People Take Warning!<BR>Murder Ballads & Disaster Songs 1913-1938

American roots music -- the odd, mostly Southern sounds that flourished in the 1920s and 30s -- isn't for everyone. Newcomers may be more baffled than entertained by this latest compilation, some 70 plain-speaking songs arranged topically around disasters and murders, hardly the warmest introduction to the strange music that prefigures the great genres of American pop: jazz, blues, cowboy swing, R&B, and of course rock and roll. Aficionados, on the other hand, will take pleasure in finding over 30 songs never before reissued on vinyl or CD: twangy chronicles of airplane crashes, gut-bucket accounts of train wrecks, and howling ditties recording the floods and fires of the day. The murder tales take you from their downhome settings right back to their early templates -- the classic ballads imported from the British Isles. An introduction by Tom Waits celebrates these "graveside testimonials." But in the slender booklet, the producers might have done those just getting their feet wet a service by mentioning the gold standard for this type of collection: the legendary Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, the ur-compilation first issued in 1952, and still a constant revelation. As welcome as much of People Take Warning is, fans of Smith will notice not only a handful of songs repeated from Anthology -- including one of the too- many pieces about the sinking of the Titanic -- but also many of the same standout performers: Furry Lewis ("Kassie Jones") Charlie Patton ("Mississippi Boweavil") and Ernest Stoneman ("The Story of the Mighty Mississippi") to name a few. Nevertheless, there's plenty here to satisfy the true lovers of that old, weird America.-

July 24: On this day in 1725 John Newton, the slave trader-preacher who wrote the hymn "Amazing Grace," was born.

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