Album Review

Various Artists - Happy Land: Musical Tributes To Laura Ingalls Wilder

Various Artists - Happy Land: Musical Tributes To Laura Ingalls Wilder

The songs remembered by Laura Ingalls Wilder in her Little House On The Prairie memoirs, and revived in this compilation, form the soundtrack of her youth in the rural midwest of the late 19th century. There were devotional songs, richly harmonic and ponderously rhythmic, best represented here in a brief but robust rendition of "Promised Land" by the Harpeth Valley Sacred Harp Singers. There were songs by Stephen Foster, the one-man Brill Building of his day, celebrated on last year's magnificent Beautiful Dreamer, less satisfactorily here by David Olney's reading of "Nelly Was A Lady", and with spirit, thanks to John Balch's scrappy banjo behind Keith Little's vocal, on "Oh! Susanna". There were also patriotic broadsides, such as "Uncle Sam's Farm", sung by Ranger Doug Green from Riders In The Sky, who delivers a straightforward rendition of "The Blue Juniata", an idealized Native American romance, and the goofball "Captain Jinks". Played crisply by Nashville stalwarts, with mandolinist Butch Baldassari making especially conspicuous contributions, Happy Land evokes not so much the essence as the mythos of a time and place that's as much a part of our collective DNA as, alas, the tchochke kitsch of Michael Landon, smiling in the halo of a pixilated screen. Still, by bookending it all with snippets cut in the early 1920s by fiddler Jasper Bisbee, a contemporary of "Pa" Ingalls, Happy Land suggests that something in this music eludes contemporary players, no matter how admirable their intentions or burnished their chops.