Music: Miserable but Exciting Songs

A father and his 18-year-old son—the father a scholar, the son a filial zealot—set out to record the folk songs of the U.S. When John Lomax had broken his son to the trail, young Alan went on alone. Between them the Lomaxes recorded 10,000 songs, many of which had never been heard more than five miles from the prisons, corrals or lumber camps where the Lomaxes found them.

This week the Library of Congress, a new entry in the record market, was selling, as fast as they could be processed, five unbreakable vinylite albums ($6 and $7 each) of Lomax-collected blues,...

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