Academic journal article Folk Music Journal

Mother Jones' Will

Academic journal article Folk Music Journal

Mother Jones' Will

Article excerpt

Nimrod Workman. CD + 24pp. booklet.

Musical Traditions MTCD512, 2011.

This is the fourth CD to appear in Musical Traditions' North American Traditions (NAT) series, reissuing albums previously available on Rounder Records. Its subject, Nimrod Workman (1895-1994), is a singer of such stature that it really should be unthinkable that these recordings might be unavailable--praise is due once again to Rod Stradling of Musical Traditions for making important recordings available to the world at large. The CD features recordings made over several days in March 1976, by Mark Wilson and Ken Irwin, at the singer's home in Chattaroy, West Virginia. Tracks 1-18 made up the earlier LP release (Rounder 0076); these are supplemented with eight additional tracks, two of which feature Nimrod singing with his wife, Molly.

The CD starts with a fine performance of a classic ballad, 'Lord Baseman' (Child 53). It is a perfect example of the unaccompanied Southern Appalachian singing style, and the listener's attention never flags over the course of the song's eight and a half minutes' duration. Other big ballads, all sung in good full versions, include 'Lord Daniel' (Child 81) and 'Loving Henry' (Child 68). Of course, Workman did not only sing Child ballads; there are also songs that one might call part of the core North American repertoire, such as 'Darling Cory', 'Oh Death', 'In the Pines', and a very effective 'The Carolina Lady' (`The Lion's Den', Roud 396) sung to a tune more usually associated with 'Poor Wayfaring Stranger'.

Elsewhere, there are examples of the mining and union songs that formed an important part of Workman's repertoire (he first went down the mines at the age of fourteen). These include some of his own compositions: 'Coal Black Mining Blues', 'Black Lung Song', and the title track, 'Mother Jones' The last tells of a renowned union leader--'there wasn't a man any tougher than she--in the bitter industrial disputes of the 1920s. Something of the flavour of those times is captured in Nimrod Workman's own words in the introduction to the CD booklet. Transcribed from the 1976 recording sessions, these autobiographical remarks are never less than colourful, whether dealing with the hardships of the mining life or the wildness of the area of Kentucky in which his family had settled. …

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