By John Adamian
4:00 PM EST, November 27, 2012
Anthology of American Folk Music Night
to benefit the Connecticut Food Bank
Hosted by Elisa Flynn and Lys Guillorn
Fri. Nov. 30, 9 p.m., Café Nine, 250 State St., New Haven, (203) 789-8281, cafenine.com, 21+, $6
Some things just keep haunting us, working their way through our collective systems over time. Over decades and ages. In the '40s and '50s a music collector, folklorist and film maker named Harry Smith bought up bunches of old shellac records from the late '20s and early '30s. The 78 rpm records — old time, proto-country, raw blues, fiddle tunes — were already hard to find then. Those original recordings would become even rarer as time went on. Shellac got used for industrial purposes. Record companies stopped pressing 78s. Performers disappeared or died off. But Smith compiled The Anthology of American Folk Music — a six-record set of old songs. When the set was released in 1952 it helped kickstart the nascent folk revival, turning generations of singers and songwriters onto raw American folk music, strange murder ballads, weird tunes of rural life and marital discord. The Anthology was finally re-released on CD in 1997. It was a big deal, sparking and re-sparking lots of interest in Smith, the original material and the performers contained in the set. A whole new generation of musicians and fans became obsessed with these songs.
On Friday, Nov. 30 a dozen or so area musicians will perform material from the Anthology of American Folk Music at Cafe Nine in New Haven. The event will benefit the Connecticut Food Bank. The event will be hosted by Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Elisa Flynn and her former bandmate, the multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter Lys Guillorn, of Shelton. Guillorn spoke with the Advocate recently about the event and about the pull that the Anthology has on her and her peers. Some of the other acts on the bill include Elison Jackson, George Hakkila, Daphne Lee Martin and the Mercy Choir. Guillorn also plays lap steel and guitar, among other things, with the Grimm Generation, also included in the lineup.
Guillorn, 39, was raised in Trumbull. She's been familiar with the songs from the Anthology of American Folk music for a long time, but as a songwriter she hadn't necessarily incorporated them into her set until recently.
"I grew up with parents who listened to a lot of music and had kind of omnivorous taste," says Guillorn, "so I was just aware of the Anthology and eventually got the CD re-edition. In recent years, I've started to play some of those songs."
For the benefit Guillorn will be performing "Single Girl, Married Girl" by the Carter Family and "Dry Bones" by Bascom Lamar Lunsford, a banjo player, singer and song collector who was also a lawyer in western North Carolina.
That's the set-up for the show: every performer will play two songs from the Anthology. With over 80 songs from the original set to choose from, there wasn't too much trouble making sure no one doubled-up on the same material.
"There's something kind of magical about it — the diversity of the material in the anthology," says Guillorn, comparing the variety of music contained to a Whitman Sampler.
Inspired in part by being drawn to some of this traditional material, Guillorn says she taught herself to play clawhammer-style banjo recently. (Clawhammer style is slightly more raw, and more rhythmically centered and less virtuosic than other approaches to the instrument.) Guillorn will be playing solo banjo and singing at the event.
"Focusing on learning how to play, and learning traditional tunes, is very centering, personally," says Guillorn. "It makes me feel very focused and calm. The music reminds me of jazz in a lot of ways, because everyone is interpreting the same material differently."
As a songwriter, Guillorn says the tunes from the Anthology of American Folk Music have started to alter some of the ways she thinks about her craft.
"It's a long percolation process." she says. "There are certain elements of the old time music that are definitely filtering in — leaving things mysterious and not necessarily following a linear narrative."
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