The unrelenting 78 collector Ian Nagoski is at it again with Widow’s Joy being just one of six compilations that he has put together in the last 12 mouths. In this aural instalment we are taken on a journey of the musical impact of one of the biggest waves of immigrants to enter the United States,which occurred during the year 1907. In fact a staggering 11,747 immigrants were recorded in one day, on 17th April 1907. It must have been quite something to deal with, it seems the authority’s were looking for any excuse to reduce the number of entries so much so that if the immigrants failed the ‘eye test’ at Ellis Island New York, they were sent straight back.
Every second of these recordings is crammed with pulsating texture. The track Albina Lietuvnikaite & Worcesterio Lietuviška Orkestra – Lietuviško Kliubo (Lithuanian Club) is layered with fiddles, wind instruments, possibly a ukulele and features a delightful whistler. The usual way music was recorded back in the day was one microphone in a room or rather a large horn that would siphon the sound waves down into a needle cutting the shellac. The musicians had to place themselvesin the room according to how loud the horn would pick them up. This track has such a big sound that it’s hard to imagine a room big enough to fit them all in! It’s fascinating how the medium dictates the culture. With our modern day recording equipment and studio isolation booths you can argue that compared to the recordings found on 78s there’s a higher disconnection from reality. The way we hear these recordings is very much how we would hear them if they were in the room with us. Often spirited yelps and whoops can be heard from the individual players as they knock out their intricate musical stylings.
As we’ve come to expect from Nagoski, this release comes with extensive liner notes that include facts and figures that make you marvel at how he managed to track all this information down. Does the guy have a time machine? There’s a whole other world to be explored here. Just looking at some of the people included in the photography within the liner notes it’s hard to get to grips with the fact that these people are from the same planet! Perhaps this is how they were perceived when they first landed in America with their spiced Vodka and twirling accordion loops. It can be argued that their musical culture was never really accepted like blues, jazz, gospel, and folk music from Appalachia. Nagoski’s dedication to the human story informs us of the pain and struggle behind some of the individual players, of these often-joyous melodies.
In fact some of these tunes have such energy and vitality that it sends your head spinning off into new unexplored heights.
With a limited pressing of Widow’s Joy your best bet to get hold of one of these vinyl slabs is to go along to one of Nagoski’s talks held all over Europe and the UK in April and May.
Review by: Harry Wheeler
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Colchester Arts Centre
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For those unfamiliar with the extraordinary work of Ian Nagoski here’s a short film on his last release: To What Strange Place : The Music of The Ottoman-American Diaspora, 1916 – 1929