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John Jacob Niles
My Precarious Life In The Public Domain
Released: 5/2006
Label: Rev-Ola
Catalog #: 138
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Doubtless the secret star of Martin Scorcese's acclaimed TV documentaries on Bob Dylan was the amazing John Jacob Niles, one of those early 20th century figures that, well, really just don't happen anymore. Musicologist, collector, songwriter, balladeer, John Jacob Niles was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1892 into a mysterious, spooky world of hills and hollers where the eeriest of folk songs were still alive, and brought their essential strangeness, unchanged yet subtly garbled since the mountaineers arrived from Britain, to the modern world and ultimately to the folk revival of the early 1960s, influencing generations of folk singers. Niles was singing the likes of “Barbary Ellen,” at children's singing contests as early as 1901, and began collecting Appalachian folk songs and composing music in earnest as a teenage salesman for Burroughs' Adding Machines. After serving in the new U.S. Air Force in World War I, the government financed Niles' study of music at the Universite de Lyon and the Schola Cantorum in Paris, where he met Gertrude Stein. In the 1920s, John Jacob Niles published his first song collections. Niles was known for his otherworldly singing and dulcimer playing (he made his own lutes and Appalachian dulcimers) and specialized in the songs of the Appalachian Mountain region. His ballad collections frequently included material that he composed, such as “I Wonder As I Wander” and “Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair,” or arranged, as well as ballads transcribed directly from oral sources and continued performing and recording his uniquely powerful, unsettling approach to folk songs into the 1970s. Niles died at his home at Boothill Farm, near Lexington, Kentucky on March 1, 1980. This is a first time CD collection of his amazing, slightly disturbing work. Prepare to be astonished.

 
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