[June 2015: Physical iterations of the Work Hard set have been, much to my chagrin and frustration, out of print for the last many months, and look to stay out of print for the foreseeable future. The audio is still available through digital retailers, but they don’t include the liners, so here’s a download link to the LP booklet.]
I’m tickled to say that November 6, 2012, marks the release of Work Hard, Play Hard, Pray Hard: Hard Time, Good Time & End Time Music, 1923–1936, a box-set drawn primarily from what I call herein the Don Wahle Collection. It’s been two and a half years since Don Wahle’s records were recovered, and this set has been in process for nearly half that time. As I write in its introduction, the collection’s concept — occupational and hard-time material, dance tunes and novelty numbers, and sacred pieces — came to me several years before Wahle’s records did. My initial idea was that the songs would be drawn from the collections of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress; the diversity therein would have provided for a tantalizing, if unwieldy, breadth of perspective on songs of work, play, and religious longing and observance. Ultimately, though, that unwieldiness left the concept to rot on the vine, and there it stayed till Wahle’s records arrived. The Tompkins Square label was luckily interested enough in the conceit to keep on me about it, and they’ve put considerable resources and energy behind making it an extremely beautiful and satisfying package. Much appreciation is due to Susan Archie of World of anArchie for her brilliant and nimble art direction and design work, and many thanks are due to the exceedingly talented and thoughtful Sarah Bryan, Amanda Petrusich, and John Jeremiah Sullivan, who contributed introductory essays to each of the volumes: Amanda, Work; Sarah, Play; and John, Pray.
Thirty-five of the 42 sides were drawn from Don Wahle’s collection. Frank Mare, Joe Bussard, and Christopher King (Long Gone Sound Productions) generously provided digital files of the other sides, and I’m indebted to Music Memory, Inc. for furnishing me with the technological means of making transfers of Wahle’s records. In fact, the MM project has been supporting the digitization of all approximately 2500 78s that he left behind. That process is ongoing.
Here’s an Amazon link to the playlist and audio samples of Work Hard, Play Hard, Pray Hard, although if you care to buy the set, I urge you to consider purchasing it from your (or somebody else’s) local record shop. And here’s a promotional device put together as a teaser for Labor Day 2012, featuring two of the tunes from “Work Hard,” by Fiddlin’ John Carson and the Allen Brothers, respectively: