Old Town School of Folk Music Songbook Vols. 2 & 3

Like an Old Testament of folk music, these compilations — 42 songs in all — are both celebration and preservation. Artists ranging from faculty of the 50-year-old titular Chicago institution to Austin honky-tonk legend James Hand to alt-country chanteuse Kelly Hogan play 'em stripped and straight up, taking each performance beyond interpretation to almost worshipful tribute. Emily Hurd's menacing piano rendition of "Hard Travelin'" breathes hobo bravado and travelin' blues; Folk Uke's "Wildwood Flower" sounds as innocent and fresh as the day it was written; and Marvin Etzioni's raw "Don't You Hear Jerusalem Moan" rains hellfire and brimstone on preachers of all denominations. Whether written in a prison chain gang or Tin Pan Alley, these songs are so well known, this project could easily have become an embalmed cliché; but the honesty of each performance makes it obvious why songs like "John Henry," "Trouble in Mind" and "When the Saints Go Marchin' In" have become not just American classics but precious cultural baggage in this iPhone and Maroon 5 age.