February 17th - Freight Train and Other North Carolina Folk Songs and Tunes
Freight Train and Other North Carolina Folk Songs and Tunes - Elizabeth Cotten, 1958
Yesterday was a little trying and I missed my chance to post, so I'm giving myself a little present and writing today about one of my favorite albums on earth and probably the first Folkways album I knowingly listened to. My friend and excellent guest-poster Lee played this album for me in college, and it absolutely blew my mind. I can probably put this on at any time and enjoy every song. Even more amazing is the story behind it - Elizabeth Cotten was a self-taught guitarist and banjo-player who gave up music when she began working at the age of seventeen. Twenty-five years later, working as a housekeeper for musician and folklorist Pete Seeger, Cotten picked up a guitar again and just started to play the songs she knew from childhood.
There is a version of this story - that has played out uncountable times - where Elizabeth Cotten doesn't run into the Seeger family in a department store, where an incredibly talented black woman passes away without her talents being recognized. It honestly keeps me up at night.
Cotten's playing is incredible and extremely personal - Cotten started playing her older brother's banjo, which she flipped to play with her left hand. Because of the placement of the drone string on the banjo she developed a particular finger-picking style that I uh don't play anything well enough to understand exactly. But it sounds really good! Not only that but Cotten wrote both "Freight Train," an extensively-covered song on this album, and "Shake Sugaree," on her next one, and those are probably in the running for my top ten songs on earth. I mentioned a while back that there are albums I play while sitting by a campfire a lot; this is a perennial favorite.
Click here to read liner notes and purchase this album from Smithsonian Folkways