Folk, Blues, Bluegrass, and Celtic CDs
Metroland Holiday Gift Guide-12/9/10
By Glenn Weiser

WITH SANTA’S ELVES FURLOUGHED DUE to recent budget cuts at the North Pole, it’s up to you to find great folk, blues, bluegrass, and Celtic music CDs for your near and dear ones. But hey, no sweat—I saw the bad news coming and scoped out some of the many noteworthy 2010 discs in these genres for you. In addition to fine new releases, there are some killer reissues to tell you about as well.

Simon and Garfunkel swiped the arrangement of their 1966 hit, “Scarborough Fair,” from Martin Carthy, a leading light of the ’60s British folk revival who also helped launch the bands Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span.

January Man (Hux) is the first official release of a live Carthy solo concert, this one dating from 1978. His magisterial performance abounds with the old English ballads that not only rank as fine music but also treasures of the English language.

On this side of the Atlantic, the trio the Carolina Chocolate Drops has in the last three years revived black string band music to critical acclaim.

Although Genuine Negro Jig (Nonesuch) is not as traditional as its predecessor, Donna’s Got a Ramblin’ Mind; in addition to foot-stomping banjo, fiddle and guitar breakdowns, the album ventures into Eastern European folksong, and maybe even some R&B-folkies will find it a delight all the same.

In the bluegrass zone, the recently formed outfit Dailey and Vincent have been earning top awards hand over fist. Their latest release, Dailey and Vincent Sing the Statler Brothers (Rounder) got best album this year from the International Bluegrass Music Association in addition to other honors. Here Dailey and Vincent reprise 12 of the favorite country band’s hits with smooth bluegrass instrumentation and their incredible harmony singing.

For the high and lonesome fan with less conventional tastes, the electric foursome Crooked Still have a new release, Some Strange Country (Signature Sounds), which was recorded during a long blizzard in Virginia last winter. Even though they don’t play traditional bluegrass, they are nonetheless performers at the annual Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in nearby Greene County. Crooked Still here weaves elements of string band music, bluegrass, and chamber music (they have a classically trained cellist) into a unique acoustic collage.

Blues hounds will love Johnny Winter’s new disc, Live at the Fillmore East (10/03/1970) (Collector’s Choice Live), which has been hailed as the Texas guitar slinger’s best live recording ever. In this recording, the albino bluesman, backed by second lead guitarist Rick Derringer, just goes postal and unleashes a landslide of hot riffs on a selection of covers and originals. Winter seems to know every blues guitar lick in the book, and his dueling counterpoint with Derringer also makes this one a must-have.

Charlie Musselwhite is for my cash the top blues harmonica player around. Although he’s been putting out albums since 1967, Musselwhite, who learned blues harp directly from the Chicago harmonica greats like Little Walter, had never made a record entirely of original songs. That changed with his latest, The Well (Alligator), though. The disc is named after the experience of Jessica McClure, a child in Texas who fell into a well and sang nursery rhymes to herself until rescuers pulled her to safety. Six of the album’s 13 songs deal with his turbulent life story, including his recovery from alcoholism, and the twin tragedies of the murder of his 93-year mother in 2005 in his hometown of Memphis and the death of his father very soon thereafter. This CD is as authentic and personal as the blues gets.

The Irish supergroup Altan began when two musician-schoolteachers in County Donnegal, founding members Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh and Frankie Kennedy, fell in love. This year the band mark their silver jubilee with 25th Anniversary Celebration (Compass), a collaboration with Dublin’s R.T.E. Orchestra on 9 songs and 6 tunes which Altanhas recorded over the years. Longhair music requires acute rhythmic precision, which can be challenging for traddies, but Altan are up to the job here. The tracks, two-thirds of which are traditional, tend to begin with the band in cameo and the orchestra joining in thereafter with arrangements crafted by Irish composer Fiachra Trench.

For the Celtic purist, however, there is Boston-based button accordionist Joe Darrane’s new album, Grove Lane (Compass). The son of Irish immigrants, Darrane was musically active during the 1940s and ’50s, but dropped out of sight for decades before resurfacing in the mid-1990s. The boxmeister composes many original tunes, and this CD features an Darrane tango and waltz. Beantown superpicker John McGann handles the backup chores, insuring the quality of this fine disc.

—GLENN WEISER

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List of Metroland Stories by Glenn Weiser                          ©2010 by Glenn Weiser. All rights reserved.