Nimrod Workman

Nimrod Workman — I Want To Go Where Things Are Beautiful
Drag City CD

Nimrod was the Biblical king responsible for building the tower of Babel, that vast labor that caused God to sow confusion among mankind with the result that we now all speak different languages. So Nimrod Workman is a very heavy kind of name, one that suits the singer of these remarkable accapella Appalachian folk songs, originally recorded in 1982 and unreleased until now.
Workman was a coal miner and union activist in West Virginia who was forced to retire after 42 years in the mines due to black lung and a slipped disk, whereupon he started performing on the folk festival circuit and made appearances in a number of films including Harlan County USA and The Coal Miner’s Daughter. He recorded a couple of LPs in the 1970s, but nothing since, and died in 1994 at the age of 99.
This is classic, raw American folk music in the old style, 27 brief songs and monologues, beautifully recorded, the stories explaining where in the vast network of folk song Workman first heard the material. There are Biblical songs, work songs, old British ballads. His voice is powerful although occasionally out of tune, even by the arcane standards of folk tuning. If there’s a precedent it would be Smithsonian Folkways recordings or the recently deceased Alabama country singer Cast King who Locust put out a few years ago. If there’s dignity in labor, this is it, a voice unbroken by even the harshest circumstance – for example, these lines from “Coal Black Mining Blues”: Went to my place and I looked in,/Slate and the water up to my chin.” Brutal.

Originally published in The Wire, 2009.

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