The Washington Post

Quick Spins: ‘Work Hard, Play Hard, Pray Hard’ showcases Depression era

Various Artists
‘Work Hard, Play Hard, Pray Hard’

Drawn largely from old 78s found at the Louisville home of the late collector Don Wahle, this three-disc set presents 42 sacred and secular recordings by rural, Depression-era musicians of greater or lesser renown. Some of them, such as Fiddlin’ John Carson and the proto-country duo Darby & Tarlton, sold hundreds of thousands of records during their lifetimes. Others are but remnants from the fringes of history, their music appearing here for the first time since its original 78-rpm release.

The obvious inspiration for the project, from its packaging to the organization of its tracks, is Harry Smith’s 1952 “Anthology of American Folk Music,” the epochal three-volume set that served as a mother lode of source material for the folk and blues revivals of the ’50s and ’60s. Disc one of “Work Hard, Play Hard,” for example, offers David McCarn’s “Poor Man, Rich Man,” its chuffing harmonica and call for economic justice a harbinger of the class-conscious anthems of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. Its sober message notwithstanding, “I’ve Got the Chain Store Blues,” a kazoo-driven romp by East Tennessee’s Allen Brothers, is a blueprint for the neo-jug band revelry of the Lovin’ Spoonful.

Interesting not just as source material, the music is old but by no means weird, as some rock-bred revisionists would have it. Quotidian and then some, the faith, toil and merriment that throng from these performances give spirited voice to the hard-won resilience of white Southerners hungering for transcendence during some of the leanest years of the last century.

Bill Friskics-Warren

Recommended tracks

“Poor Man, Rich Man,” “You’ve Got to Stop Drinking Shine,” “I’ve Got the Chain Store Blues”

“Work Hard, Play Hard, Pray Hard: Hard Time, Good Time & End Time Music, 1923-1936” (Tompkins Square)



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