Elizabeth Cotten: Folksongs and Instrumentals with Guitar


This will make you toss out your yawnfest Folkways LPs of bug sounds and jugbands or whatever and force you to rethink your intentions as a record collector. Miss Cotten is the real Folkways deal and this is probably one of the best records they ever put out (up there with the Anthologies of American Folk Music and everything Guthrie related). Besides being a remarkable snapshot of American life, these songs reach inside and massage your soul from a time when music was so raw and pure that it really makes you think about how much bullshit surrounds things today.

Just to give a little background, she developed her remarkable and unique fingerpicking style (which involves playing a right handed guitar left handed and thereby upside down, switching the usual picking roles of the fingers in regards to the bass a treble strings) while still a pre-teen just after the turn of the century and then lay musically dormant for roughly 25 years, after having a child at age 15. In a stroke of luck she happen to work for the famous Folkways-involved Seeger family taking care of their kids, which lead to this recording of her vocal and instrumental music. A song she originally wrote when she was only 11 years old, “Freight Train”, became a hit single, which is pretty damn interesting, considering she didn’t record it UNTIL SHE WAS 60. Think about that for a minute. This record is essential.

42 Comments

  • You can insult me all you want, but I’m keeping my bug sounds.

  • oh, that wasn’t directed at you or anyone specifically hcrink

  • (should be a comma after specifically)

  • I know, I’m just messin’ with ‘ya. haha!

  • barbara dane makes elizabeth cotten wear the dunce cap. first few songs are good, but not :nextlevel: if you know what i mean.

  • i love the barbara dane folkways record, ‘Barbara Dane Sings the Blues’ is probably my most cherished folkways lp… but this here is some raw shit that even barbara cant fuck with

  • I was fortunate enough to meet ‘Libba’ Cotton in the mid 70s due to the fact that my ‘advisor’, Linda Morley, had a doctorate in Folklore. Her advisees, friends & students were often treated to some great performances at informal dinner parties in her home. Though Linda often grabbed me to do sound for the formal concerts by numerous folk artists, my fondest memories of their music were from these living room sessions. Often we were treated to great anecdotes as well as history about each song. Some have said I should have recorded these, but I believe it would have spoiled the ‘realness’ of the moments! Besides, Alan Lomax I am not. …AAhhhh, thems was the days…… and Libba was an absolute joy to be around!

  • One should also mention that Cotten was from Durham, North Carolina, and her picking is a fine example of the Piedmont play party or songster style (see Rev. Gary Davis, Brownie McGhee, Blind Boy Fuller, etc. for other variants) . I may have seen her at folk festivals in the 70’s (not sure, i was too young), but at a house party? wow. Etta Baker (RIP), another local picker who could have shown merle travis a thing or two, played for my class once.

  • that would be carrboro, NC. sorry.

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