Songs of the Great American West

Front Cover
Courier Corporation, 1967 - Music - 334 pages
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The 92 songs in this handsomely illustrated songbook compiled and edited by one of America's leading authorities on folklore and folk music colorfully document America's pioneering spirit. In song after song, the triumphs and miseries, thrills and adventures of homesteaders, lumberjacks, cowboys, gold miners, railroad workers, outlaws, and other early Western adventurers come vividly to life.
Here are America's ballads, lullabies, battle cries, love songs, satirical songs, children's singing games, and more each with a story to tell, a moment to treasure, a feeling to share. There are familiar favorites like "Sweet Betsy from Pike," "The Streets of Laredo," and "The Big Rock Candy Mountain" side by side with less familiar songs, each a delight to explore: "The Little Old Sod Shanty on My Claim," "Seeing the Elephant," "Fifty Thousand Lumberjacks," "Doney Gal," "When the Ice Worms Nest Again," and many more.
This is a great collection for sing-alongs, for school and club shows, and for work and study projects that involve the history and folklore of the West. Along with the lyrics for each song, Earl Robinson has provided as easy-to-follow vocal score, complete with simple piano arrangements and chord symbols. Irwin Silber's historical notes and commentaries, together with the 127 period illustrations printed throughout the book, engagingly set the stage for this lively, colorful chapter in the history of American music.
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Silber has done a great deal of fine melody search in his works. However, his research is not deep, without consideration for the ethics, mores, period instruments, or interpretation/transmission styles. Further, his self-styled "expertise" is extremely judgmental and "politically correct". He fails miserably in his historical interpretations.
To add to this, neither he, nor his arranger, Earl Robinson, understands the logic of harmonic structure -- the chords accompanying the melodies are very wrong. An average second semester harmony student would have done a far better job of musical arrangement. An example of bad harmonic structure is found on page 109 of the book, "Seeing the Elephant." This is a parody written on Daniel Emmett's "De Boatman Dance". You are given the choices of C or Ami for the opening chords. Neither of these are correct, and sound very wrong. The original opening chords are F Maj. and C Maj. These are the chords that Emmett wrote, as they would have been played on a diatonic accordion. The original music is easily available in many places.
I write this as a published composer, arranger, songwriter, bandleader and performer for 65 years. Further, I was born in a music studio (literally) and participated in countless family sings. I am also a lifelong student of history, anthropology, and a trained archaeologist.
Ed Swanzey
 

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About the author (1967)

Irwin Silber is the former editor of the magazine "Sing Out!" and has written numerous books on folk and popular music. He has also written on political and cultural matters for "The Guardian, Crossroads, " and "Frontline." He lives in Oakland, California.

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