Metroland Christmas Gift Issue - 1998
CDs- Folk, Blues Bluegrass, and Celtic Music
Reviewed by Glenn Weiser  

For several years I've written an annual roundup of CD holiday gift recommendations of folk, blues, bluegrass, and Celtic music CDs for Metroland. Even though these releases are now longer new, they are still noteworthy - G.W.

In the world of folk, blues and Celtic traditions, there’s certainly been enough to write home about this year. So if you’ve got a folk aficionado in your thought balloon this holiday season, breathe easy- fat pickins await you.

Robert Lockwood Jr. gets the “Junior” in his handle from blues icon Robert Johnson, who was his unoffical stepfather and musical mentor. Even today, in his eighties, Robert Jr. can sound eerily like his legendary namesake. His I’ve Got To Find Me A Woman (Verve) finds him playing fingerpicked electric 12-string guitar in solo, duo and band settings. In “Walkin' Blues” and “Kindhearted Woman”, he pays tribute to Johnson in gritty solo versions. Joe Louis Walker pairs up with him in Roosevelt Sykes’ “Blowin’ My Horn,” as does B. B. King in “Bob and B.” Band performances include “Little Boy Blue,” “Every Day I Have The Blues,” and the title track, one of the Lockwood’s three original songs on this release.

Discovered in 1933 by John Lomax in a Louisiana prison, Leadbelly was one the greatest black singers of folk music. Shout On: The Leabelly Legacy Vol. 3 (Smithsonian Folkways) is the last volume in a series of reissues of Lead’s 1941-48 recording for Moses Asch.  On these 32 tracks the King of the 12-String Guitar plays everything from field hollers (“Ain’t Goin’ To Work No More”) to work songs (“Take This Hammer”) to blues (“National Defense Blues”). High points include the blues classic “How Long Blues,” where he is joined by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, his signature song “Midnight Special,” which also features founding folk fathers Woody Guthrie and Cisco Houston, and “Governor Pat Neff,” his successful plea for pardon which the convicted murderer sang for the governor of Texas when he visited the infamous Sugarland Prison.

In 1949 Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs broke away from Bill Monroe to form the Foggy Mountain Boys. When their “Ballad of Jed Clampett” became the theme of the “Beverly Hillbillies,” bluegrass moved out of Appalachia and into the American living room. The reissue, now complete for the first time, of their 1962 Flatt and Scruggs at Carnegie Hall (Koch) finds them at the top of their form. Flatt handles the lead vocals throughout in his rich baritone, while the fiddle, banjo, and dobro (but never the mandolin, which is conspicuous by it’s absence) shoulder the instrumental chores. All the standards you would expect are here-“Salty Dog,” “Mountain Dew,” “Wildwood Flower,” and others, and there are also small gems like Lester Flatt’s barnyard imitations on “Old MacDonald Had A Farm.” And more than anything else, there is the perfect time, tone, and taste of Scruggs’ amazing banjo, which alone makes this worth buying.

In Celtic music the distinction is made between dance tunes, known in Gaelic as Ceol Beag, or the “little music,” and slow airs, which are called Ceol Mor, or the “big music.”  The dance tunes excite and enliven, but for evoking moods of mournfulness, tranquillity, or passion, there’s nothing like an Irish or Scottish slow air. Putting On Airs (Celtophile) is an anthology of these tunes performed by leading Celtic groups and soloists on the Green Linnet label, including Altan, Relativity, Brendan Mullvihill and others. On “Elizabeth’s Air,” Gerald Trimble fingerpicks a cittern-something I had never heard before. Johnny Cunningham’s fiddle glows on the Scottish “Waulking O” The Fauld.” Mary Mooney’s captivating vocals also delight on Altan’s “An Mhaighdhean Mhara,” which loses nothing for having been sung in Gaelic. And although the liner notes don’t mention it, the inclusion of Cherish The Ladies’ “Lord Mayo” makes this a fitting holiday gift-this beautiful air was written by an Irish harper who had lost his employment as Lord Mayo’s court musician and was performed by him for Mayo on Christmas Day in what proved a successful attempt to win his position back.

And speaking of the harp, Ireland’s Kathleen Loughnane offers a fine mix of dance tunes, slow airs, and traditional harp compositions on her Affairs of the Harp (Reiskmore Music). Alone or with the accompaniment of bouzouki, guitar, accordion, tinwhistle, and even djembe, she resurrects centuries-old melodies, some of which are associated with historical events or noble personages. The gorgeous air “The Wild Geese”, for example, was sung by a group of women on an Irish shore as they watched a ship carry off their defeated menfolk into exile after the fall of Limerick in 1691. Also here are three compositions (“Lady Gethin,” “Lady Dillon,” and “Morgan Magan”) of the celebrated Irish harper Turlough O’ Carolan, who blended Baroque and traditional elements in his now famous tunes. And to round it all out, Loughnane even throws in the American hornpipe “President Garfield’s.” For sheer beauty the Celtic harp has few rivals, as Ms. Loughnane ably demonstrates here

List of Metroland Stories by Glenn Weiser   ©1998 by Glenn Weiser. All rights reserved.                      


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