The title is so promising. American protest songs from the 19th century. This is the era of railroads and steel, the beginnings of the enormous migration that brought former slaves to the mid-Atlantic region so they could participate in the burgeoning industry of the Chesapeake. These are the seeds of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and unionization and all the wonderful fights against the Corporate America that was joyously sucking our ancestors' lives dry in the name of making a few more bucks. This is the music that the workers sang while they were slowly dying in the hot sun, while they were struggling to feed their kids on a disgustingly low salary, while they were sitting around at night trying to figure out how to make their lives suck just a little bit less.
And this recording captures absolutely none of that.
These singers wouldn't know "folk" if it came up and broke their kneecaps. This is an insult to the music and to the people who sang it. This is everything that is wrong with high culture and academia. People get so isolated in their ivory towers that they forget what's really going on outside those sacred walls. Except for the liner notes, this is absolutely worthless.
This could have been an amazing recording. As it stands, it should be an embarrassment to every single person who was involved in making this album. Shame on you.
It pains me to give this a 1, but everyone can sing. A couple of voices even stand out as being strong. The problem is, they don't understand what they're singing, and no competent musician would let that happen. If they were trying to recreate the singing parties that happened in the parlors of people like JP Morgan and Johns Hopkins, they'd get a 5 out of 5. But they're trying to celebrate music of the working class, and they fail as badly as they possibly could.
The cover and design aren't special, but the liner notes are exceptional. It's worth checking out the CD just for the liner notes. Seriously. The information contained here is really interesting (albeit a bit dry). Just don't listen to the music.
Listen if you like: Choral interpretations of revisionist history.
If it were food, it'd be: Sent back to the kitchen with a nasty letter to the chef.