I got an early birthday present last month when I saw my Mom and Dad, but managed to forget about it until I dug it out of my briefcase last night. (What can I say: things have been a little hectic up in this joint.) It was a documentary on DVD called the Madison County Project, and it was pretty amazing. The documentary goes around my father’s home county in North Carolina and interviews ballad singers, keepers of the oral tradition of “murder ballads” or “love songs” as they’re variously called in the movie, and looks at what happened thirty years ago when academics and folk ethnographers first recorded the mountain ballads. In addition to the DVD, there’s a multimedia website (still technically in beta), and you can download movie cuts in progress, outtakes, and even a low-res version of the final edit of the movie in iPod suitable format from the project blog.
The amazing thing about this music is that it’s still alive and well, as a glimpse of the website of Sheila Kay Adams and her husband Jim Taylor testifies. If the Cold Mountain filmmakers had wanted to do something authentic with mountain music, they could have looked much closer at hand than where they ended up.
Oh, and that Folkways record that they made? All but one track can be downloaded from eMusic, and the full album is available from Smithsonian Folkways along with a bonus DVD of John Cohen’s original documentary.