, the American South was full of white musicologists keen to record and archive one of the greatest artistic movements the United States ever produced. By this stage most African Americans who had migrated north were happy to forget their experiences of Jim Crow south, meaning that it was largely white audiences who were spurring this sudden surge in recording. The context of Harry Oster's recording conveys better than most exactly why most black Americans didn't want to be reminded of their past.

The album boasts a few high profile names, but for the most part these amazingly beautiful voices belong to otherwise unknown inmates. As far as I know, we can only guess at the reasons for their imprisonment.  Some of the spirituals on this album are also a pretty good example of how by the 50s performers of spirituals were allowing the blues to influence their music more, despite that genre's long association with sinfulness.

Every song is a haunting reminder of how we treat people, and how those people cope with that treatment. It's also one of the greatest compilations of African American music ever compiled in a single field recording.


The preacher's preaching.

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