About a zillion years ago, I discovered an old album of folk music from Ohio. It was called Ohio State Ballads, by some lady named Anne Grimes (which I had found in a university library several years previously, transcribed, and learned by heart). It never even occurred to me that Grimes might still be alive and kicking, much less that she was running around collecting more Ohio folk music. She must have lived a pretty interesting life, since she worked as a song collector, singer and musician, and vocal coach, had a good marriage, and raised five kids.
There’s a good quote from her obit: “”Everybody thinks you find folk music in the hills; you don’t — it’s in people’s heads.”
Well, it seems that she passed away in 2004, but she still had one more book in her. It will be coming out this June.
Ohio State Ballads is available from the Smithsonian’s Folkways label. I’m not sure what to say about it, since it’s such an old companion in my life. It’s not a conventionally pretty album of a conventionally skilled musician, to the extent that it’s almost a field recording. (Not that she didn’t have a well-trained voice or good dulcimer skills, because those show up on certain tracks.) But “authentic” was apparently the sound she was aiming for.
But this album’s sound does have a lot of power and interest; and this remastered version of the album has a clarity that the older versions of the album had lost. I’m very fond of “Logan’s Lament”, “St. Clair’s Lament”, the fun foxhunting song “Portsmouth Fellows” (which I need to inflict on my little brother, since he’s been doing foxhunting with the local group of riders), and a ton of others.
You can download the cover and liner notes for free from the Smithsonian site. Besides being a charming whiff of the late fifties, you might find the Ohio history info handy.
You can buy or download the album on all the usual sites, too.
If you want to dig deeper, the standard source is Mary O. Eddy’s Ballads and Songs from Ohio, from back in the thirties. Pearl Nye collected Ohio canalboat songs, which were collected into a book I’ve never seen called Scenes and Songs of the Ohio-Erie Canal. Anne Salt has a sheet music book called Buckeye Heritage, that also focuses on Ohio history. Underground Railroad, Civil War, and Shaker songs are all important to Ohio’s musical life, but you have to look around to find them. I’ve got another Ohio sheet music songbook, but I can’t find it just now, so I can’t tell you the title.
Here’s someone singing a funny song from Eddy, “Common Bill”. She apparently collected it up in Perrysville, and it was then reprinted in Carl Sandburg’s anthology An American Songbag. (Of which I have heard much, but never so much as seen a copy. Unless that’s it in the YouTube video.) You see this song referenced in some stories from the Fifties. (But what kills me is how familiar the singer sounds when he talks. I don’t think I know anybody from Montreal, but it’s uncanny how much he sounds like somebody I do know.)