Monday, March 22, 2010

The Almanac Singers – Which Side Are You On?

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The Almanac Singers – Which Side Are You On?

21 March, 2010

The almanac singers – Which side are you? contains virtually everything The Alamnac Singers released of note between 1941-42. This release is a refreshing reminder of what the folk music scene was like in 1940’s America. Although this album may sound tame by modern standards, they were considered dangerously radical back then. Mixing Folk music with politics still makes some people uncomfortable today, but folk and politics have been bedfellows for a long long time and are likely to remain so for many years to come.

The almanac singers were a group of folk musicians who achieved popularity in the radical left / anti-fascist circles of early 1940s america, using the music of the people and the soil in a classic leftist way to promote their intellectual concerns. Millard Lampell, Lee Hays, Pete Seeger and americana godfather Woody Guthrie began playing together informally at the communal almanac house after Seeger and Hays had been playing left-wing political functions for a time.

Mainstream national success began after the American Youth Congress meeting in Washington DC in february of 1941. Others who sang with the group at various times included folk / leftist legends such as Sis Cunningham, Peter Hawes, Butch Hawes, Bess Lomax , Cisco Houston, and Arthur Stern.

Politics and music remained closely intertwined with the members’ political beliefs, which were far-left and led to controversial associations with the us communist party. Their first release was the album ‘Songs for John Doe’ on their own indie label, which urged non-intervention in World War II, and was made with the help of Eric Bernay (of Keynote), Joe Thompson (of NBC), Nicholas Ray (future film director) and Alan Lomax (musicologist). The second album was Talking Union, a collection of trade union-themed songs, many of which were intensely anti-Roosevelt. More recordings followed, but blacklisting and internal friction drove the group apart soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Key members Hayes and Seeger went on to enjoy chart success with The Weavers, but the radical politics which informed their early work returned to haunt them as they became victims of the sinister early 1950s anti-communist witch-hunt which divided america.

Which Side Are You On?” was a song written by Florence Reece in 1931. She was the wife of a union organizer for the United Mine Workers in Harlan County, Kentucky. In 1931 the miners of that region were locked in a bitter and violent struggle with the mine owners. In an attempt to intimidate the Reece family, deputies hired by the mining company illegally entered and searched the Reece family home. Sam Reece had been warned in advance and escaped, but Florence and their children were terrorized in his place. That night, after the men had gone, Florence wrote the lyrics to “Which Side Are You On?” on a calendar that hung in the kitchen of her home. She took the melody from a traditional Baptist hymn, “Lay the Lily Low”, or the traditional ballad “Jack Munro”. Florence recorded the song and it can be heard on the CD Which Side Are You on: Coal Mining Women

Reece supported a second wave of miner strikes circa 1973, as recounted in the documentary Harlan County USA.

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Almanac Singers - Which Side Are You  On?
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Preview Tracks:


• Ground Hog
• Ride An Old Paint
• Hard Ain’t It Hard
• House Of The Rising Sun
• Babe O’Mine
• State Of Arkansas
• Side By Side
• Away Rio
• Blow The Man Down
• Blow Ye Winds Heigh Ho
• The Coast Of High Barbary
• The Golden Vanity
• Haul Away Joe
• The Sinking Of The Reuben James
• Union Maid
• Talking Union
• All I Want
• Get Thee Behind Me Satan
• Song For Bridges
• Which Side Are You On?
• The Dodger Song
• Plow Under
• Liza Jane
• Deliver The Goods
• Billy Boy
• Belt-Line Girl
• Ballad Of October
• Washington Breakdown
• Round And Round Hitler’s Grave
• C For Conscription
• The Strange Death Of John Doe

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