When he co-founded the Folkways label in 1948 with Marian Distler, Moses Asch’s vision for the project was that it would become an “encyclopedia of sound.” Now a part of the Smithsonian Institution, Folkways endures as a label that contextualizes the past by bringing it into the present. As of this summer, its archive is now one collection stronger.
In July, Smithsonian Folkways announced its acquisition of the archives of the Folk-Legacy record label—and with it, the release of a compilation of Folk-Legacy gems, titled A Living Tradition. Founded by Caroline Paton, Sandy Paton, and Lee Haggerty, Folk-Legacy has focused on issuing albums of traditional ballads from the early ‘60s through the 2010s.
Though their topics range from old-time standards to sea shanties, the songs on A Living Tradition are loosely bound together by striking vocal harmonies and acoustic instrumentation. On “The Alabama,” the way The Boarding Party’s five voices fall and rise recall the swells of a tempestuous ocean. Gordon Bok, Ann Mayo Muir, and Ed Trickett sing a gentle song of optimism on “Turning Toward the Morning,” and the label-founding Patons offer a charming tune in support of environmentalism with “The Lamoille River Song.”
The compilation even hints at the next generation of folk explorers: Peter and Mary Alice Amidon, parents of multi-instrumentalist and singer Sam Amidon, deliver a stirring rendition of “Bright Morning Star.” With the Folk-Legacy discography now an official part of the Smithsonian Folkways family, the partnership ensures that the next generation can learn from these songs, too.