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Feature Fridays American Ballads and Folk Songs

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Black and white house on a field. American Ballads and Folksongs

Welcome to Feature Fridays! Each week, AU Music Library staff highlight an item from our collection. While the library is closed, we will feature items that are available for streaming. This week student assistant Cameron Betchey reviews American Ballads and Folksongs by Joan O’Bryant, available through the Alexander Street Press Music Online: Smithsonian Global Sound database.

Through American University Library, you can access Smithsonian Global Sound, a resource through Alexander Street Press for streaming old and unique albums. Many of these albums, including American Ballads and Folk Songs, are produced by Folkways Records, a label that produces and circulates folk and world music through the Smithsonian. It is an excellent resource if you are interested in researching the unique and authentic music that they have, or if you are interested in learning about the roots of music that you might love. It is an opportunity to hear traditional American folk music that may be inaccessible through other music streaming services. 

On American Ballads and Folk Songs, 16 beautiful American songs are provided in excellent audio quality. Most of these songs are quiet and soothing, female vocalist and an acoustic guitar. The inflection and twang in her voice is delicate and authentic, not purposeful and heavily produced like you find today in country music. She slides easily through passages, but there is no emphasis on the perfection of technique or pitches because it seems as though that is not the point of these songs. They are narrative in nature, each tells a unique story. The pathos of each song is communicated through her voice, and at times it is the imperfections and cracks in her singing that communicate the most emotion. 

As I am a fan of artists like Gregory Alan Isakov, Bob Dylan, Fairport Convention, and Joni Mitchell, albums like this are fascinating to me. You can hear echoes of albums like this in each of these artists’ work, and gain a better understanding of the foundation and influences that shape artists you love. I would recommend this album to anyone who loves folk and country music and is interested in hearing music that is an older relative of what we recognize as these genres today. It is also just a beautiful and calming album that is good to listen to when going through daily tasks or doing homework.

American Ballads and Folksongs, and many other Smithsonian Folkways recordings are available to stream from Alexander Street Press Music Online: Smithsonian Global Sound by logging in with your AU credentials.