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NEWSLETTER #144
Folk Music - American, British Isles, etc.
Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick ->
Various Artists
 

 

 

NEW DVD

 

OYSTERBAND Westpark 87118 The 25th Anniversary Concert ● DVD $18.98
122 mins, essential
One of Britain's great bands celebrates 25 years together (actually 27 years but they took their time getting this celebration together!). Their newest member, drummer Lee Partis, has been with them for 14 years so as you can imagine the band is as tight and empathetic as any band could be and for this live concert recorded at London's Forum theater in December 2003 they are joined by uileann piper James O'Grady who blends in seamlessly with the rest of the group. Their material is mostly original often with a dark, gloomy message but presented with powerful and straight ahead rhythms and catchy singable hooks. John Jones' lead vocals are consistently intense and convincing while Ian Telfer's taut fiddle and concertina sound sound always lurks in the background to keep things tense. Harking back to their days as a straight folk band they also do stunning versions of the traditional songs Molly Bond and Blackwaterside. June Tabor who recorded an album with them joins them for two songs and they are also joined by Chumbawamba (acoustic) for a couple of songs. I was ready to give this a "highly recommended" rating but then for their final encore The Oysters, June and Chumbawamba join together in an acapella version of the traditional Appalachian hymn Bright Morning Star - one of my all time favorite songs - and when those icy fingers crept down my spine and tears came to my eyes I knew that nothing less than "essential" would be appropriate. The concert itself last 91 minutes and as bonuses we have 20 minutes devoted to seeing the band getting ready for the show which is full of factoids - my favorite being that their smallest show was at a club in Norway where they sold zero tickets but sold four CDs to the bar staff. Their is also a very goofy music video of them doing New York Girls from their 1989 album "Ride" plus a discography of their albums. Fabulous! (FS)

 

NEW COMPACT DISCS

 
MARTIN CARTHY & DAVE SWARBRICK Topic TSCD 556 Straws In The Wind ● CD $16.98
14 tracks, 63 mins, highly recommended
Marthy Carthy & Dave Swarbrick have worked together on and off for more than 40 years and have achieved a musical empathy that is spine chilling as this gorgeous album amply proves. The songs are all traditional and mostly drawn from the "Penguin Book Of English Folk Songs" including the stunningly moving Ship In Distress and the grisly Lord Thomas And Fair Eleanor. There are three instrumental tracks featuring Dave's superb fiddle - a set of traditional tunes and two original compositions - on the lovely My Heart's In New South Wales the duo are joined by guitarist Kevin Dempsey. Martin provides intelligent and witty backgrounds to all the music. A gem! (FS)

 
PAUL CLAYTON Empire Musicwerks 450 765-2 Whaling And Sailing Songs From the Days Of Moby Dick ● CD $12.98
20 tracks, 40 min., recommended
Seems to be a more or less straight reissue of a Tradition LP recorded in June 1956 by Clayton, himself the descendant of a whaling family. These songs date from the middle of the 19th century and several are actually mentioned in the works of Herman Melville and in Dana's classic Two Years Before The Mast, as well as in other literature. Some were collected by Clayton from the the logs of old whaling ships. (Many of the songs were apparently sung by the sailors as they did their various tasks on the ship.) With simple guitar accompaniment, Paul Clayton does an admirable job of lending the songs an authentic feel, achieved, ironically, by rendering them in the folk tradition of his own time. Among the most charming of his efforts is Johnny's Gone To Hilo, The Girls Around Cape Horn, The Turkish Revelee, and Boney Was A Warrior. A fascinating album. (JC)

 
SANDY DENNY Castle CMRCD 1181 Where The Time Goes ● CD $14.98
18 tracks, 23 tracks, highly recommended
Sandy Denny was truly one of the great voices on the British folk scene and her death in 1978 at the age of 30 robbed the world of a remarkable talent. She came to the attention of most listeners when she joined Fairport Convention in 1968 but prior to that she had been active on the London club scene for several years. The recordings here were originally made in 1967 for the Saga label and feature Sandy accompanied by her own guitar and the Johnny Silvo Folk Four, Alex Campbell and others on a selection of American and British traditional songs along with contemporary songs from Jackson Frank, Tom Paxton, Alex Campbell and others. This is the first reissue to include all known alternate takes, some of which are quite different to the familiar ones and has been remastered from best available sources (the original master tapes no longer exist). As a bonus we also get her two songs with The Strawbs from the same year which included the first recording of her most famous song Who Knows Where The Time Goes. Although her greatest years were ahead of her and the material and arrangements are occasionally dull the breathtaking crystalline purity of her voice is evident and her recording of Jackson Frank's You Never Wanted Me and Tom Paxton's The Last Thing On My Mind are real spine chillers. Includes in depth notes by Sandy's biographer Clinton Heylin. (FS)

 
BOB FOX Topic TSCD 555 The Blast ● CD $16.98
10 tracks, 47 mins, highly recommended
Bob Fox is one of Britain's finest folk performers with a warm, rich North of England voice and a superb guitar style. He is best known for his work with Stu Luckley but has also turned out a number of fine solo albums of which this is the best. Some of his previous recordings have featured arrangements that get in the way but this is just Bob and his guitar on a selection of mostly traditional songs along with more recent compositions. Almost all the songs relate to the life of the working man - particularly coal miners and men who work on ships and the disc opens with a stunning rendition of Ed Pickford's A Miner's Life and including fine versions of Alex Glasgow's All In A Day, The Broomfield Wager, the heartbreaking Recruited Collier and others. I've admired Bob Fox's work for many years and I think this is his finest recording since his albums with Stu Luckley in the 70s. (FS)

 
BOB FRANKE Waterbug 66 The Other Evening In Chicago ● CD $16.98
28 tracks (17 songs), 75 min., nearly recommended
A pleasant enough traditional guitar toting folksinger/songwriter, Franke has a voice that's always finding its limits and songs generally good enough to make listeners forgive it. His troubadour affectations can be a little off-putting at times, but at his best (as on A Healing In This Night, Hard Love, and Love Bravely, Elizabeth, written for his daughter), Franke can turn out a beautiful moment or two. His sense of humor seems confined to amusing numbers, such as My Lover's T-Shirts, even though it would be welcome on some of his stiffer efforts. Excessive sincerity can be a fault in song if not in life. His first album, "One Night In Chicago" (now out of print) is referred to in the title here on this live show, performed on WFMT radio's "Folkstage" and released on Andrew Calhoun's always interesting Waterbug label. (JC)

 
PENTANGLE Castle CMQCD 555 Solomon's Seal ● CD $22.98
9 tracks, 35 mins, highly recommended
This is known as the "lost" Pentangle record, as it was their last recording sessions and initially only came out in a limited vinyl addition. Consequently, the master tapes were deemed lost ever since, so no proper reissue, let alone CD issue has come out until now. Recently rediscovered (I'll let you read the liner notes for that story,) and re-mastered at the Abbey Road tape room, this is a real joy to the ears and (possibly) worth the wait. Capturing the English Folk legends at full power with the usual wide palate of musical styles and influences (is that a Sitar that I hear on track 3?) Fans of the band will love this. (JM)

 
PETE SEEGER Smithsonian Folkways 40153 American Favorite Ballads, Vol. 4 ● CD $14.98
28 tracks, 72 min., highly recommended
Few have had greater influence on American music than has Pete Seeger. These enduring and endearing recordings (waxed in the 1950s and early 1960s) feature Seeger and his banjo or 12-string guitar as they apply themselves to some of the the most famous and greatest American ballads. You Are My Sunshine, Banks Of The Ohio, Old Maid's Song, Go Down, Moses, and others are well known in any number of versions by countless performers, but there is something archetypal sounding in Seeger's versions. Other traditional pieces such as All My Trials and No More Auction Block are haunting glimpses into America's perfect past. And Seeger's humorous "conversation" in Hole In The Bucket is perfectly executed. This volume includes a 32-page booklet with extensive song notes by Guy Logsdon and Jeff Place. (JC)

 
VARIOUS ARTISTS Gott Discs 047 The Radio Ballads - The Song Of Steel ● CD $16.98
14 tracks, 57 mins, highly recommended
Between 1957 and 1964 the B.B.C. presented a series of eight "radio ballads" devised and compiled by Ewan MacColl, Charles Parker and Peggy Seeger telling the stories of rarely heard communities. The programs were sound montages featuring songs, instrumental music, sound effects and the recorded voices of those whose lives were dealt with in the program. These have been reissued on CD by Topic (801 through 808 - $14.98 each). In 2006 the B.B.C. decided to revisit the concept and called on the services of John Leonard as executive producer and the brilliantly talented John Tams as music director dealing with contemporaries issues. Tams and a group of incredibly talented singers and songwriters provide the music behind and around the stories told by the participants. This first volume deals with the decline of steel making industry in Sheffield and Rotheram and more than 40 men and women were interviewed about hard shifts feeding red-hot furnaces, rolling out steel bars and slaking fierce thirsts with pints of beer. They tell stories of horror, hardship and death as well as tales of humor and stoicism. The stories and the music combine to tell a powerful and moving story that will linger with you long after hearing it. (FS)

 
VARIOUS ARTISTS Gott Discs 048 The Radio Ballads - The Enemy That Lives Within ● CD $16.98
The second volume in this powerful and moving series deals with people living with HIV/ AIDS. The spoken word part has people suffering from the virus or living with people with the virus telling their stories interspersed with songs written and performed by Jez Lowe, Chris While, Karine Polwart, Julie Matthews and John Tams.

 
VARIOUS ARTISTS Smithsonian Folkways 40166 Classic Labor Songs From Smithsonian Folkways ● CD $11.98
27 tracks, 78 min., recommended
Recordings date from the 1950s to the 1990s, and unsurprisingly, many of the finest moments come from Woodie Guthrie (1913 Massacre), Pete Seeger with the Almanac Singers (Talking Union), Mike Seeger (Cotton Mill Colic), and Hazel Dickens (Black Lung. But many lesser known, more recent performers offer fervent labor statements, including the excellent The New Harmony Sisterhood Band (Union Maid), Bobbie McGee (Bread And Roses), Larry Penn (Been Rolling So Long), Eddie Starr (I'm Union And I'm Proud), and Kenny Winfree (I'm A Union Card). The 26-page booklet is full of nifty vintage photos and informative notes. One picture shows workers holding a sign that says, "We want clothes for our children and enough for them to eat." How dare they? (JC)
THE ALMANAC SINGERS: Casey Jones (Union Scab)/ Talking Union/ HAZEL DICKENS: Black Lung/ ANNE FEENEY: We Just Come to Work Here, We Don't Come to Die/ JON FROMER: We Do the Work/ JOE GLAZER: Automation/ Solidarity Forever/ The Mill Was Made of Marble/ Too Old to Work/ We Shall Not Be Moved/Roll the Union On/ WOODY GUTHRIE: 1913 Massacre/ JOHN HANDCOX: Roll the Union On/ TOM JURAVICH: VDT/ BOBBIE MCGEE: Bread and Roses/ AGUILA NEGRA: De Colores/ NEW HARMONY SISTERHOOD BAND: Union Maid/ JOHN O'CONNOR: Carpal Tunnel/ LARRY PENN: Been Rolling So Long/ UTAH PHILLIPS: The Preacher and the Slave/ ELAINE PURKEY: One Day More/ FLORENCE REECE: Which Side Are You On?/ PAUL ROBESON: Joe Hill/ MIKE SEEGER: Cotton Mill Colic/ PEGGY SEEGER: Aragon Mill/ EDDIE STARR: I'm Union and I'm Proud/ JOE UEHLEIN: Hold the Fort/ KENNY WINFREE: I'm a Union Card

 
VARIOUS ARTISTS West Virginia University Press 8 Coal Digging Blues ● CD $15.98
19 tracks, 46 mins, highly recommended
Powerful and moving collection of field recordings made in 1940 by folklorist George Korson in West Virginia featuring songs by and about coal mining. There are three white solo singers with guitar and three African-American harmony groups. The songs deal with the trials and tribulations of life in the mines, the important changes made by the unions, conflicts within the union, the beloved Franklin D. Roosevelt and the loathed scabs. Sound quality is excellent and 20 page booklet has informative notes by Mark Allen Jackson. An invaluable and important release. (FS)

 

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