As mentioned in a previous post, the Canadian band Bruce Peninsula produce a brand of indie rock that draws inspiration from Alan Lomax’s field recordings. I previously discussed the transformation of the song “Satisfied” from Lomax’s The Land Where the Blues Began collection to Bruce Peninsula’s 2009 A Mountain is a Mouth. Bruce Peninsula’s debut EP features a song entitled “Rosie,” possibly inspired by a track of the same name by Dobie Red on The Land Where the Blues Began. Though these two songs feature different lyrics, Bruce Peninsula’s use of “Satisfied” from The Land Where the Blues Began hints at the possibility that their “Rosie” was inspired by Dobie Red’s. Both feature a call and response structure with work song percussion. The melodies in both songs are also quite similar.
Bruce Peninsula, “Rosie” (2008)
Dobie Red, “Rosie” (1947-48?)
On further exploration, however, the more likely source material for Bruce Peninsula’s “Rosie” comes from a second Lomax collection, Prison Songs, Vol. 1: Murderous Home, as performed by C.B. & Axe Gang (1947-48?).
C.B. & Axe Gang, “Rosie” (1947-48?)
Interestingly, the second volume in this series, Prison Songs, Vol. 2: Don’tcha Hear Poor Mother Calling?, features two further songs entitled “O Rosie” and “Rosie” performed by “22” & Group With Hoes and “88” & Group With Axes, respectively.
“22” & Group With Hoes, “O Rosie” (1947-48?)
“88” & Group With Axes, “Rosie” (1947-48?)
In this proliferation of Rosies, we can see the workings of a vibrant folk culture as it adapts and transforms, perhaps most dramatically in the sixty year leap from C.B.’s version to Bruce Peninsula’s. By pointing out Bruce Peninsula’s source material, I am in no way trying to denigrate their work: I love their music, and I think their arrangements of songs like “Rosie” and “Satisfied” add a deeper layer of meaning to these tunes. What I am trying to suggest, however, is that in the age of mp3s and the internet it is still possible for a vibrant folk music community to exist. With reference to Bruce Peninsula I obviously don’t intend “folk” to mean Greenwich Village acoustic strumming, but rather the sense in which musical compositions belong to a broader community than just their originary artist, something to be passed around and, in turn, expanded upon. Thoughts?