Metroland Christmas Gift Issue - 1999
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.

Shopping for someone who likes folk music, blues, or the Celtic tradition? This year has seen landmark reissues as well as plenty of fine new releases in these genres, so we just might have something for you right here.

Woody Guthrie could well be called the pater familias of American folk music. The new Smithsonian Folkways’ Woody Guthrie-The Asch Recordings Vol. 1-4 has already been hailed as the most important Guthrie collection ever; in fact, it seems unsurpassable. Recorded in the 1940’s by Moses Asch of Folkways Records, there are over 100 tracks covering the full range of his repertoire, which encompassed everything from blues to ballads to children’s songs to his own songs (yes, it even has This Land is Your Land). Woody is sometimes supported by Cisco Houston’s wonderful harmony singing, and elsewhere he is joined by Pete Seeger and also harmonica legend Sonny Terry.

As the Stanley Bothers, Ralph Stanley and his brother Carter fronted one of the first bluegrass bands. Of the two, Ralph is still alive and making music, and his new I feel Like Singing Today (Rebel), recorded with Jim Lauderdale and the Clinch Mountain Boys, proves the octogenarian tenor can do more than still hit the soaring notes that are the hallmark of the ‘high lonesome’ sound-he can send chills up your spine. Lauderdale ably delivers baritone harmonies, and the pair are backed by a crack band that includes Stanley’s son Ralph II.

The traditional Irish supergroup Patrick Street, consisting of fiddler Kevin Burke, button accordionist Jackie Daly, singer and multi-instrumentalist Andy Irvine, and fiddler and guitarist Ged Foley, have been together since 1991. Each had a previously established reputation as a Celtic heavyweight, and their music ranks among the best the Emerald Isle has to offer. Recorded while on tour in Ireland and England in 1989 and released this year, Live From Patrick Street alternates between driving jigs and reels and tender traditional songs from Irvine, whose voice is as mellow as Tullamore Dew.

For the purist, you can’t get more authentic than Rounder’s Deep River of Song: Black Appalachia-String Bands, Songsters, and Hoedowns. We usually associate Appalachian music with white old-timey bands, but these field recordings by Alan Lomax, made from 1933 to 1946, show a rarely seen side to the music of this region. The CD features tracks by the Nashville Washboard Band, Blind Pete and George Ryan, Sonny Terry and Brownie Magee, Sid Hemphill (whose granddaughter Jessie Mae has  performed in the Capital District) and others. The music is often rough-hewn, but it’s as real as a cold shower and, Terry and Magee excepted, quite rare, too.

Also from the same Rounder series, Mississippi: The Blues Lineage, recorded in between 1936 and 1942 by John, Rudy, and Alan Lomax, John Work and Lewis Jones, is a superb sampling of hard bitten Delta blues by artists famous and obscure: Son House, David “Honeyboy” Edwards, the young Muddy Waters, Frank Evans, Luscious Curtis, Willie Brown and William Brown (as for the last two, it had long been debated in blues circles whether one or two artists had recorded under the name Willie Brown; this release seems to have finally cleared up the mystery).

And if you’re stumped wondering what to get for the folkie who has everything, there is Robin Williamson’s Old Fangled Tone, (Pig’s Whisker) in which the former Incredible String Band balladeer plays traditional songs from both sides of the pond on guitar and Celtic harp to the accompaniment of a brass band consisting of cornet, euphonium, Eb tuba, and tenor horn. Recorded live in England, this has to be a one of a kind item.

List of Metroland Stories by Glenn Weiser   ©1999 by Glenn Weiser. All rights reserved.                      

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