The first set focusing on Spain from the Alan Lomax
library released by Rounder, The Spanish Recordings: Basque Country -- Biscay and Guipuzcoa
does not present a style of music one might expect to be found in Spain at all. As Lomax
traveled through the Basque Country, located in the Pyrenees Mountains on either side of the Spanish-French border, it became clear to him that the area and culture were vastly different from those around it. Being nestled in such terrain, the Basque Country was rarely influenced by outside sources, which allowed the area to develop very distinct traditions, and the one that struck Lomax
as being incredibly impressive was the popular custom of the Basques to compete publicly by improvising songs. Several improvisations are collected here alongside some performances by pipe groups and choirs. Immediately bewitching, the music opens with a solo vocal over a tambourine and alboka (a reed instrument unique to the Basque Country that is made from cow horns and sounds something like two clarinets played together, but sharper), before showcasing the songs by the choirs Lomax
came across. Both the choirs and solo improvised vocal tracks are sparkling with beautiful melodies, and almost every song on the record boasts of the area's fishing expertise. As with the majority of Lomax
's work, The Spanish Recordings: Basque Country -- Biscay and Guipuzcoa
not only represents an incredible document from a musical perspective, but also a wonderful history lesson in that the Basque politics and social atmosphere resonate in a specific time and place.