October 11, 2007

Early Southern Guitar Sounds

In 1998, multi-instrumentalist, musicologist, historian, and champion of the music of America's rural South Mike Seeger released a wonderful Smithsonian recording - Southern Banjo Sounds.

The recording features twenty-six tracks, ranging from the 19th century to the birth of bluegrass in the 1940's. What was particularly unique about the album, is that Seeger not only played a solid, historic representation of American banjo music, but he did it on twenty-three mostly vintage instruments. Like most Smithsonian releases, the liner notes are thorough and well written.

This widely acclaimed project was followed up in 2000 with a series of video recordings, released jointly by Smithsonian and Homespun - Southern Banjo Styles. This is a fantastic series that follows the model of the audio release, featuring material spanning nearly a century, played on a number of vintage instruments. The ever affable Seeger introduces each segment giving an overview of the particular style, information about the instrument he is playing, and the song itself.

Seeger's latest release, Early Southern Guitar Sounds, follows in the same tradition. Featuring twenty-eight tracks played on twenty-five different guitars, the release follows the rise of the guitar in the music of the American South from 1850-1930. The liner notes, as usual, are a great read.

Here is a great clip of Mike Seeger playing Cumberland Gap at Wintergreen, VA in August 2007:

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