“The Cuckoo,” Clarence Ashley
This is one of those grand old songs from across the seas that is timeless and transcends the limits of our current mode of musical thought.
“See That My Grave is Kept Clean,” Blind Lemon Jefferson
A tale of imminent death, as told from the eyes of the dying, as white horses, golden chains, coughing sounds, the ringing toll of the church bell and other poor boys going down into the perpetual ground fill the still, dense air.
“Fishin’ Blues,” Henry Thomas
Who would think that in these times, one of the most amazing songs in American history would be written about fishing by a man playing a set of pan pipes on a harmonica rack?
“Stackalee,” Frank Hutchison
A feared American myth of the American South, Stackalee is the baddest man in the land. Many tales of killers fill the anthology, but this man is bad to the bone.
“Gonna Die With My Hammer in My Hand,” The Williamson Brothers and Curry
The harsh result of the Industrial Revolution on the common man. Man meets machine, machine roars, man huffs, machine squeals, man bleeds, steel bends, hammer breaks, mountain falls, people cry, boy learns.
SEE IT: Harry Smith’s One Kind Favor: A Tribute Concert to the Anthology of American Folk Music is at Mission Theater, 1624 NW Glisan St., on Saturday, May 18. 7 pm. $15 advance, $20 day of show. 21+. See deadpanfolk.blogspot.com for more information. Read extended interviews with Joe McMurrian and Rani Singh, director of the Harry Smith Archives at the Getty Museum, at wweek.com.