Metroland 2005 Holiday Gift Guide
Folk, Blues, Bluegrass and Celtic CDs
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by Glenn Weiser

Folk, Blues, Bluegrass and Celtic

So you need some gift ideas for folk, blues, bluegrass, or Celtic music CDs, eh? I thought you might, given just how good roots music can really get, so Iíve rummaged through some local record bins for you to find hot 2005 releases in these genres. Hereís what worth your Christmas cash:

2005 saw the airing of No Direction Home, Martin Scorceseís masterful two-part PBS documentary of Dylanís career up to 1966. A soundtrack album is out, and the 20 previously unissued studio outtakes and live tracks of this Sony two-CD set, No Direction Home: The Soundtrack (The Bootleg Series, Vol. 7), are a well-chosen chronicle of Dylanís earlier music. The first disc covers Dylanís beginnings as an earnest, groundbreaking folk songwriter, and the second his controversial switch to playing with electric backing band and writing songs with frequently surrealistic lyrics. (Regarding this shift, John Lennon said Dylan got away with murder. Never was there so glorious a crime).

During the early 1960ís, Peter, Paul, and Mary were Americaís top folk act. Even though they were recruited by talent manger Albert Grossman as an expressly commercial venture, the trio nonetheless crooned their way into our hearts and onto the charts. The Very Best of Peter Paul and Mary (Warner Brothers/Rhino) has 25 of their essential songs, and is a great pick for that baby boomer in your life.

For blues fans, thereís Fuel 2000ís seven-CD blockbuster collection, The History of the Blues (87 Authentic Blues Songs). It begins with 1920s country blues greats Charlie Patton and Blind Lemon Jefferson, and continues in the prewar acoustic vein with artists such as Son House, Mississippi John Hurt, and Mississippi Fred McDowell, Tommy Johnson, and Memphis Minnie, the first successful woman blues singer-guitarist. The latter discs feature the post-WWII electrified blues of Shakey Horton, Johnny Copeland, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Pee Wee Crayton, and others. Itís a lot of great blues in one package.

Best of the Bluesó50 Favorites (Madacy) is a smaller, three-disc box set concentrating on postwar and modern artists like B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, Johnny Otis, and Memphis Slim, as well as more obscure figures such as Baby Washington and Joe Liggins. 1960s boogiemeisters Canned Heat and New Orleans piano professor Dr. John are included to make this one a worthwhile collection.

In the bluegrass realm, one of the best releases of the year is the reissued and remastered 1964 all-instrumental Kentucky Colonels album, Appalachian Swing (S&P). The amazing guitar playing of the then-19-year-old Clarence White established the instrument as a full-fledged lead bluegrass voice with this record, making Appalachian Swing a milestone in history of the genre. Three bonus tracks have been added to the original 12.

If youíre shopping for a bluegrass traditionalista, a good bet is Classic Bluegrass, Vol. 2 (Smithsonian Folkways). The 28 tracks of the second volume are a generous helping of pickiní and singiní, and include cuts by Bill Monroe, Red Allen, Doc Watson, the Country Gentleman, and Hazel Dickens, as well as lesser known artists like the Friendly City Playboys, Ola Bell Reed, and the Georgia Pals. (The first volume of this series, by the way, appeared in 2003.)

For the Celtic fans, the all-female Irish-American ensemble Cherish the Ladies have a new release, Woman of the House (Rounder), that some critics are calling the groupís best yet. The bandleader, Joanie Madden, is considered one of the finest players of the Irish flute and the pennywhistle, and the other Ladies are no slouches either. Recorded in Scotland and America, the 11-track album consists of five mostly traditional songs and six medleys of dance tunes. Guest artists include Irish accordionist Sharon Shannon, British folkie Kate Rusby and Karen Matheson of Capercaille.

Born in Chicago of Irish parents, Liz Carroll went back to the Old Sod in 1975 at 18 and won the All-Ireland Senior Fiddle Championship. Her new 13-track Compass CD, In Play, reflects a more intimate side of Celtic musicóhere she performs mesmerizing airs and dance tunes accompanied only by the harmonically edgy guitar and bouzouki ace John Doyle. Unlike most Celtic musicians, Carroll also composes tunes, and many on the disc are her own.

Index of Metroland Articles by Glenn Weiser    ©200 by Glenn Weiser. All rights reserved.  

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