Metroland Christmas Gift Issue - 1997
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.

One of the amenities of Christmas shopping is that you can often get to choose between the latest and the timeless. This is particularly true of music. In the realm of folk, blues, and the Celtic traditions, 1997 has
seen many worthwhile new releases as well as important reissues of classic recordings. If you're planning on a gift for an acoustic music fan, here are some strong possibilities  ranging in size from box sets to single CDs.

Doc Watson- The Vanguard Years (Vanguard). In 1962,  North Carolinian guitarist Doc Watson debuted at the Ash Grove in Los Angeles and amazed the folk cognoscenti with his flatpicking technique. During the following eight years he recorded what would remain the core of hisrepertory for Vanguard. This four CD box set has all the essential Watson - Black Mountain Rag, I am a Pilgrim, Cannonball Rag, Spike Drivers Blues, and more. In addition to his fabulous guitar work, Doc also plays banjo, harmonica, and sings in a sturdy baritone. Perfect for
a guitar player.

Anthology of American Folk Music-compiled by Harry Smith (Smithsonian Folkways). Originally released in 1952, this six CD set was the first exposure many folk fans had to the sounds of country blues, string band
music, and ballads as performed by rural artists rather than urban folksingers. It includes performances by the Carter Family, Mississippi John Hurt (these are from Hurt?s 1928 sessions-he wasn't rediscovered until the early 60's), The Memphis Jug Band, Clarence Ashley, Doc Boggs, and others. The set comes with a 68 page booklet containing essays on the music by Greil Marcus and others. And if all this wasn't tempting enough, the sixth disc in the set is a CD-Rom with video footage of performances, artist interviews, and background  information.

The Tannehill Weavers-Choice Cuts-1987-1996 - The Tannehill Weavers (Green Linnet ). Scotland's Tannehill Weavers are a mainstay of the Celtic music scene; this retrospective features their best work over the last decade. a mix of dance tunes, slow airs, and songs, you'll find favorites such as Wild Mountain Tyme, Are You Sleeping, Maggie, and The Blackbird.

No Boundaries-Natalie MacMaster (Rounder)- If you saw Cape Breton's fiddle whiz Natalie MacMaster at this year's Scottish Games in Altamont, you've probably recovered from the sight of her dancing and fiddling a jig at the same time. All of her previous releases have been within the sphere of traditional Cape Breton fiddling; here she mingles forays into new territory with  the fare she is known for. Here she can be heard performing the Texas showpiece Beaumont Rag, an Italian polka (yes, polkas are found in places other than Poland), fronting vocalist Bruce Guthro (the first time she has recorded with a singer that I know of), and even teams up with six other fiddles and two cellos for the  F. Scott Skinner tune Silverwells. A landmark fiddle album.

Negro Blues and Hollers-compiled by Alan Lomax (Rounder). During 1941-42, folk music collector Alan Lomax went to Mississippi and East Texas for the Library of Congress and made many invaluable field
recordings of country blues. It was on this expedition that he discovered Muddy Waters, David "Honeyboy" Edwards, and also recorded Son House for the first time since the late 20's.This CD features cuts by House, Edwards, a couple of old-time black choirs, and other blues artists, most importantly the enigmatic Willie Brown (of whom Eric Clapton sings in the last verse of Crossroads). Whether or not there were one or two Willie Browns is a subject debated by blues scholars, but this aside, his famous  Mississippi Blues is back in print after
many years. An intricate, pianistic guitar piece, this cut is worth the price of the CD alone.

Martin Simpson Live-Martin Simpson (Red House). Metroland's own David Malachowski, in reviewing a live performance of English fingerpicker Martin Simpson last year (at which I was also present), called him the
best acoustic guitarist he'd ever seen. Now you can hear for yourself what earned this superlative on Simpson's newest release, recorded at Oxford University in 1994. Eclecticism is a tradition among fingerstye
guitarists, and Simpson uses this freedom to offer us bottleneck blues (Forgotten the Blues), English ballads (Lady Gregory and Betsy the Serving Maid), and an original song (Dreamtime). His chops go into
overdrive on the lightning fast Broke Down Engine and Long Steel Rail.This a worthy representation of this great musician's abilities.

List of Metroland Stories by Glenn Weiser   1997 by Glenn Weiser. All rights reserved. 


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