[This album] is a reissue of [Alan] Lomax's original Negro Prison Songs.... Volume one is a masterpiece, the best single document of the African American work song and field holler tradition.... The group work songs, while excellent examples of the style, are by their nature less distinctive than the extraordinary solo performances. Nonetheless, they are uniformly strong and include many of the most common of such pieces.
“These songs belong to the musical tradition which Africans brought to the New World, but they are also as American as the Mississippi River. They were born out of the very rock and earth of this country, as black hands broke the soil, moved, reformed it, and rivers of stinging sweat poured upon the land under the blazing heat of Southern skies, and are mounted upon the passion that this struggle with nature brought forth. They tell us the story of the slave gang, the sharecropper system, the lawless work camp, the chain gang, the pen.” – Alan Lomax