Smithsonian Folkways recently released an album featuring Classic Railroad Songs. The album contains only eight songs that have been previously released. The other 21 songs, from a number of classic artists including Doc Watson, appear here for the first time.
Bookended by actual recordings of trains from the 1950s, the compilation evidences the continuing influence of these essential American ballads, work songs, blues and broadsides. “Midnight Special,” represented here by Lead Belly, has been covered by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Paul McCartney and Van Morrison. Alt-country band The Old 97s named itself after “The Wreck of the Old 97,” which has been interpreted by Johnny Cash and John Mellencamp, among many others. The compilation also includes iconic American songs “Rock Island Line,” “John Henry,” “Wabash Cannonball” and “Railroad Bill,” all presented here in riveting performances. Bluesman Furry Lewis, who sings about the legend of “Kassie Jones,” actually lost a leg to a railroad accident in 1917.
Grammy winner Jeff Place compiled and annotated ‘Classic Railroad Songs from Smithsonian Folkways,’ which also contains rare photographs from the Library of Congress.