Tag Archives: Smithsonian Folkways

Chip Taylor & The Grandkids: Golden Kids Rules

Famed songwriter sings with his granddaughters

Chip Taylor’s most widely known for his iconic rock, pop and country compositions, including “I Can’t Let Go,” “Wild Thing,” “Angel of the Morning,” “Country Girl City Man” and “Sweet Dream Woman.” His parallel recording career, including solo albums and a few charting singles in the mid-70s, never gained the renown of his writing, and spent most of the 1980s as a successful professional gambler. He crept back on to the music scene with a few albums in the ‘90s, and in 2002 he kicked off a series of collaborations with Carrie Rodriguez, which in turn led to the past decade’s recording renaissance. His latest, recorded with three granddaughters (Riley, Kate and Samantha), is the product of his long-term practice of writing songs for family events. On the occasion of his son’s marriage, Taylor wrote a trio of songs to sing with his grandkids, and the family’s response prompted this full album.

Taylor’s grizzled voice blends happily with the chirpy pre-teen tones of his granddaughters, and the songs he’s written (with co-writing from Kate on “Magical Horse”) fit their young years. The girls sing sweetly, shining on the humorous stories and confident on the more serious lyrics. The former will catch your kids’ ears for sing-along on first pass, but it’s the weightier lyrics that introduce the deeper pleasures of songs. Taylor’s songs allow his grandkids to be kids, suggesting they “learn stuff about stuff you don’t know,” take time to wander into their imaginations, and ask questions. There are messages for adults as well, reminding parents that kids have ideas and dreams that need to be heard, and that they can be empowered to care for others and for the planet.

The three songs originally recorded for Taylor’s son’s wedding close the collection, including the terrific second-line inflected soul of “The Possum Hunter,” a father’s clever and warm advisory “Happy Wedding,” and the hopeful “Now That Kristian and Anna Have Wed.” The album is charming and, particularly given Taylor’s depth as a songwriter, the quality of his assembled band, and the freshness of his granddaughters’ singing, a welcome respite from the bulk of purpose-built children’s music. The collection’s release on Smithsonian Folkways puts it in remarkable company, alongside classic albums from Pete Seeger, Ella Jenkins, Alan Mills and many others. Take a break from Barney and the Wiggles, and let Chip Taylor and his granddaughters entertain you. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Golden Kids’ Rules
Smithsonian Folkways’ Home Page

Tom Glazer: A Treasury of Civil War Songs

Rich collection of mid-nineteenth century American songs

In remembrance of the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, Smithsonian Folkways has reissued Tom Glazer’s 1973 collection of wartime songs. Many of these compositions are so deeply ingrained into the American musical lexicon that listeners have all but stopped thinking about their origins. So while it’s unsurprising that “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Dixie” were each canonized amid the War Between the States, it’s surprising to find that “The Yellow Rose of Texas” (whose period lyrics will make twenty-first century sensibilities wince) and “Goober Peas” were also created amid the songwriting boom of the nineteenth century. The rise of song publishing was fueled not only by a growing American appetite for music making, but the development of war reporting in all manner of written form. Topical songwriting became a way of recording events, defining sides and rallying support. The folk tradition (and loosely-formed nineteenth-century sense of intellectual property) is heard in the sharing of melodies between “John Brown’s Body” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” as well as “Maryland, My Maryland” borrowing its tune from “O Tannenbaum.” Glazer and a backing chorus sing mostly to a solo guitar, reflecting an era when music lovers were more likely to engage in making music than listen to it. The reissue’s booklet includes period photos of soldiers, musicians and most interestingly, soldier musicians, as well as extensive historical and song notes from University of Maryland musicologist Patrick Warfield. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | When Johnny Comes Marching Home
Smithsonian Folkways’ Home Page

Ola Belle Reed: Rising Sun Melodies

Pioneering Appalachian singer, songwriter and string player

Ola Belle Reed is destined for repeated rediscovery. An Appalachian singer steeped in the mix of folk styles born of America’s melting pot, she was discovered at her family’s country music park, by 1950s folk revivalists. By that time she’d already been playing and singing for several decades, and her national emergence at the 1969 Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife showcased a talent that was pure in its folk roots and mature in its expression. Her appearances resulted in recordings for the Folkways label and a 1976 audio documentary, My Epitaph. Her songs have been recorded by Marty Stuart, Del McCoury, the Louvin Brothers and Hot Rize, but it’s her own versions that best capture the folk tradition that she so fully embodied. Belle looked, dressed, talked and performed as a folk musician – part of a folk community rather than a commercially-bred folk scene.

Reed was bred among musicians: her father was a fiddler, one uncle ran a singing school and another taught her to play clawhammer banjo. Her father, uncle and aunt started a band in the early decades of the twentieth century, and Ola Belle and her brother Alex played in the North Carolina Ridge Runners before forming their own band in the late 1940s. Her husband Bud was also a musician, and his family combined with Reed’s to open the New River Ranch country music park. The park hosted most of Nashville’s major stars and many of Wheeling’s best acts, with Ola and Alex’s New River Boys and Girls serving as the opening act and house band. Oddly, at the crucial moment when Gei Zantzinger arrived to record the group, Alex chose not to participate – leaving the recording to be billed under Ola Belle’s name.

This set of nineteen tracks collects eleven from her previously released Folkways LPs and adds eight previously unreleased cuts from 1972 and 1976 archival recordings. The titles include Belle’s best-known originals, including the oft-covered “I’ve Endured” and “High on the Mountain,” as well as terrific renditions of fiddle tunes, mountain songs and nineteenth century standards that include “Bonaparte’s Retreat,” “Foggy Mountain Top,” and “Look Down That Lonesome Road.” Her son David Reed provides harmony on Ralph Stanley’s gospel “I Am the Man, Thomas,” but its her solo vocals that show how thoroughly she could imbue a lyric with aching loneliness. As she says in introducing “Undone in Sorrow,” “When I do a song that is as old as the hills and has the oldest flavor, as Betsy said, ‘If it’s a sad sad sad mournful song, when I get done with it, it’ll be pitiful’.”

Reed’s strength as a musician was matched by her humanitarianism as a Christian, both of which you can hear in the life force with which she leads her group through the disc-closing (and previously unreleased) rendition of “Here Comes the Light.” As she’s quoted saying in the 40-page booklet: “That’s what I am saying, that you cannot separate your music from your lifestyle. You cannot separate your lifestyle, your religion, and your politics from your music, it’s part of life.” Jeff Place’s extensive liner notes do a terrific job of telling Reed’s story through quotes, interviews and archival photos. If you haven’t already been clued in to Reed’s original recordings, this is an exemplary way to make their acquaintance. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Ola Belle Music Festival