John Work is one of those people you wish you’d been fortunate enough to meet. His sons are brilliant and charming and both funny and gracious in a way that feels like they must have grown up in a house full of laughing people. And Work’s taste in music is evidence of a man driven by love and curiosity.
But what can you do, history being what it is?
I’m lucky enough to have just gotten my hands on an awesome CD but out by the Arts Center of Cannon County–John Work, III Recording Black Culture–which is a collection of music that Work collected over his life. The packaging itself is just beautiful, a real treat, and the booklet is informative and will bring anybody unfamiliar with Work up to speed.
But, of course, you want to know about the music. Well, I’m not through the whole thing yet, but so far, it’s a hoot and a real tribute to the pockets of talent around the South.
The first two songs are a couple of black fiddle tunes, which sound, to my untrained ear, very strange and archaic.
The third song, “Daniel Saw the Stone” has this neat little bit where the backup singers sound like a skipping record while the lead singer sings over them.
“Shine on Me” is much slower than I’m used to hearing the song, but I suspect someone in the unnamed quartet agreed with me, because there’s one voice who always sounds on the verge of breaking out into something more up-tempo.
“I am His, He is Mine” is the only female-sung song on the album and it’s a hoot and it ends with this kind of sung-prayer with the women providing back-up harmony to a male voice praying, while someone nearer to the microphone keeps shouting “Have mercy.” You get a real sense for the ways in which the music in church services is an integral part of shaping the congregation’s emotions and experiences. Very interesting.
Then there’s a cut by the Fairfield Four and one by the Heavenly Gate Quartet, a work song, some congregational singing, a blues song, and interview with Muddy Waters, and one example of “Colored Sacred Harp” singing.
There’s a lot of religious music on the CD, so if that’s your thing, I think you’d get a big kick out of it.
I think the other thing about the music is that it really exemplifies just how the sacred and secular lie together like two teenagers who promise themselves they won’t let things get too out of hand, and before you know it, a foot is tapping, a hand is clapping, and hips are wiggling, wiggling, wiggling, together until American music is born and reborn again and again.