"Remixing Lomax" was the title of a panel discussion at the recent Folk Alliance conference, designed to preview a new Rounder Records project.
Rounder, as you probably know, has been working with the Lomax estate and releasing scads of Lomax field recordings. For an upcoming CD, they will be using vocals from those recordings, augmented by newly recorded backing tracks. In a preview, I heard a prisoner (name unknown to me) singing John Henry, backed by new accompaniment from New Orleans pianist Henry Butler and Tony Trischka on banjo. I admit, it sounded pretty good.
They're not only recording new accompaniments. In some cases, they're sampling bits of the original vocals, making loops of particular segments, and creating new sound collages (my phrase)--just building new songs using digital technology, with the field vocal as a base. They tampered with Almeda Riddle's vocal in one case, "correcting" her original failure to adhere to a regular meter. In the view of one observer, they made her sound like a more conventional country singer, taking the emotion away.
This is being done with the full cooperation of the Lomax estate. Alan's daughter was present, and said he loved developments of the last decade in which musicians used the technology of recording itself to sample older sounds and create new ones. He loved hip-hop culture, in which turntables and records were used to create new sounds. She says he'd approve. Rounder insists that all singers will be credited, royalties paid, and links to the past drawn clearly.
The audience was divided. Some didn't want messing with the old stuff--just use new singers and leave the stuff alone. Others thought the project shows respect for the singers. Kids today sample James Brown and Otis Redding, because those artists are an important part of the culture. This treats the Lomax artists similarly--their stuff is worth sampling too. Plus, the originals will always remain, new listeners will want to check them out for the first time, and on and on.
I felt like it was 1958 and I was hearing debate about The Kingston Trio and Tom Dooley. Not a perfect analogy, but you get the drift. I was wondering what mudcatters thought of this. Comments?