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NEWSLETTER #141
Folk Music - American, British Isles, etc.
Tim Eriksen ->
Chris Wood
 

 

 

NEW BOOK

 

WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON? An Inside History Of The Folk Music Revival In America  by Dick Weissman BOOK $24.95
Hardback, 296 pages, counts as five CDs for shipping
Another perspective on the American folk music revival (what Dave Van Ronk doesn't have a publishing deal?) that differs from the others by covering not only the classic characters that you expect (Harry Smith, Woody Guthrie, Dylan, Baez etc.) but also more modern performers, like Ani DiFranco, Bela Flek and Nickel Creek. Also less common is Weissman's dissection of the Folk music business itself; like any other in the music business, Folk has its fair share of shady dealings and scandals, some of which are exposed here. This is part history, part cautionary tale--a solid read for the weathered Folk buff as well as the eager new convert. Dick Weissman was a member of the Journeymen and has also written "The Music Business: Career Opportunities and Self Defense" and co-authored "The Folk Music Sourcebook" with Deems Taylor. (JM)

 

NEW COMPACT DISCS

 
AMERICAN TIM ERIKSEN Appleseed 1053 Tim Eriksen CD $16.98
14 tracks, 56 mins., recommended
Well-traveled solo artist and member of the band Cordelia's Dad, Eriksen is one powerful performer, whether singing unaccompanied, or playing guitar, fiddle, or banjo. This is a really mournful, in-your-face collection of songs from old American traditions or assembled by Eriksen from words or ideas cribbed from the tradition. It all comes across with absolute honesty and freshness, recorded live without overdubs, and running the emotional gamut from the bone-chilling opening track Farewell to Old Bedford to the only baldly happy track, the infectious guitar instrumental Mobile Serenade Polka/Shep Jones Hornpipe. Expect a moody but riveting experience. As Eriksen says in his final self-penned track, "I love the sadness in every song". (DC)

 
ENGLAND DAVY GRAHAM Fledgling Records 3053 Midnight Man ● CD $16.98
Reissue of Davy's second Decca LP from 1966. Another eclectic mixture of material drawing on songs and tunes from the repertoire of Lalo Schifrin, Lennon & McCartney, T-Bone Walker, Rufus Thomas, Blind Willie Johnson, Junior Mance, Oscar Brown Jr. and others as well as a couple of originals. All of it filtered through Davy's unique sensibilities. On most of the tracks he is backed by bassist Tony Reeves and drummer Barry Morgan.

 
ENGLAND JACK THE LAD Virgin 39639 It's Jack The Lad ● CD $11.98
14 tracks, 54 mins, very good Newly remastered. Here's a very good 1970s band that most British folk-rock fans probably missed. With strong American country-rock influences mixed with plenty of Beatles and Brit folk club ballad tradition, Jack the Lad grew from the ashes of the band Lindisfarne in 1973 to tour widely and produce four albums before dissolving. The songs by founding members Billy Mitchell, Rod Clements, and Simon Cowe are well-crafted and very much a product of their era. There's something about this album, recalling bands like Poco or the Burrito Brothers at times as much as Fairport or Steeleye, that's very 70s. But that's not meant as criticism. In fact, this album (with 2 bonus tracks not on the original) is considerably more interesting than some of Fairport's or Steeleye's less inspired work from the same period. Not as wild as the band was said to be in concert, but worth a listen. (DC)

 
IRELAND EILIS KENNEDY EK 02 One Sweet Kiss ● CD $21.98
10 tracks, 42 mins, essential
I loved Eilis Kennedy's first album ("Time To Sail" - $21.98) and this one is another winner. Eilis has one of the most beautiful voices in current Irish folk music and, like the first album, this is mostly traditional songs sungs with great warmth and conviction with discrete and sensitive accompaniments from a range of Irish musicians including Barry Coulter (guitar), Paddy Keenan (Uileann pip*es), Jon sanders (mandolin, guitar, bass & harmonium) and others but throughout the focus is on Eilis's sparkling vocals. Highlights for me are her rendition of one of my favorite traditional songs Helen Of Kirkonnell and the gorgeous Gaelic song Beauty Deas an Oileain. The only disappointment is her rendition of Dylan's Boots Of Spanish Leather which doesn't really work but the rest of the album is so good that it doesn't really matter. An absolute delight. (FS)

 
ENGLAND MR. FOX Castle CMRCD 1049 Join Us In The Game ● CD $14.98
17 tracks, 78 mins., fans only English 60s hippie folkies Bob and Carole Pegg released two LPs in 1970-71 under the name Mr. Fox. Mostly history has rightly expunged them from memory. Why Transatlantic has chosen to ressurect both LPs on one CD is a mystery, as the music is embarrassingly weak and digital advances only serve to reveal the productions as tepid and cheap-sounding. By turns these earnest singer-songwriters try to be Fairport, the Albions, and the Incredible String Band and fail utterly in each attempt. Lacking the String Band's endearing lunacy and even Ashley Hutchings' sense of fun, Mr. Fox's clunky songs are shakily played and more shakily sung. They ladle on the folkloric references and rather than being swept into auld mythic Britain, one feels one has been beaten with the ladle. The only bright spot is Aunt Lucy Broadwood, an unwitting precursor to British rap. If you retain fond memories of Mr. Fox in some Yorkshire folk club, go wild. The rest can save their money. (DC)

 
AMERICAN JOHN JACOB NILES Rev-Ola 138 My Precarious Life In The Public Domain ● CD $15.98
10 tracks, recommended (I think)
First CD reissue of Kentucky born folk performer John Jacob Niles who made a brief but memorable appearance in Martin Scorsese's Bob Dylan documentary. Here he performs 10 lengthy interpretations of traditional Child ballads with his otherworldy vocal style that is part traditional mountain singer and part something completely different with it's soaring leaps into falsetto. He accompanies himself on gently strummed dulcimer or lute on songs like Love Henry/ The Maid Freed From The Gallows/ Jimmy Randal/ Bonnie Farday/ The Gypsy Ladie and others. Niles was a popular performer whose recording career lasted from 1938 to 1972 and the fact that he made an impression on Dylan and other upcoming singers in the early 60s is not to be discounted. Niles's style is not to everybody's taste but there's no doubt that his approach as a unique and haunting quality to it. (FS)

 
AMERICAN PHIL OCHS Collector's Choice 615 All The News That's Fit To Sing ● CD $12.98
15 tracks, 43 min., highly recommended
The welcome reissue of this topical and often poignant LP by one of the most talented, intense, and often driven angry young men of song. It's his first album, from 1964, and is offered here in stereo sound, with original cover art and notes, and one additional track. Among the many self-penned highlights are Celia/ Automation Song/ Talking Cuban Crisis/ Bound for Glory, and Bullets of Mexico as the bonus track. The wonderful music is filled with youthful energy and angst, of course, and the lyrics are worthy of reactions that range from nostalgia for the idealism of the 1960's to wonder, perhaps, that so little has really changed. The first song One More Parade could easily have been written yesterday. CD reproduces original cover art and has new notes by Richie Unterberger. (DH/FS)

 
AMERICAN PHIL OCHS Collector's Choice 616 I Ain't Marching Any More ● CD $12.98
14 tracks, 51 min., recommended Reissue of this troubadour /satirist's second LP, from 1965, an outing highlighted by his musical interpretation of Alfred Noyes' romantic poem The Highwayman. Other numbers, more typical of Och's output, combine his keen songwriter's sense of topical irony with his wry sense of the absurd. Chief among these are his well known comic look at conscription, Draft Dodger Rag, his farewell to John Kennedy, That Was the President, and his sorrowful look at the establishment status of mid-60's labor unions, Links on the Chain. Fine music from a voice that was stilled much too soon, featuring original cover art and notes and new notes by Richie Unterberger. (DH)

 
IRELAND NIAMH PARSONS Green Linnet 1232 The Old Simplicity ● CD $15.98
14 tracks, 54 mins., recommended
Veteran Irish singer Parsons has been on the scene for many years now, performing and recording with groups large and small, most notably Arcady. But this is her most introverted and understated outing yet, and both her intimate delivery and her choice of songs make it a lovely experience indeed. She begins with David Olney's dark and sad First World War love song, 1917, setting up the simple voice and guitar texture she works for the remainder of the CD. Guitarist Graham Dunne gets a solo turn on his sweet self-penned Cumha an Ghra, but the rest of the spotlight is all Parsons', as she sings of heartache and loss and eccentricity. Ye Rambling Boys of Pleasure may be the best-known track here, while Parsons presents wonderful underappreciated works of contemporary songwriters. Among the best is Kieran Halpin's The Old Simplicity, which Parsons delivers with a softer regret than Halpin did. A sweet and hypnotic set. (DC)

 
ENGLAND JOHN TAMS Topic TSCD 551 The Reckoning ● CD $16.98
11 tracks, 48 mins., recommended
British folk scene veteran Tams's world on this CD is a moody one, as his baleful expression on the package might telegraph. His lyrics focus on hard work, hard lives, physical separation, and a poignant tang of regret seems to linger over the whole CD. Even the highly singable choruses are more sad than hopeful. That being said, the whole thing is beautifully done, well-paced, and arranged with unexpected touches of brass. Tams's voice soars and cries out to be heard, and often it's impossible to hold back from singing along, as on the sweet Amelia or the smoky, after-hours final thought Including Love, that observes "everything goes up in price including love." Tams also reimagines Man of Constant Sorrow, giving the lyrics real personal immediacy. Sad, yes, but worth a listen. (DC)

 
ENGLAND VARIOUS ARTISTS Talking Elephant 062 Great Grandson Of Morris On ● CD $17.98
The latest in the imaginative series of electrified Morris dance songs and tunes produced by the indefatigable Ashley Hutchings. Joining Ashley are Roger Wilson/ vocal, acoustic guitar & fiddle, Ken Nicol/ guitars & vocal, Simon Care/ melodeon & concertina and Guy Fletcher/ fiddle & drums as well as various guest performers (John Spiers, Jon Boden, Neil wayne, etc) and several Morris dance groups. Lots of fun.

 
AMERICAN LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III Collector's Choice 632 Album 1 ● CD $12.98
11 tracks, 39 min., highly recommended
Originally issued in 1970 and out of print pretty much ever since (with only a very brief flash of availability on the pricey Rhino Handmade label), Wainwright's first album for Atlantic Records (untitled originally but here labeled "Album I") produced critical acclaim, a loyal if small fan base, and some of his most memorable songs. Just LW3 and a guitar for company here; his voice owes itself in large part to Neil Young, despite being tagged another "new Dylan," usually a kiss of death. Songs such as Glad To See You've Got Religion, and Four Is A Magic Number are bitter and playful jabs at religion and self-righteousness, while Central Square Song paints an unromantic picture of a drunken romance. Wainwright's point of view and lyrical cleverness appear here full blown, sprung from his head fully realized, as it were. Nothing here got near the charts, although School Days, a brilliant account of his prep school days a Saint Andrew's, remains a common request at concerts. And Black Uncle Remus is an unforgettable piece of Americana, as intense and biting as anything he would ever record. (JC)

 
AMERICAN LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III Collector's Choice 633 Album II ● CD $12.98
12 tracks, 36 min., highly recommended
No other songwriter has examined his own impulses, desires, and fears more thoroughly or more entertainingly than LW3, choosing to sing about the sometimes painful, awkward, and small-minded business of being a human being, and always with a sense of humor and an air of self mockery. Prince Hal with a guitar. Album II continues the spare production approach of his eponymous LP for Atlantic Records and brings his wicked sense of humor to the foreground, or at least lit up the background enough to get a better look--a sense that would be the hallmark of his deservedly lengthy career. He couldn't write a "normal" song to save his soul, and for that his fans will always love him. Be Careful, There's A Baby In The House takes an insightful look at parenthood, a subject he would return to again and again. Samson And The Warden tells the story of a minor pot bust (back when that was no laughing matter) that landed him in an Oklahoma City jail. Motel Blues is a poignant stare at the loneliness of life on the road and infidelity, while Old Friend, which beat Springsteen to the subject matter in Glory Days by about 20 years, includes the lines "The good old days are good and gone/ That's why they're good-because they're gone." The morbid masterpiece Suicide Song is included--death being another of Wainwright's favorite obsessions; only Hamlet was more fond of thinking about it. (JC)

 
ENGLAND CHRIS WOOD RUF 10 The Lark Descending ● CD $19.98
8 tracks, 47 mins., recommended
After 25 years on the British folk scene playing from everybody from Oysterband to Martin Carthy, it's about time Wood recorded a real solo CD. This stark and honest set of songs is beautifully recorded and conceived, split between trad songs arranged by Wood and originals, plus two by Wood's friend and collaborator Hugh Lupton. Wood's considerable arranging skills come to the fore on the trad ballad Lord Bateman, which tells this story of longing in both menacing and haunting terms. Wood's guitar work on this CD is particularly fine, with echoes of Carthy and Jansch, but confidently understated as the story songs uncoil themselves. Wood adds his own low-strung fiddle and harmonium touches, but the intensity of his voice hangs onto the spotlight throughout. (DC)

 

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