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Album Review

Niles, John Jacob – “My Precarious Life In The Public Domain ” – [Rev-ola]

ArtCrimes   1/30/2008   CD, Country

John Jacob Niles ???My Precarious Life in the Public Domain???

A collection of traditional songs performed by American eccentric folklorist, John Jacob Niles, this time looking at his recordings for RCA from 1939 to 1943. These songs are selected from the ballads documented in the late 1800s by Harvard song collector Francis S. Child, who traced the path of traditional songs from the British Isles to the Appalachians, where the Scots-Irish had brought them when they had first settled in the US. The American versions of these ballads in some cases retained more of their original character than the contemporaneous British versions, subject to constant revision over many years, while Americans had unwittingly preserved the ballads in isolated rural areas, safe from the influence of the world at large. The Child ballads reference a lost world of kings, great battles, and faeries, quite different from the Kentucky hills where Niles first heard these songs, and he responded enthusiastically to them, with the unorthodox singing and dulcimer playing that cannot be mistaken for any other folk singer, past or present. These songs may have been performed more faithfully to their traditional past elsewhere, but Niles was more intent on making the songs live again, not as mere museum pieces, but as vehicles for his own dramatic vision.

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