For the weekend’s listening: Bascom Lamar Lunsford

Finding Bascom Lamar Lunsford’s Ballads, Banjo Tunes, and Sacred Songs of Western North Carolina was an unexpected stroke of luck. With all due respect to the artists on “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”, this is the real thing. Old English ballads (“Death of Queen Jane”), historical songs (”Swannanoa Tunnel”), famous songs (“I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground,” brilliantly anthologized on Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music), even a whiskey drinking song (“Old Mountain Dew”):

The conductor said with a nod of his head
“My wife she never knew
That I take my fun when I’m out on my run
So bring me a quart or two”

Of good old mountain dew
For those who refuse it are few
But his wife said to me, “You can bring me three
By the time his train is due.”

But the best part is that it’s a connection back into the county where my father was born and where his family was from, for as long as anyone can remember. Bascom is distant kin, and getting to hear him speak on this introducing the tunes as he recorded them for the Library of Congress in the late 1940s is spine-chilling.