Review: Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project Album

For such a youthful musician, banjoist Jayme Stone is fascinated with the past. His latest album, The Lomax Project, is an enthusiastic exploration of the musical history of America. Sourced from the Library of Congress holdings curated by Alan Lomax, who spent his life collecting recordings of traditional American music, Stone’s project contains 19 songs that encompass a wide range of musical styles. From cowboy songs to sea shanties and hymns, Stone’s work brings to life again many songs that have brought people together for generations. The introduction of Stone’s extensive liner notes, a 50-plus page booklet that explores the provenance of each track on the album, calls this a collaborative project, and that is made clear listening to the songs. Stone’s banjo playing is not overpowering, as one might expect on an album by such a prolific banjoist. Though some songs do feature the strong banjo that I expected, that gives way to songs that subvert expectations and explore a truly large spectrum of sound.

The opening track, “Lazy John,” is a further tribute to Lomax, coming from the sole album that he recorded of his own music. The tune is one that would be perfectly placed at a barn dance, and is an upbeat and exciting opening to the album. Singer Margaret Glaspy, who is featured as vocalist on nearly every track, has an infectious and hypnotizing voice. The versatility of her unique style stands out especially on an album where so many different musical styles are encompassed, and is surprisingly suited to the classic folk sound of “Lazy John” as well as the more somber sea shanty “Shenandoah” and the African-inspired Caribbean hymn “I Want to Hear Somebody Pray.”

“Before This Time Another Year” is a bluesy tune updated by the addition of several verses written by Tim O’Brien, who also sings on the track. It is a testament to both O’Brien’s writing and the collaborative power of the musicians that Stone has collected here that the song is such a smooth and introspective exploration of the passing of time that sounds whole and not like it is pieced together from other parts. Had the liner notes not shared O’Brien’s lyrical additions, I would have been hard pressed to know that the song had been changed at all.

Though the album contains many somber and spiritual tracks, there is a clear sense of humor from this group of musicians. On “Maids When You’re Young,” Stone’s light and playful banjo is beautifully complemented by the graceful fiddle melody of Brittany Haas, which lightheartedly accompany lyrics warning women of the hazards of marrying older men, such as “when we went to bed, me being young … he lay like he was dead.”

Overall, the album highlights not only these songs of rich history but also the sundry talents of the musicians that came together to shape this album into a fun trip through the diverse history of American music. As a whole, the album does a great job evoking the lives of those who sung these songs long before Stone or Lomax collected them for a wider audience, but it never feels outdated or like a history lesson. With the accompanying liner notes that lend such interesting context to each track, this album is a must for anyone interested in musical history or Americana.

Kelli Hennessey

Staff Writer

Musical historian, composer, and banjoist explores American folk tradition in decades-old recordings

Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project seeks to bring the work of noted folklorist and ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax to a contemporary audience. Stone has extensively researched Lomax’s recordings and created a new album of 19 songs, accompanied by extended liner notes that explore the provenance of each song. With this work, Stone is attempting to bring a piece of early American music history to a new audience, he says.

Lomax worked in the field for over 60 years after beginning his work in 1933 with his father, John Avery Lomax, a folklorist and musician. The father and son team spent years collecting thousands of recordings of music in order to  “expand the holdings of recorded folk music at the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress (established 1928), gathering thousands of field recordings of folk musicians throughout the American South, Southwest, Midwest and Northeast, as well as in Haiti and the Bahamas,” according to the Association for Cultural Equity.

Lomax’s work is extensive and includes thousands of recordings, photographs, manuscripts and videos, all in all representing almost one “1,000 culture groups from around the world,” according to The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

Stone, a Canadian native, is also interested in musical traditions from around the world and has spent two years researching Lomax’s work. Stone worked to collect a variety of songs and share their provenance and importance in the history of the North American musical tradition. Stone worked with 15 musicians on the project and has hailed it as a collaborative effort.

“The work with these particular musicians has been so joyful,” Stone said. “Everyone has been so generous … even when it came to record, we were still rearranging and writing new lyrics … the whole thing has just felt very alive and engaged.”

The album includes sea shanties, hymns and cowboy songs, each with accompanying notes from Stone based on the research of Lomax. Stone is attempting to reinvigorate those pieces of post-war American history to illustrate the influence the  music has had on everything that has come after it.

That is important to Stone now as he explores the roots of the music that is listened to now. Stone hopes to increase appreciation of the provenance and history of each of the songs in this collection.

“A song carries with it the history and story of the people who created it,” Stone said. “When these songs were created, they would bring people together … people were using songs to create togetherness often while they did very intensive manual labor, whether it was aboard a fishing vessel or county road gang, they used songs to keep their spirits afloat.”

With this project, contemporary listeners can experience a significant part of American history. Stone played the Bing Crosby Theater on Feb. 25 as part of his tour in support of The Lomax Project.

Stone’s album, officially titled “The Lomax Project,” will be released on March 3. Information on the album, including a short documentary and videos of selected songs, can be found at www.jaymestone.com.

 

Kelli Hennessey

Staff Writer