Posts Tagged ‘Folk’

Various Artists: Woody Guthrie – The Tribute Concerts

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017

Lavish expansion of 1968 and 1970 Woody Guthrie tribute concerts

Bear Family’s lavish three CD, two book set collects material from two live tribute shows, featuring performances by Arlo Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Judy Collins, Bob Dylan (his first appearance after his motorcycle accident), Odetta, Joan Baez, Richie Havens, Jack Elliott, Country Joe McDonald, Tom Paxton and Earl Robinson, along with narration from actors Robert Ryan, Will Geer and Peter Fonda. The first tribute included an afternoon/evening pair of concerts staged at Carnegie Hall in 1968, the second tribute was staged at the Hollywood Bowl in 1970. Material from both tributes was released in edited, collated and resequenced form on a pair of 1972 LPs, Part 1 on Columbia and Part 2 on Warner Brothers, and eventually reissued on CD and MP3.

In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of Guthrie’s passing, Bear Family has gathered all of the extant concert materials – including the entire Hollywood Bowl concert – to recreate the original, scripted concerts by adding back narration and musical performances that were elided from the LPs, and adding in interview clips that shed light on Guthrie and the productions. The three CDs are fitted into the back cover of a 160-page hardbound book that overflows with photos, essays, press clippings, remembrances, artist and production staff biographies, ephemera, notes on production, recording and filming, a discography, a bibliography and a filmography. The book is housed in a heavy-duty slipcase alongside a reproduction of the 1972 volume, The TRO Woody Guthrie Concert Book, which itself includes photos, sheet music, and song notes from Guthrie and Millard Lampell. All together, the package weighs in at over five pounds!

Lampell’s script for the shows threads together Guthrie’s songs and autobiographical writing, Lampell’s script tells Guthrie’s story through the people he met, the stories he sang and the musicians he influenced. Highlights of the New York shows include Will Geer’s knowing tone in describing his longtime comrade, the then-recently minted starlight of Arlo Guthrie shining on his father’s “Oklahoma Hills,” the sound of Pete Seeger’s banjo and his physical embodiment of the folk movement’s hard-fought roots, and Tom Paxton’s mournful “Pastures of Plenty.” Dylan’s band-based triptych stands apart from the more traditional folk arrangements of his castmates, and shows the directions he’d been developing during his eighteen month hiatus.

For all the camaraderie and good feelings of the Carnegie shows, they weren’t without controversy, as Phil Ochs’ snub led to the deeply bitter feelings recounted in his interview. Ochs’ was particularly critical of Judy Collins and Richie Havens, the latter of whom had only then recently released his debut and performed at Woodstock. But Ochs’ recriminations were misplaced, as both artists commune with Guthrie’s legacy; Collins’ embrace of “Plane Wreck At Los Gatos (Deportee)” is tear inducing, and Havens’ slow, rhythmic performance of “Vigilante Man” is hypnotic. The show closed with the cast singing Guthrie’s alternate national anthem, “This Land is Your Land,” sending the audience out to share Guthrie’s music with the world.

The Los Angeles show largely repeated the script from New York, with Peter Fonda replacing Robert Ryan in the co-narrator chair, and Arlo Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Odetta, Jack Elliott and Richie Havens newly joined by Joan Baez, Country Joe McDonald, Earl Robinson and a house band that included Ry Cooder. Dylan’s semi-electric set felt like an outlier among the acoustic arrangements of 1968, but by 1970, the house band is heard throughout much of the Hollywood Bowl program. Stretching the songs further from their acoustic origins emphasizes their their continued relevance as artistic and social capital. The band-backed songs also provide contrast to acoustic numbers such as Baez and Seeger’s audience sing-a-long “So Long, It’s Been Good To Know Yuh.”

Baez sings both “Hobo’s Lullaby” with empathy and tenderness, and the band’s support on Odetta’s “Ramblin’ Round” inspires a looser performance than she gave in New York. Country Joe McDonald, who began his solo career the year before with Thinking of Woody Guthrie, sings a rousing version of “Pretty Boy Floyd” and provides original music for the previously unrecorded Guthrie lyric “Woman at Home.” Woody Guthrie’s performance style echoed most strongly in Ramblin’ Jack Elliott’s “1913 Massacre,” and placed back-to-back with Arlo Guthrie’s blues-rock take on “Do Re Mi,” highlights how amendable the songs are to reinvention.

The Los Angeles recording is more detailed than the tapes made from the house system in New York, and though it’s musically rich, with Guthrie’s passing two years further in the past, it doesn’t feel as urgent as the earlier shows. Disc three is filled out with interview clips that shed light on Guthrie and the tribute concerts. As Arlo Guthrie recounts in interview, and Lampell echoes in his opening essay, Guthrie had developed a legacy in the ‘30s and ‘40s, but it was the folk revival that really cemented his popular artistic immortality. The tribute concerts consolidated the discovery of the revival, acknowledging the original context in which Guthrie wrote, and renewing his songs’ significance by highlighting their ongoing relevance to then-current issues. The shows employed the folk tradition as stagecraft.

The interview segments are interesting for their mix of accurate and misremembered moments. Arlo Guthrie remembers the New York shows as benefits for the Guthrie children, when they were actually fundraisers for the newly formed Huntington Chorea organization. Rick Robbins remembers Dylan having been an unannounced surprise guest, when his role was actually advertised beforehand. This set is deluxe, even by Bear Family’s uniquely high standards, but it rests comfortably on two memorable concerts. Those seeking only a taste of the concerts might check out the CD reissue of the original concert albums. But for a fully immersive experience, this two-book, three-CD set is a welcome gift for the holidays. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Woody Guthrie Website

Peter Case: On the Way Downtown – Recorded Live on FolkScene

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

Peter Case’s on-stage magic from 1998 and 2000

Peter Case has had a music career that few of his contemporaries can match. Breaking in with Jack Lee and Paul Collins as the Nerves, no one would have guessed it was the beginning of a musical road that’s now stretched more than forty years. Case’s second band, the Plimsouls, garnered a major label contract, tours and an appearance in Valley Girl, but this too ended up as prelude to a solo career launched by his eponymous 1986 album. Unlike the rock ‘n’ roll of his earlier bands, his solo work – both on record and in performance – put a greater focus on his songwriting, and it’s that songwriting that’s highlighted in these tracks taken from live radio performances in 1998 and 2000.

Both performances are drawn from Case’s appearances on KPFK’s FolkScene. The earlier set highlights material from Case’s Full Service, No Waiting, while the latter set combines material from Flying Saucer Blues and earlier releases, and adds covers of Mississippi John Hurt and Charlie Poole. Both sets were engineered by FolkScene’s resident engineer, Peter Cutler, and sparkle with the show’s warmth and Case’s creativity. Case is joined by the Full Service album band for the 1998 set, and by violinist David Perales for the later tracks.

At 40, Case was thinking deeply about the path from his childhood to his present. The title track is filled with the memories an ex-pat relishes in revisiting his hometown, while “See Through Eyes” laments the incursion of doubt that middle age brings. Case remembers his San Francisco years in “Green Blanket (Part 1)” and “Still Playin’,” and explores the roots of his rambling in the acoustic “Crooked Mile.” The first set closes with the adolescently hopeful “Until the Next Time,” while the second set opens in a more present frame of mind with “Something Happens.” Two years on, Case was still remembering notable moments from his past, but also looking forward.

The songs easily fit the band setting, but the starker guitar-and-violin arrangements of the second set provide Case’s singing and lyrics a more intense spotlight. He slips easily into the acoustic picking of Mississippi John Hurt’s “Pay Day” and wears the lyric with a familiarity that belies its mid-60s origins. Case moves easily between blues and folk, and Parales violin provides moody underlines, rapidly bowed sparks and intricate, emotional accompaniment, highlighted by his ornamental line on “Beyond the Blues.” Peter Cutler’s recording is clean and unaffected, and presents Case as you might expect to hear him in a club or on a street corner, with his musical magic at full power. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Peter Case’s Home Page

Various Artists: The Roots of Popular Music – The Ralph S. Peer Story

Monday, October 30th, 2017

The recordings and song publishing of a legend

It’s hard to imagine someone more important to American popular music than Ralph S. Peer. His pioneering achievements in blues, country, jazz and Latin music vaulted him into the highest echelon of A&R, and his career as a publisher built a foundational catalog that remains sturdy to this day. Peer’s recordings of Mamie Smith, Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family, and a publishing catalog that stretched from Bill Monroe to Perez Prado to Hoagy Carmichael to Buddy Holly speaks to his ears for originality and his unprejudiced love of music. His talent for placing songs with singers exemplifies the sort of contribution a non-musician can make to music, and his extrapolation of regional and societal niches into popular phenomena speaks to a vision unclouded by the status quo.

Ralph Peer was not the only producer to explore the musical landscape of the United States, but unlike his peer John Lomax, Peer was less a folklorist, and more a producer whose studio was in the trunk of his car. In 1927 he discovered Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family in a single session in Bristol, Tennessee, and found additional success prospecting in Latin America. His interests in musical areas outside the popular mainstream led him to back the newly formed BMI, which in turn would spur the growth of radio as a medium for records, rather than live performances. The fruits of those labors are heard here in the songs he placed with Jimmy Dorsey, Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley and others.

The chronological running order of the first two discs gives listeners a sense of how Peer had his fingers in multiple genres at once. The enduring legacy of his work as a publisher is heard on disc 3, in recordings of songs whose appeal continued to grow after Peer’s 1960 death. The focus on Peer’s publishing catalog leaves out many of his landmark recordings, such as Fiddlin’ John Carson’s “Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane.” The hardcover book includes notes from Peer biographer Barry Mazor, photographs and artifacts, but its lack of discourse on the set’s musical selections renders it more of an exhibit catalog than the liner notes for a fifty-song anthology. Pick up Mazor’s book, and the combination will tell you the story in words and music. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

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Tom Armstrong: The Sky is an Empty Eye

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

Superb private press album of guitar instrumentals

When you can make a record with a USB microphone and cloud-based recording, it’s hard to remember the revolution that was home recording. TEAC’s 4-track reel-to-reel recorders (and TASCAM’s later cassette-based Portastudio) for the semi-pro market allowed home recordists to multi-track and overdub without the overbearing expense (and ticking clock) of studio time. Some of these sessions ended up in the commercial market, but many were unspooled only for friends and family, or circulated in local vinyl pressings. Tompkins Square sampled several of these small batch recordings on Imaginational Anthem, Vol. 8: The Private Press, and now expands on the theme with this first of several planned full album reissues.

Tom Armstrong had hung around the edges of the music business, playing bars and open mics, but when his engineering career took off, dreams of a professional music career were put aside. But a 4-track gifted to him by his wife kept his guitar playing alive, and provided a creative outlet into which he poured this original music. Though he kept recording for more than a decade, this is the one collection of songs he had mastered and pressed to vinyl, handing out copies mostly to friends and business associates. He favors meditative acoustic tracks, such as the harmonic-filled opener and the somnambulistic “Dream Waltz,” but he adds dripping neo-psych notes to “Keller,” picks electric slide on “The Thing,” and sings the title track.

The album’s variety might have driven a market-seeking record label crazy, but it’s exactly that free-spiritedness that gives the album its charm. The segue from the finger-picked electric “Mama’s Baby” to the echoed, nearly discordant “Bebop” suggests the evolution of blues into jazz, and the album continues to evolve as it closes with the driving spaciness of “Thunder Clouds.” Most of the arrangements appear to be two or maybe three guitars, sometimes rhythm and lead, often interleaving in original ways. Armstrong’s technique is good, but it’s his musical imagination and the freedom to follow his muse without commercial pressure that really gives these recordings their power. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Tompkins Square’s Home Page

Willie Nile: Positively Bob

Friday, June 30th, 2017

An acolyte pays tribute to Bob Dylan

Given the influence Dylan’s had on Nile’s singing and writing voices, this set of ten covers is a natural. That said, the reverence in which Dylan’s catalog is held and the lengthy history of Dylan tributes can make an album of covers quite fraught. Navigating a line between sacrosanct devotion and reactionary irreverence requires an artist who’s as familiar with himself as he is with Dylan. It takes someone with youthful naivete or aged confidence to avoid being intimidated into pale imitation. Luckily, Nile is both: an elder statesman whose lengthy experience has never eclipsed his youthful enthusiasm. The renaissance of his career’s third phase has proven rock ‘n’ roll the most potent elixir of youth.

Nile’s maturity and self assuredness allows him to revel in the Dylanesque tone of his voice, proving it not an imitation but a natural derivation. For him to sing these songs in any other voice would be a cop out, and so the nasal tone of Dylan’s originals are heard in these covers, even as Nile’s more sing-song delivery brands the interpretations as original. Like others before – including Dylan himself – Nile takes some liberties with the arrangements, but nothing that loses the songs’ souls or plays as attention-getting novelties. The selections stick primarily to well-known Dylan material from the early-to-mid ‘60s, stretching past this pivotal early period for the mid-70s “Abandoned Love” and early ‘80s “Every Grain of Sand.”

Nile was a teenager when Dylan (and Peter, Paul & Mary) burst forth with “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and it’s clear that the power of the song’s revelatory rhetoric hasn’t faded. Nile sings “The Times They Are A-Changin” and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” with a zeal that’s not just undimmed by the passing years, but renewed by experience. Dylan’s clarion calls, poetic flights and love songs resound with both history and currency as their joys and ills have come around again and again. Album highlights include a beautiful take on the oft-covered “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” and a warm, family-styled reading of “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.” Dylan’s songs harbor personal import and shared experience, and Nile reminds of both with these touching performances. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Willie Nile’s Home Page

Rosebud: Rosebud

Friday, June 23rd, 2017

Bonus-laden reissue of 1971 one-off w/Judy Henske and Jerry Yester

Although Henske and Yester are both well-known, this one-off collaboration under the group name “Rosebud” has remained surprisingly obscure. Henske had come up through the coffee houses and folk revival of the early ‘60s, notching a pair of albums for the Elektra label in 1963-4. Yester had likewise played the folk clubs, with his brother Jim and as a member of the New Christy Minstrels and Modern Folk Quartet, before finding even greater commercial success as a producer. Henske, Yester and Zal Yanovsky (whom Yester had replaced in the Lovin’ Spoonful) released the eclectic Farewell Aldebaran on Frank Zappa’s Straight label, and two years later Henske and Yester teamed with Craig Doerge, David Vaught and John Seiter for this short-lived group’s one and only album.

Rosebud retains the musical eclecticism of Farewell Aldebaran, though not its sonic experimentation. The album is highlighted by the group’s tight execution of Yester’s superb vocal charts, and though Henske’s extraordinary voice is prominently featured, Yester, Doerge and Seiter all get leads. The songs, written by various groupings of Henske, Yester and Doerge, fit the singer-songwriter vibe of early ‘70s Southern California, with touches of country rock and 1960s San Francisco. “Roll Home Cheyanne” is redolent with the atmosphere of big sky country, and “Reno” (included here in both its album and single versions) would have fit easily into the Jefferson Airplane’s set. The harmonies take a baroque turn for the harpsichord-lined “Lullabye II” and to gospel rock with “Salvation.”

The album’s emotional high point comes in the chorus of “Western Wisconsin” as the group’s harmony singing vanquishes any hint of treacle in the lyrics’ sentiment. The legendary steel player Buddy Emmons is heard on “Yum Yum Man,” and again on the bonus track “Easy On Me, Easy.” Though justly proud of their album, the group split after only a few live performances, amid Henske’s separation from Yester, and before the group gained any traction. Most listeners will be surprised by the group’s mere existence, but those already familiar with the album will be shocked by the quality of the material that was left in the vault. Omnivore doubles the album’s original ten tracks with singles and seven previously unreleased recordings, along with new liners by Barry Alfonso. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Craig Doerge’s Home Page
Judy Henske’s Home Page
Jerry Yester’s Home Page

The Cherry Hill Singers: An Exciting New Folk Group

Saturday, March 11th, 2017

Early ‘60s folk revivalists with bright futures ahead

The Cherry Hill Singers were one the many folk revival bands to follow in the form of the Kingston Trio. What makes them distinct are the futures of their members, Michael Whalen, who would go on to replace Barry McGuire in the New Christy Minstrels, and Ted Bluechel, who would become a charter member of the Association. The dozen tracks on this 1964 release are standard folk-revival fare, with strong harmonies, acoustic guitars, bass and banjo, all rendered in wide stereo. This is a nice period piece, though not one of the era’s more adventurous recordings. [©2017 hyperbolium dot com]

Guy Clark: The Best of the Dualtone Years

Friday, March 10th, 2017

Selections from his last three albums, plus demos

The Nashville-based Dualtone label has an enviable catalog, including albums by the Lumineers, Shovels & Rope, and perhaps most precious of all, Guy Clark. Clark arrived at Dualtone in 2006 as an oft-covered songwriter and a well-loved recording artist. His three studio albums for the label were each nominated for a Grammy, and 2013’s My Favorite Picture of You took home the trophy. Clark’s May 2016 passing turned these recordings into a capstone to a thirty-nine year career that made earlier stops at RCA, Warner Brothers, Asylum and Sugar Hill. Dualtone’s 19-track collection cherrypicks Clark’s three studio albums and his 2011 live release Songs and Stories, and adds a trio of previously unreleased demos that were co-written with Hal Ketchum, Marty Stuart and Holly Gleason.

No song in this collection is more emblematic of Clark’s observational powers than “My Favorite Picture of You,” in which he draws a lifetime’s worth of knowing – “a thousand words / in the blink of an eye” – from a bent and faded snapshot of his wife. Elsewhere in the collection he turns a thrift store guitar into a ghost story, and under his watchful gaze, a roadhouse parking lot harbors the drama and detail of a novella. The dreamlike interior of that dancehall is extolled in “Cornmeal Waltz” as a fiddle moves dancers gently around the floor in three-four time. Clark was a writer’s writer, musing on the physical and psychic costs of his art in “Hemingway’s Whiskey” and turning fierce weather into humorous poetry with “Tornado Time in Texas.”

The live tracks add several of Clark’s most-loved songs to the collection, including “L.A. Freeway,” “Homegrown Tomatoes,” and “The Randall Knife.” The former features a mid-song monologue that further illuminates Clark’s poor fit in Los Angeles, while the latter draws a portrait of his grief from an elegy to his father. Clark’s mantle as a songwriter is represented by songs that were covered by Kenny Chesney, Jerry Jeff Walker, Brad Paisley and John Denver, and his influences by a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You.” The three newly uncovered recordings that end disc two are guitar-and-voice songwriter demos that emphasize the songs’ folkloric qualities. The tri-fold digipak includes liner notes by Gleason and spreads 68 minutes of music across two discs. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Guy Clark’s Bandcamp Page

Scott Nolan: Silverhill

Monday, February 27th, 2017

A singer-songwriter balances hope against defeat

There are several shades of weariness in Scott Nolan’s latest album. He’s exhausted by a lifetime of emotional weight on his shoulders, both his own, and that which he’s assumed, and his soul seems worn by having to tell these stories. It’s a tone that effectively brings the listener into both the confidence of the story and of the singer. Nolan sings of emotional dead ends and the positive expectations that make them all the more depressing, drawing fragmented details that reveal a shared picture in the chorus. He opens the album with a canny observation of the dichotomy between temporality and immortality, surrendering to the inevitability of change while still seeking to guide its course. He may feint to fatalism, but there’s a current of hope animating his songs.

Recorded in Alabama with the band Willie Sugarcapps, the tempos are contemplative, almost tentative in spots, as the group discovered the songs live, without rehearsal. The result taps into the slower pace of the South, and turns the session into an intimate performance. Nolan draws on childhood nostalgia for “Fire Up,” but it’s tinted blue by innocence lost. Grayson Capps opens “Curl & Curves” inhaling and exhaling long notes on his harmonica, building up the nerve of Nolan’s quest for love – something that turns hoarse with sleepless expectation on “When Can I See You Again.” The album is beautifully crafted without being overworked, and closes with a pair of melancholy portraits that touch on the moods of John Prine and Neil Young. Nolan may be haggard, but he’s not defeated, and his music harbors a spark of hope. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Scott Nolan’s Home Page

Joe Goodkin: Record of Loss

Sunday, February 12th, 2017

A singer-songwriter’s contemplative view of loss

On the second of a planned three-EP series, singer-songwriter Joe Goodkin continues to mine a deep streak of observation and self awareness. The first EP, Record of Life essayed a catalog of loss, regret and memory, rendered in detailed, personal images. This follow-up segues with the emotional fallout of its predecessor, recounting his losses nightly on tour, suffering additional bereavement, and finding that success doesn’t fully fill those voids. This time out he continues to sing of those he’s seen suffer and those he’s lost, but framed as celebrations of the remarkable and eulogies of the beloved, rather than lamentations of difficulty or loss. He’s mindful to appreciate what’s in front of him, rather than lament what’s gone, and to use each loss as an opportunity to refocus on what remains. The powerful closer, “For the Loss,” provides a rarely heard man’s viewpoint on the emotional consequences of abortion. Goodkin’s production, using only a 1963 Gibson ES-125T for backing, is remarkable as well. His multi-miked and overdubbed guitar creates a multitude of sounds, and vocals mixed from close-in and room mics build atmosphere around his singular voice. The third EP in the project, Record of Love, is due Summer 2017, but the first two parts stand strongly on their own and pair nicely as two-thirds of the full project. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Joe Goodkin’s Home Page