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Country Blues => Super Electrical Recordings! => Topic started by: TenBrook on August 03, 2020, 09:38:00 AM

Title: Dust to Digital: The Harry Smith B-Sides Boxset
Post by: TenBrook on August 03, 2020, 09:38:00 AM
Hi all,
Just heard the news about a new Dust to Digital release (available for pre-order now) and thought I'd share.
Here's the gist of the release from their site:
"68 years later, The Harry Smith B-Sides offers both a resonant listening experience and the closing of a collector’s circle. Sequenced in the identical order that Smith created, this new box set offers the flip-side of each 78-rpm record that he selected for the original Anthology of American Folk Music."

Here's a video preview:
https://youtu.be/lIH_9PpRo30 (https://youtu.be/lIH_9PpRo30)

Here's the listing on their site with more info:
https://dust-digital.com/shop/harry-smith-b-sides (https://dust-digital.com/shop/harry-smith-b-sides)

And here's the track list:
https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5cf690218bf95d0001caa502/t/5f27649eb416162a136d2039/1596417182246/DTD-51-Tracklist.pdf (https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5cf690218bf95d0001caa502/t/5f27649eb416162a136d2039/1596417182246/DTD-51-Tracklist.pdf)
Title: Re: Dust to Digital: The Harry Smith B-Sides Boxset
Post by: Stuart on August 03, 2020, 05:15:37 PM
Thanks for the heads up, Lew. I see it contains, “Moonshiner's Dance Part Two,” by Frank Cloutier and the Victoria Cafe Orchestra --something I've been waiting half a century for.
Title: Re: Dust to Digital: The Harry Smith B-Sides Boxset
Post by: Johnm on August 03, 2020, 05:34:35 PM
Yes, thanks for posting that, Lew. What a great concept!  And to my tastes, the program doesn't suffer by comparison to the original Anthology of American Folk Music's program. I guess I can see why they omitted the tracks with racist language, but it seems like you need to acknowledge the bad along with the good in a country's history. Hiding from that past doesn't make it any less true.
Title: Re: Dust to Digital: The Harry Smith B-Sides Boxset
Post by: Suzy T on August 03, 2020, 07:56:54 PM
These Harry Smith B side compilations have been floating around for awhile, but not in commercial form.  I see they omitted the songs that have racist lyrics.  While I understand why they did this -- nobody wants to hear the N word --  it's too bad in a way.  One of those songs is the Henhouse Blues by the Bentley Boys -- for me, it resonates quite a bit with our modern times.  It tells the story of a dream:  a black man dreams he is running for president, but is woken up with the news that "you am beat and a WOMAN am President". The gist of it is, what could be even worse than a black president?  A woman President!  And here it is more than 90 years later and we've actually had a Black president, but not a woman yet.  I wish that would happen in my lifetime.  Anyway it sounds like a wonderful set.
Title: Re: Dust to Digital: The Harry Smith B-Sides Boxset
Post by: DerZauberer on August 05, 2020, 07:55:12 AM
I see they omitted the songs that have racist lyrics.  While I understand why they did this -- nobody wants to hear the N word --  it's too bad in a way. 
I think this is a missed opportunity. We're talking historical documents here, these pieces should be seen in their relevant context, they are the way they are should form part of the story - with carefully written liner notes of course, to highlight the reasons why and how to see take them today.

Apart from that, I love the idea. The Harry Smith anthology, weird as it is as a compilation, is still a good introduction to anyone more seriously interested in early roots/folk/blues/country, even today. For a brief "check this out maybe it's for you" I have now converted to the American Epic "The Soundtrack" collection, because it breezes through genres in a dozen-or-so songs.

But... given the quality of the material, and hoping for "newly remastered" great sound, I will dutifully pre-order this one.
Title: Re: Dust to Digital: The Harry Smith B-Sides Boxset
Post by: Stuart on August 05, 2020, 10:17:17 AM
I see they omitted the songs that have racist lyrics.  While I understand why they did this -- nobody wants to hear the N word --  it's too bad in a way.
I think this is a missed opportunity. We're talking historical documents here, these pieces should be seen in their relevant context, they are the way they are should form part of the story - with carefully written liner notes of course, to highlight the reasons why and how to see take them today.

I agree. Omitting the songs does not omit the racist context in which they were composed, sung, recorded, played on the Victrola or broadcast over the air, etc. It also omits the question, "Why was this considered acceptable?"

I'm not suggesting that the collection be used as a "teaching moment," just that attempts to sanitize the historical record do not change history--what really happened and why--as others have pointed out.
Title: Re: Dust to Digital: The Harry Smith B-Sides Boxset
Post by: dj on August 05, 2020, 01:09:23 PM
Quote
I agree. Omitting the songs does not omit the racist context in which they were composed, sung, recorded, played on the Victrola or broadcast over the air, etc. It also omits the question, "Why was this considered acceptable?"

I'm not suggesting that the collection be used as a "teaching moment," just that attempts to sanitize the historical record does not change history--what really happened and why--as others have pointed out.

I think Archeophone Records does a good job of handling this issue.  In the notes to their recent set on minstrel show music, At The Minstrel Show, there's the following:

"Archeophone Records hopes to prompt study and conversation about early recorded sound and its social and cultural significance.  This sometimes means that our reissues must not shy away from presenting disturbing though historically important material.  Archeophone believes that if we neglect the offensive parts of our history, we will fail to learn from it." 
Title: Re: Dust to Digital: The Harry Smith B-Sides Boxset
Post by: TenBrook on October 01, 2020, 07:00:48 AM
Here's a recent New Yorker article from Amanda Petrusich on Harry Smith with more details on the 'The Harry Smith B-Sides Boxset' project:
https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/10/05/harry-smiths-musical-catalogue-of-human-experience (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/10/05/harry-smiths-musical-catalogue-of-human-experience)
Title: Re: Dust to Digital: The Harry Smith B-Sides Boxset
Post by: Stuart on October 01, 2020, 09:19:45 AM
Thank you, Lew. It's an interesting article.
Title: Re: Dust to Digital: The Harry Smith B-Sides Boxset
Post by: Stuart on October 18, 2020, 09:15:57 AM
"How to Handle the Hate in America’s Musical Heritage" - NY Times

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/14/arts/music/anthology-of-american-folk-music.html
Title: Re: Dust to Digital: The Harry Smith B-Sides Boxset
Post by: dj on October 18, 2020, 05:37:35 PM
Thanks for the article link, Stuart.  I had been firmly in the "those sides should be there" camp, but the thought of someone innocently blaring them over the speakers at a farmers' market has made me rethink that stance.
Title: Re: Dust to Digital: The Harry Smith B-Sides Boxset
Post by: Stuart on October 19, 2020, 08:18:24 AM
Hi dj: I read a fair share of the comments to the article and many people came down on the side of historical accuracy/completeness. And many people supported Lance's decision. One way around the problem is to leave the objectionable sides off the CDs, but provide a link and access code with the box set to the D2D website where they would be available for people to listen to them if they so choose. But as the author pointed out, the offensive songs are already available online. After giving it more thought, that's probably what I'd do. It's a commercial product and the fact that it can be played publicly has to be taken into account.

I think it's one of those areas where you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.
Title: Re: Dust to Digital: The Harry Smith B-Sides Boxset
Post by: Johnm on October 19, 2020, 11:46:09 AM
Hi dj and Stuart,
I was originally in the "include the racist tracks" camp, as a way of admitting the unsavory aspects of our shared history, but after reading the article, I realize the extent to which being brave about including the offensive tracks is not particularly brave at all, when you won't have to deal with potential harmful or damaging consequences (or even actionable ones) yourself. Being brave in proxy, when you're at no risk yourself, is not exactly courageous.
All best,
John
Title: Re: Dust to Digital: The Harry Smith B-Sides Boxset
Post by: CF on October 19, 2020, 01:14:02 PM
Perhaps not mentioning at all that some of the songs on the set have period language would have made a non issue out of this altogether. Most people who would buy a Harry Smith box set have already heard these type of songs and are well educated about the nature of period 78s of Americana music.
Title: Re: Dust to Digital: The Harry Smith B-Sides Boxset
Post by: banjochris on October 19, 2020, 01:40:07 PM
As I understand it, the tracks are discussed in the liner notes, so the music and the issues it raises aren't being swept under the rug. I understand the decision to leave them off of the CDs for the reasons they give, especially given that because of the Harry Smith connection, this may have wider distribution and listening that your average old-time CD.

My only complaint really is that they should include a download link because they no doubt went to the trouble of getting decent copies of these tracks and remastering them. Copies online are not necessarily benefiting from any kind of clean-up, etc. (And we know they had already pressed CDs with these tracks, so it's not like they skipped them from the beginning.)
Chris
Title: Re: Dust to Digital: The Harry Smith B-Sides Boxset
Post by: Stuart on October 19, 2020, 02:16:54 PM
CF: I think that was Lance and April's original position--that the purchasers and audience would be a limited niche market of AAFM fans who want to have the B-sides in their collection and are aware of the use of derogatory racial and ethnic slurs in the music of the past. However, his experience at the market was an eye opener as the article points out. What if the CD(s) the offensive songs are on was/were inadvertently played and there were people of color within earshot? What would they think and feel?

Chris: I agree re: making the remastered copies of the tracks available to purchasers of the box set.
Title: Re: Dust to Digital: The Harry Smith B-Sides Boxset
Post by: eric on October 22, 2020, 06:48:34 AM
The original Anthology was transformative for me and I suspect more than a few people on this forum.  That work, and in particular, Alan Lomax's LOC recordings of Woody on Elektra were a window into my own father's time and place as well as American music.  That was more than 50 years ago.  I thought we'd be lot farther on by this time with regard to some of the uglier aspects of our history.  A forthright and honest discussion of all this is long overdue, in my opinion.

Here's a review in today's Washington Post.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/music/harry-smith-bsides-anthology-american-folk-music/2020/10/20/2f752944-0fdd-11eb-8a35-237ef1eb2ef7_story.html (https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/music/harry-smith-bsides-anthology-american-folk-music/2020/10/20/2f752944-0fdd-11eb-8a35-237ef1eb2ef7_story.html)
Title: Re: Dust to Digital: The Harry Smith B-Sides Boxset
Post by: Stuart on October 23, 2020, 03:40:35 PM
Thanks for the link to the WaPo article, Eric. It's an interesting read. Like you, 50 years ago I thought that most of the problems of the day would have been resolved and far behind us by now, but I guess that was a function of youthful idealism. The daily struggle continues.

One thing that has been pointed out about the AAFM is in addition to Harry Smith's selection of material, his organization and sequencing of the songs was extremely insightful--maybe even brilliant.

In the not so insightful or brilliant category, I'm thinking of making playlists that follow the original AAFM order, but with the B-sides following the A-sides, just to see how they sound when played back to back--"Turning the record over," if you will. There will be a conscious effort to try to overcome fifty years of listening to the original AAFM sequence, but what the Hell...

Title: Re: Dust to Digital: The Harry Smith B-Sides Boxset
Post by: Stuart on December 17, 2020, 11:55:13 AM
NPR's Fresh Air: Dust-To-Digital Producers On Curating And Showcasing 'Harry Smith B-Sides'

Here's the link:

https://www.npr.org/2020/12/16/946719705/dust-to-digital-producers-on-curating-and-showcasing-harry-smith-b-sides
Title: Re: Dust to Digital: The Harry Smith B-Sides Boxset
Post by: Alexei McDonald on December 18, 2020, 08:09:52 AM
I still think it was the wrong decision, even so. Placing the sides as hidden tracks on the CDs would have been far better, so that the recordings are there, readily available for the curious or the completist and not for the casual listener.
Title: Re: Dust to Digital: The Harry Smith B-Sides Boxset
Post by: Jumpin Jimmy on March 05, 2021, 07:05:18 AM
I know I'm a day late and a dollar short, but here goes:

I've always been bothered by denial of history.  I understand that some visitors to Gettysburg are offended that slavery is mention regarding the Civil War.  I am still bothered by bowdlerized Steven Foster songs, but I tend to moderate the language when performing some of his songs.  Then there's the second verse of "Oh, Susanna," which is barely tolerable for current sensibilities.  It involves riding down river in the telegraph and the electric fluid magnifying and killing 500 "people." It's a funny verse apart from that, so I should edit it.

 As to the omitted B-sides, they aren't hard to find.  But in the publisher's defence, use of the N word isn't hard to take, but happily singing about a lynching is.  However, ignoring history condemns us to a loss of our culture. I've had recent students who've never seen "The Sound of Music," which isn't a bad thing, but having never been aware that Nazism existed is dangerous.  We need history in its proper context.
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