DOCUMENTARY DISCS:
Folk Music From Wisconsin

Image of CD cover, Folk Music From Wisconsin
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From the big drums of powwows to the crisp concertina of a Dutchman band, from plaintive Finnish immigrant songs to the strains of a Hmong flute, the voices, tunes, and varied instruments of the Upper Midwest’s traditional musicians are increasingly available on compact discs, often accompanied by booklets with fine notes and vivid photographs. We’ll consider these genres and more in coming newsletters, but let’s begin with an old classic.

Folk Music from Wisconsin, first released as an LP in 1960 by the Library of Congress, has been reissued by Rounder Records in cooperation with the American Folklife Center. The 21 tracks, remastered for excellent sound, are culled from the 1940s field recordings of UW Music professor Helene Stratman-Thomas, while the new booklet adds her photographs of performers to the exemplary biographical and comparative notes she penned for the original.

In keeping with 1950s assimilationist politics, and despite Stratman-Thomas’s documentation of several dozen ethnic traditions, this production avows “only songs and ballads in the English tongue”–although, thanks to the versatile Swiss-American performers Otto and Iva Rindlisbacher, a few unacknowledged French, Norwegian, and Ojibwe instrumentals seep in by virtue of being “lumber camp” tunes.

Limited in cultural scope, Folk Music from Wisconsin nonetheless delivers fine songs about lords and ladies, highway robbery, fox hunting, cranberry picking, snakebites, skidding crews, star-crossed lovers, and deadly fires. The haunting “Kentuck” lilt of Antigo’s Pearl Jacobs Borusky and the Irish-derived woods style of Rhinelander’s Emery DeNoyer are particularly stellar.

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Last updated: February 25, 2004