Soundtrack to PBS Series "American Epic" Collects 100 Rare Field Recordings; New Album With Modern Artists

by VVN Music

On May 16, 23 and 30, PBS will present the new series American Epic, telling the story of the people who went onto the back roads of America in the 20's and 30's to record all styles of traditional music.

In the 1920s, as radio took over the pop music business, record companies were forced to leave their studios in major cities in search of new styles and markets. Ranging the mountains, prairies, rural villages, and urban ghettos of America, they discovered a wealth of unexpected talent. The recordings they made of all the ethnic groups of America democratized the nation and gave a voice to everyone. Country singers in the Appalachians, Blues guitarists in the Mississippi Delta, Gospel preachers across the south, Cajun fiddlers in Louisiana, Tejano groups from the Texas Mexico border, Native American drummers in Arizona, and Hawaiian musicians were all recorded. For the first time, a woman picking cotton in Mississippi, a coal miner in Virginia or a tobacco farmer in Tennessee could have their thoughts and feelings heard on records played in living rooms across the country. It was the first time America heard itself.

Legacy Recordings will release a 100-track collection from the series, American Epic: The Soundtrack, on May 12 along with a 15-song single disc anthology and a series of artist specific albums. 

Director Bernard MacMahon and engineer Nicholas Bergh used a mix of traditional and modern technology to restore all of the recordings to the best possible quality. This 'reverse engineering' approach to the transfer process enabled the restoration team of Grammy Award-winning engineer Peter Henderson, Duke Erikson and Joel Tefteller to get the resulting audio closer to the original performance than ever before.

Also included in the set is a 100-page book filled with unpublished photographs, quotes from the artists, their friends and families, lyrics for every song, essays and recording notes. Among the artists included are Mississippi John Hurt, The Carter Family, Charley Patton, Jimmie Rodgers, Lydia Mendoza, Nelstone's Hawaiians, Big Chief Henry's String Band, Robert Johnson and many others.

The track lists:

American Epic: The Collection

Disc 1
  • The Coo Coo Bird (The Cuckoo) - Clarence Ashley
  • On the Road Again - Memphis Jug Band
  • The Panama Limited - Bukka White
  • Indian War Whoop - Hoyt Ming and His Pep Steppers
  • 'Tain't Nobody's Business If I Do, Pt. 1 - Frank Stokes
  • K. C. Railroad Blues - Andrew & Jim Baxter
  • I Am Bound for the Promised Land - Alfred G. Karnes
  • Cottonfield Blues, Pt. 2 - Garfield Akers
  • I Wish I Was a Mole In the Ground - Bascom Lamar Lunsford
  • Down On Penny's Farm - Bentley Boys
  • Foldin' Bed - Whistler's Jug Band
  • Greenback Dollar - Weems String Band
  • Tallahatchie River Blues - Mattie Delaney
  • Walk Right In - Cannon's Jug Stompers
  • Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow - The Carter Family
  • Old Dog Blue - Jim Jackson
  • Bayou Teche - Columbus Fruge
  • Cool Drink of Water Blues - Tommy Johnson
  • Train On the Island - J. P. Nestor
Disc 2
  • My Heart Keeps Singing - Elder J.E. Burch
  • Ninety-Nine Year Blues - Julius Daniels
  • I Get My Whiskey From Rockingham - Earl Johnson and his Clodhoppers
  • Death's Black Train Is Coming - Rev. J. M. Gates
  • Waiting for a Train - Jimmie Rodgers
  • Darling, Where Have You Been So Long? - Tenneva Ramblers
  • Rocky Road - Alabama Sacred Harp Singers
  • Ma Blond Est Partie - Amadie Breaux, Ophey Breaux & Cleoma Breaux
  • Peg and Awl - Carolina Tar Heels
  • Chocolate to the Bone - Barbecue Bob
  • Down On Me - Eddie Head and Family
  • Prenez Courage - Cleoma Breaux with Joseph Falcon and Ophy Breaux
  • Pickin' Off Peanuts - Dilly and his Dill Pickles
  • Just Because - Nelstone's Hawaiians
  • Dupree Blues - Willie Walker
  • Ladies On the Steamboat - Burnett & Rutherford
  • Mamma, 'Tain't Long Fo' Day - Blind Willie McTell
Disc 3
  • Cecilia - Cuarteto Flores
  • La Coquetera - Los Borinquenos
  • Coconito - Guty Cárdenas Y Lencho
  • Lovesick Blues - Emmett Miller
  • Long Tall Mama - Big Bill Broonzy
  • John Henry Blues - Two Poor Boys
  • Mr. Tom Hughes' Town - Lead Belly
  • Louis Collins - Mississippi John Hurt
  • I Am The Light of the World - Blind Gary Davis
  • Fifty Miles of Elbow Room - Rev. F.W. McGee
  • Chant of the Eagle Dance - Hopi Indian Chanters
  • Hilo Hula - Mike Hanapi & The Ilima Islanders
  • If The River Was Whiskey - Charlie Poole
  • Stackalee - Frank Hutchison
  • The Wreck of the '97 - Ernest Stoneman
  • Faded Coat of Blue - Buell Kazee
  • Country Blues - Dock Boggs
  • Sail Away Ladies - Uncle Dave Macon and His Fruit-Jar Drinkers
  • Sail Away Lady - Uncle Bunt Stephens
  • Sally Gooden - Eck Robertson
  • Arkansas Traveller - Don Richardson
Disc 4
  • Hard Time Blues - Lane Hardin
  • Down the Dirt Road Blues - Charley Patton
  • Poor Boy, Long Ways From Home - Banjo Joe
  • Hastings Street - Blind Blake & Charlie Spand
  • See That My Grave's Kept Clean - Blind Lemon Jefferson
  • Gonna Have 'Lasses In the Morning - Golden Melody Boys
  • New Orleans Stop Time - Memphis Minnie & Bumblebee Slim
  • Prove It On Me Blues - Ma Rainey
  • Gonne Die with My Hammer in My Hand - Williamson Brothers & Curry
  • Last Kind Words Blues - Geeshie Wiley
  • Banjoreno - Dixieland Jug Blowers
  • It's a Good Thing - Beale Street Sheiks
  • Trust In God and Do the Right - Blind Willie Davis
  • Someday Baby Blues - Sleepy John Estes
  • Lonesome Road Blues - Sam Collins
  • Future Blues - Willie Brown
  • Bull Doze Blues - Henry Thomas
  • Brown Skin Gal (Down the Lane) - Massey Family
  • Henry Lee aka Young Hunting - Dick Justice
  • Old Country Rock - William Moore
  • La Danseuse - Delma Lachney & Blind Uncle Gaspard
  • My Black Mama, Pt. 1 & 2 - Son House
  • Cypress Grove Blues - Skip James
Disc 5
  • Cross Road Blues - Robert Johnson
  • Mal Hombre - Lydia Mendoza
  • Sunshine Special - Frenchy's String Band
  • Old Jim Canan's - Robert Wilkins
  • Les Blues De Voyage - Amédé Ardoin & Dennis McGee
  • The Lost Child - Stripling Brothers
  • I'm Gonna Cross the River Jordan Some of These Days - Jaybird Coleman
  • Tomi Tomi - Sol K. Bright with The Aloha Serenaders
  • Sittin' On Top of the World - Mississippi Sheiks
  • James Alley Blues - Richard Rabbit Brown
  • The Indian Tom Tom - Big Chief Henry's Indian String Band
  • Blues In a Bottle - Prince Albert Hunt's Texas Ramblers
  • Je Me Suis En Alle - Bartmon Montet & Joswell Dupuis
  • Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground - Blind Willie Johnson
  • E Mama Ea - Sol Hoopii & His Novelty Quartette
  • Ghost Dance - Truett & George
  • Woke Up This Morning (With My Mind On Jesus) - Roosevelt Graves & Brother
  • Allons A Lafayette - Joseph Falcon
  • Corrido De Joaquin Murrieta, Pt. 1 & 2 - Los Madrugadores
  • Denomination Blues (Part 1 & 2) - Washington Phillips


American Epic: The Soundtrack
  • Gonne Die with My Hammer in My Hand - Williamson Brothers & Curry
  • On the Road Again - Memphis Jug Band
  • Frankie - Mississippi John Hurt
  • Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow - The Carter Family
  • Mal Hombre - Lydia Mendoza
  • Peg and Awl - Carolina Tar Heels
  • Tomi Tomi - Sol K. Bright with The Aloha Serenaders
  • The Indian Tom Tom - Big Chief Henry's Indian String Band
  • Cocaine Habit Blues -Hattie Hart & The Memphis Jugband
  • Up Above My Head - Sister Rosetta Tharpe
  • Down the Dirt Road Blues - Charley Patton
  • Allons A Lafayette - Joseph Falcon
  • Stackalee - Frank Hutchison
  • Waiting for a Train - Jimmie Rodgers
  • Jole Blon - The Breaux Brothers with Louis Michot

Future individual artist albums and collections out on June 16:
  • American Epic: The Carter Family
  • American Epic: Memphis Jug Band
  • American Epic: Mississippi John Hurt
  • American Epic: Blind Willie Johnson
  • American Epic: Lead Belly
  • American Epic: Country
  • American Epic: Blues

In addition, Jack White and T-Bone Burnett present a newly recorded take on some of these landmark recordings with The American Epic Sessions.

In The American Epic Sessions, the team has reassembled the very first electrical sound recording system from the 1920s, and invited Jack White and T Bone Burnett to produce an album of recordings by twenty of today's greatest artists. In this beautifully filmed musical feature, these artists are given the chance to pass through the portal that brought the world into the modern era.

Engineer Nicholas Bergh has reassembled this recording system from original parts and it is now the only one left in the world. The system consists of a single microphone, a towering six-foot amplifier rack, and a live record-cutting lathe, powered by a weight-driven pulley system of clockwork gears. The musicians have roughly three minutes to record their song direct to disc before the weight hits the floor. In the 1920s, they called this "catching lightning in a bottle." All the musical performances in this film are live. The audio you hear on the soundtrack is taken directly from the discs they were recorded to, with no editing or enhancements.

The film of The American Epic Sessions will air on PBS on June 6 followed by the two-CD and three-LP soundtrack on June 16.

Disc 1
  • Killer Diller Blues - Alabama Shakes
  • On the Road Again - Nas
  • Candy Man - Blind Boy Paxton
  • 2 Fingers of Whiskey - Elton John and Jack White
  • The Coo Coo Bird - Steve Martin and Edie Brickell
  • Like a Rose - Ashley Monroe
  • The Only Man Wilder than Me - Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard
  • Matrimonial Intentions - Jack White
  • One Hour Mama - Rhiannon Giddens
  • Mal Hombre - Ana Gabriel
  • El Cascabel - Los Lobos
  • Closer Walk with Thee - The Avett Brothers
  • Fourteen Rivers, Fourteen Floods - Beck
Disc 2
  • Nobody's Dirty Business - Bettye LaVette
  • St. Louis Blues - Pokey LaFarge
  • High Water Everywhere, Part 2 - Taj Mahal
  • One Mic - Nas
  • Pretty Saro - Rhiannon Giddens
  • Jubilee - Ashley Monroe and The Americans
  • Tous les Matins - Lost Bayou Ramblers
  • When I Woke Up this Morning - Bettye LaVette
  • If the River was Whiskey - Frank Fairfield
  • Stealin' Stealin' - Raphael Saadiq
  • Jordan am a Hard Road to Travel - The Avett Brothers
  • Sail Away Ladies - The Americans
  • Tomi Tomi - The Hawaiians
  • Last Kind Words - Christine Pizzuti
  • Come On In My Kitchen - Stephen Stills
  • Mama's Angel Child - Jack White
  • Josephine - Pokey LaFarge
  • Hilo Hanakahi - The Hawaiians
  • Old Fashioned Love - Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard
A companion book, American Epic, will be available on May 2 from Touchstone while the home video release of the series will come out on June 13 via PBS.

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