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Mentioned in Song: Song Traditions of the Loggers of Newfoundland and Labrador, produced by Ursula Kelly, is the eighth CD in the Back on Track series coordinated by the Research Centre for the Study of Music, Media, and Place (MMaP) at Memorial University. The series aims to repatriate archival recordings, as well as recordings in private collections and commercial recordings with limited access, to communities in a format that exceeds the expectation for documentation via traditional liner notes. Consequently, titles in this series are especially valuable as educational resources. MMaP also hopes that by making these recordings more accessible, they will help to maintain musical traditions and inspire new compositions based on traditional works. Other titles in the series include the popular Newfoundland and Labrador Folklore sampler of songs and recitations produced by Peter Narváez, Saturday Nite Jamboree rare live radio recordings from 1963 produced by Neil Rosenberg, and Bellows and Bows fiddle and accordion music across Canada produced by Sherry Johnson. In the interest of full disclosure, the reviewer produced the fourth title in the series, Welta’q “It Sounds Good”: Historic Recordings of the Mi’kmaq.
Mentioned in Song is a collection of 27 audio tracks featuring song, instrumental music, and recitation. The CD is accompanied by a booklet of 88 pages, which includes an introductory essay on logging and song in Newfoundland and Labrador; maps of logging areas; a timeline of the industry in the province; extensive liner notes that detail biographical information for performers, composers, and collectors, as well as references to other works or performance history; transcriptions of most vocal tracks; an extensive glossary of terms related to logging; and a bibliography. The booklet also contains related images drawn from across the province. For anyone with an interest in the song traditions of loggers or the pulp and paper industry more generally, this is an invaluable resource.
This rich documentation, however, comes at a cost to functionality. The booklet is so thick that it does not fit into the DVD case in which the CD is presented. Consequently, the CD and booklet are easily separated by the user and are somewhat clumsy to store and transport. A CD sleeve inside the booklet (forgoing the DVD case altogether) might have been a better choice for this title (as was done with Bellows and Bows). The question of format – one that the series producers of Back on Track have discussed and debated many times over the past decade – was also raised in the mind of the reviewer when she attempted to find a way to play the CD to conduct the review given that her new laptop did not have an optical drive. Increasingly, technology is moving away from physical formats and it may be time for MMaP to consider alternatives (such as download codes with the sale of booklets).
Considering the level of documentation contained in the booklet, it was surprising to the reviewer that lyrics were not provided for all vocal tracks. Perhaps the producer thought that the last two tracks were so well known that transcriptions were not necessary; however, the reviewer was not familiar with “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder” and would have appreciated a transcription to follow while listening. Musical transcriptions would improve the usability of the resource, as would commentary on performance practice (for example, the way that traditional singers often speak the last line of a song). Further, some engagement with the possible sources of tunes would have been helpful. “The Peelwood Song,” for example, bears a striking resemblance to the traditional tune “Sarah” (particularly lines b and c of text), but there is no discussion of whether it is possible some of these “locally composed” (p.6) songs are new lyrics set to traditional tunes. Connecting the curated content of Mentioned in Song to broader song traditions and performance practices in this way would have strengthened the end product.
These practical considerations and minor criticisms aside, Mentioned in Song does an admirable job of curating a collection dedicated to loggers’ song traditions in Newfoundland and Labrador. It shines light on expressive culture related to an important industry in the province, while also demonstrating the living nature of folksinging traditions in the province by including both archival and contemporary recordings on one CD. Mentioned in Song makes a valuable contribution to the study of folksong, occupational folklore, and folk life of Newfoundland and Labrador.