Four days before American Epic premieres on PBS on May 16th, a pair of soundtracks for the film, American Epic: The Soundtrack and American Epic: The Collection will be released physically and digitally on May 12th.
The Soundtrack boasts a 15-song anthology from the documentary, featuring “restored” songs from Memphis Jug Band, The Carter Family, Charley Patton and more. The Collection packs 100 songs from the era onto a five-disc set, with each track “restored to unprecedented levels of sonic fidelity.”
“This is not ‘remastering,’ in the normal sense, but something closer to fine art restoration,” Third Man said in a statement. “The intent is not for people to marvel at the antiquity of these discs, but rather to experience them as vital, immediate performances that speak to us as directly as they did on the day they were recorded—not simply great art for their time, but great art for all times.”
Legacy will also release companion albums dedicated to certain 1920s artists: American Epic: The Carter Family, American Epic: Memphis Jug Band, American Epic: Mississippi John Hurt, American Epic: Blind Willie Johnson American Epic: Lead Belly, as well as thematic collections including American Epic: Blues and American Epic: Country.
On June 9th, White and producer T Bone Burnett release American Epic: The Sessions. For that companion LP, White, Burnett and engineer Nicholas Bergh “reassembled the very first electrical sound recording system from the 1920s” and recruited a roster of 20 contemporary artists to tracks under similar circumstances as singers from that era.
“The musicians have roughly three minutes to record their song direct to disc before the weight hits the floor,” Third Man wrote. “In the 1920s, they called this “catching lightning in a bottle.” All the musical performances in this film are live. The audio you hear on the soundtrack is taken directly from the discs they were recorded to, with no editing or enhancements.”
The participating artists are Alabama Shakes, The Americans, Ana Gabriel, Ashley Monroe, The Avett Brothers, Beck, Bettye LaVette, Bobby Ingano, Elton John, Frank Fairfield, Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton, Los Lobos, Lost Bayou Ramblers, Nas, Pokey LaFarge, Raphael Saadiq, Rhiannon Giddens, Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, Taj Mahal, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard and Jack White himself.
Each album is available to preorder now on vinyl at the Third Man site.
“In the 1920s, as radio took over the pop music business, record companies were forced to leave their studios in major cities in search of new styles and markets. Ranging the mountains, prairies, rural villages, and urban ghettos of America, they discovered a wealth of unexpected talent,” Third Man described the film, which debuted at the 2016 Sundance Festival.
“The recordings they made of all the ethnic groups of America democratized the nation and gave a voice to everyone. Country singers in the Appalachians, Blues guitarists in the Mississippi Delta, Gospel preachers across the south, Cajun fiddlers in Louisiana, Tejano groups from the Texas Mexico border, Native American drummers in Arizona, and Hawaiian musicians were all recorded. For the first time, a woman picking cotton in Mississippi, a coalminer in Virginia or a tobacco farmer in Tennessee could have their thoughts and feelings heard on records played in living rooms across the country. It was the first time America heard itself.”