The album I’m about to talk to you about might be the most significant record I’ve ever written about. A lot of us on this site enjoy the rougher or rawer side of music and this record could be described in no other way. Even if my writing doesn’t inspire you to listen to these songs or if you’re certain you won’t like them, please take a moment and just listen to the voices of these men. Don’t worry about understanding the words, focus on the emotion they exude.
In the state of Mississippi the Parchman prison is infamous. Parchman is included on most lists of the country’s hardest prisons and it is from this environment that these songs come from. Parchman Farm: Photographs And Field Recordings, 1947-1959 is a beautiful release of 2CDs and a 124 page hardback book of photographs and essays from the people at Dust-To-Digital.
Generally speaking these songs are presented a cappella, though a few have acoustic guitars and quite a few feature the percussion of rhythmic rock breaking with a pick ax. Yes, you read that right, these are men on a chain gang and through the grace of music we are taken into that world. Some of the songs are just a single voice and others feature a chorus of voices. The names are listed as things like Bama, Tangle Eye and Floyd Batts. Other songs are just attributed to a number, like 22 or 88. Those numbers are their prisoner numbers and were probably the only name they would give the people doing the recordings.
The music is a mix of blues, spirituals and folk songs. It’s all right here for us to hear. Parchman Farms is Essential Listening not because everyone will love these songs or because it’s going to be the next big thing. This album is Essential Listening because if you don’t take a few moments to just listen then you are cheating yourself out of something powerful and profound.