February 23rd - John's Island, South Carolina: Its People & Songs

Okay I'll be honest - I started this album up, heard the kids singing in the first few tracks and deflated a little bit. It wasn't that I didn't like the songs - it's cool to hear what kids come up to, and amazing to hear Miss Mary Mack (a song I didn't learn about until my wife sang it to our baby maybe 2 months ago and I've been hearing NOTHING BUT EVER SINCE)  pop up, but I had done Street and Gangland Rhythms just a few days ago - it feels like I couldn't say anything more? 

But five tracks in we get three tracks of the Hunter family - Joe, John and Janey - singing incredible, deeply soulful blues to perfect guitar accompaniment - and then four documenting the 1970 Easter Sunday service at the Wesley Methodist Church. This is particularly interesting not just for the music but also for the sermon, given by Willis Goodwin, which toes a very particular - and, when you get context from the liner notes, purposeful - line between personal edification and social revolutionary fervor. Goodwin references the stone which sealed the tomb of Jesus, and how it was found rolled away after the resurrection, and relates it to obstacles facing both individuals - laziness is given as an example - and then the nation as a whole, speaking specifically about white supremacy and drawing a line between personal laziness and social activism. 

I mentioned the liner notes, which are really superb - most of the Folkways liner notes are transcriptions of songs, with just a little context. These include both an essay about how these recordings came to be, and an interview with Reverend Goodwin, Reverend Goodwin's brother and Esau Jenkins that is extremely informative. The connection made above - drawing a line between individual morality and the problems facing the nation - is made explicit by Reverend Goodwin, and you really get a sense of the black church as a center for political praxis. It's a dimension that I had made assumptions about but had never fully considered, and I'm so glad that this album lead me to do so further.

Click here to read liner notes and purchase this album from Smithsonian Folkways