Recording information: Smithsonian Festival of American Folklore (07/03/1972-06/18/1976); Smithsonian Festival of American Folklore (1976-1978).
Editor: Carla Borden.
Photographers: Paul J Johnson; Jeff Place.
The majority of the songs on Rising Sun Melodies come from performances from two festivals -- the Festival of American Folklife (1972) and the 1976 Festival on the National Mall -- and capture the essence of Ola Belle Reed and her family's musical output. Assisted on many tracks by her husband Bud and her son David, as well as John Coffey, Kevin Roth, and a few others, the disc presents Reed and her family as a family powerhouse of musical performance, not unlike the Carter Family in country music. Even more impressive than her playing and singing is the fact that Reed was just as adept with the pen. Of the 18 different tracks on the set (one song repeats, although it's a different performance), she wrote or co-wrote ten of them. Curiously, "I've Endured" wasn't written until Reed was 50, although given its reflective nature it's quite fitting. "High on the Mountain" is cut from the same cloth. These two songs have become standards of the bluegrass genre and many more of her songs have influenced generations since. When she wasn't performing her own material, she was putting her stamp on songs written by others. "Sweet Evalina," whose origins are primarily unknown beyond its initial publication in the 1860s, is a waltz that finds her singing a song about another woman. She also performs Hank Williams' "I Saw the Light," a well-known gospel tune that also features fine fiddle work from John Coffey. Reed has a short monologue to introduce "I Saw the Light," in which we can hear that there was little difference between her singing and speaking voices. In that monologue, she professes her belief in being true to the original message of the songs, regardless of the stories. Given that she was well into her fifties when she performed this song, it's hard to argue against someone with such vast life experiences. Copious liner notes by Jeff Place accompany the compilation that give in-depth analysis to the life and times of Ola Belle Reed and her family. Smithsonian Folkways again proves its worthiness by issuing a release that encapsulates American music history. Reed is a national treasure to behold. ~ Eric Luecking