Metroland Christmas Gift Issue - 2002
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.

As well as releases in the folk-blues-Celtic-bluegrass world that stay within their stylistic boundaries, 2002 has given us some fine cross-genre efforts, and also some rootsy tributes to pop music. But if you’re shopping for a purist rather than an eclectic listener, plenty of music that sticks to its guns awaits you in local record bins. Here’s my picks:

The Blues White Album (Telarc) features a stable of blues heavyweights paying homage to the 1968 Beatles masterpiece, largely written when the Fab Four were in India mediating with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Its 10 cuts feature harmonica ace Charlie Musselwhite, chanteuse Maria Muldar, and guitarists Jim Thackeray, Lucky Peterson, Keny Neal, Joe Louis Walker and others backed by G.E Smith on guitar, T-Bone Volk on bass, Peter Re on organ, and Steve Holley on Drums. Covering Beatles tunes is an ambitious undertaking –you’ll never improve on the originals- but a blues fan will enjoy the interpretations of these timeless songs.

The late Texas guitarslinger Johnny Copeland’s daughter Shemekia has blossomed into an acclaimed blues singer, bowling over the crowd at the Fleet Blues Fest here last year. Talking to Strangers (Alligator), produced by Dr John and backed by his smokin’ band on all 15 tracks, is her finest to date and has been called the best blues album of the year. As you might expect, the Night Tripper’s presence gives this a strong New Orleans flavor, but bear in mind the earliest known blues (Joe Turner’s Blues, circa 1890) was heard in the Crescent City. You can’t miss with this one.

This summer, Billboard magazine signaled the arrival of bluegrass as a major music category by listing the genre’s top 20 CDs. Singer and banjoist Ralph Stanley has been playing this music since 1946, when he and brother Carter first led the Clinch Mountain Boys, and is now its elder statesman. The Very Best of Ralph Stanley (Audium Entertainment) features a compilation of 16 of his finest performances covering the long span of his career. Another nod to pop is Bluegrass goes to Town (Rounder 11661-0511-2).It’s 16 tracks feature hits by Elvis, Roy Orbison, Janis Joplin, Simon and Garfunkel, the Beatles, The Grateful Dead, and the Everley Brothers performed by pickers and crooners such as Alison Kraus, The Cox Family, J.D. Crowe and the New South, Tasty Licks, The Rice Bothers, Tony Trischka and others. Many of these Top 40 songs adapt to the “high lonesome sound” surprisingly well.

The Chieftains deserve much of the credit for putting Celtic music on the modern day map. Their latest offering, Down the Old Plank Road-The Nashville Sessions (RCA Victor), is yet another tasteful blending of genres in which the band is joined by Lyle Lovatt, Earl Scruggs, Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, Bela Fleck, the Del McCoury Band, and others. The Irish supergroup educates as well as entertains in delightful 14-track curricula on Celtic music as a direct ancestor of bluegrass and country

On February 10th, we lost folk legend Dave Van Ronk. “The Mayor of McDougal Street,” started out as a Dixieland musician in the 1950’s, but when the “trad” jazz movement fizzled out by the end of the decade, Van Ronk turned to the burgeoning folk music scene as a means to continue on as a musician. The 21-track, double CD Two Sides of Dave Van Ronk (Fantasy) is a pairing of 2 albums recorded almost 20 years apart. The first of these, In the Tradition, was made in 1963 and was split evenly between solo tracks and songs backed by Dixielanders The Red Onion Jazz Band. The other album, Your Basic Dave Van Ronk, is a 1981 solo effort that explores Van Ronks’s deep songbag of jazz, folk, blues and ragtime. Together they are a worthy remembrance of a huge talent.

Trio Voronezh
(Angel) is the self-titled major label debut of an astounding group of Russians who perform a mix of Russian folk tunes, classical music, jazz standards, and more of music on native folk instruments. Discovered by a record producer in a Frankfurt subway station while playing Bach on the mandolin-like domra, the double bass balalaika and the bajan, a chromtic button accordion, Vladimir Volochin, Sergei Teleshev, and Valerie Petruchin all began music at age 6 and went on to study at the Conservatory of Voronezh in Russia. Their virtuosity and varied repertoire has won high praise from critics and also gigs at venues like NPR's "A Prairie Home Companion." Trio Voronezh plays with such charm and skill you’ll be tempted to keep this one for yourself.

List of Metroland Stories by Glenn Weiser   ©2002 by Glenn Weiser. All rights reserved.                      

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