I think in many ways, Folk Music in America is more impressive and important than the Smith Anthology. It was issued a quarter of a century later, so academia had by then had had an effect on scholarly folk music study. Smith's anthology was basically a randomly thrown together compilation of rare hillbilly & country blues 78s from the 1920s and early '30s. The annotation was minimal and extremely flawed. Incorrect assumptions, faulty recording dates, etc. But it was the FIRST and that is what made it so important as it was the initial introduction to many people of this traditional music.
FMA, on the other hand, came out in conjunction with the Bicentennial in the mid-70s. Spottswood took the subject and grouped the songs thematically, showing all kinds of diverse musical interactions and influences from a variety of eras, not just the 20s and 30s. Dick provided full, accurate discographical information, lyrics, translations, and cogent historical analysis of the songs. There are also a wealth of photographs that the Smith box lacks. I never get tired of dipping into it. And it's not just American music - it's also music by immigrant cultures who were influenced by American musical styles. I still recall how moved I was at hearing and reading about the Johnson Family Singers' "The Death of Ellenton," a record that is not intrinsically valuable, but is still one that resonates emotionally for me. I sought out an original copy of that 78 (it's a post-war Columbia) for years and finally found one in mint condition. There are many gems like this in the series.
But, as you say, it has become sexy to place a high value on the Smith set for the same reason the Robert Johnson mystique was established at the issuing of the Columbia LP reissues in the early '60s. Prominent people who discovered the Smith set made it famous. But we hear nothing of that for FMA and it's a shame. It is one of the things I would grab first if I had time to rescue a set of LPs while my house is burning down.
> Date: Mon, 1 Jul 2013 13:46:16 -0400
> From: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Folk Music in America
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Donald - You're very welcome. I can't believe nobody had done it already.
> Cary - Agreed, it begs comparison. I think "the" Anthology benefited from a
> sexy mystique, wide and continuous availability and timely reissue, but this
> set is at least as worthy of the acclaim Smith's has gotten over the years.