Rosalie Sorrels, Lonnie Johnson Top Week's New Releases

Hazel Dickens and Woody Guthrie reissues due, along with new material by Jerry Ricks, Equation and Pete Nelson.

A remarkable gift for storytelling distinguishes many of this week's

most notable releases, particularly a tribute to '60s folk singer

Malvina Reynolds by

COLOR="#003163">Rosalie Sorrels, and reissues of important

albums by influential folk and bluegrass artist

COLOR="#003163">Hazel Dickens and Dust Bowl icon

COLOR="#003163">Woody Guthrie.

Also out this week are a previously unreleased living-room concert by

seminal bluesman Lonnie Johnson and

new works from the British folk-rock band

COLOR="#003163">Equation, singer-songwriter

COLOR="#003163">Pete Nelson and acoustic blues guitarist

Jerry Ricks.

(Click here for a select list of this week's releases.)

A respected standard-bearer of the tradition that holds that folk music

is music of, for, and about the people, Sorrels reportedly discovered

her calling after taking a class on American folk songs. She brings to

the music the authority of one who has endured an array of tragedies

worthy of the genre: cancer, a brain aneurysm, an illegal teenage

abortion, a child's suicide and divorce.

Fairly early in her career she encountered socially conscious folk

artist Reynolds, and it is to Reynolds' legacy that Sorrels pays tribute

with No Closing Chord — Songs of Malvina Reynolds (Red

House). Like Sorrels, Reynolds was a late-comer to the folk world, but

she nonetheless contributed many protest songs to the canon, including

"Little Boxes" (recorded by Pete

Seeger), "Turn Around" (covered by Seeger,

COLOR="#003163">Neil Diamond and the

COLOR="#003163">Kingston Trio), "What Have They Done to the

Rain?" (recorded by Joan Baez and

Marianne Faithfull), and "We Don't

Need the Men."

Guest artists raising their voices with her on No Closing Chord

include Bonnie Raitt,

COLOR="#003163">Laurie Lewis and

COLOR="#003163">Barbara Higbie.

Rounder Re-Releases Influential Record

A bold voice of conscience and artistic integrity, Dickens is arguably

one of the most important women in 20th-century American acoustic music.

As one of 11 children in a poor family, she met the hard-hit characters

of whom she's written as she grew up in West Virginia's coal-mining

country.

As half of the folk/bluegrass duo Hazel &

Alice (Alice Gerrard) in

the 1960s, she opened doors in the male-dominated field of bluegrass.

The duo influenced successive generations of female artists in

bluegrass, folk, country and even rock with their strong, passionate

harmonies and arrangements of traditional songs; artists who have

publicly acknowledged that influence include

COLOR="#003163">Emmylou Harris,

COLOR="#003163">Linda Ronstadt and the

COLOR="#003163">Judds.

Dickens and Gerrard went their separate ways in 1973. After contributing

songs to a few film soundtracks, including Barbara Kopple's Academy

Award-winning 1976 documentary on the struggles of coal miners, "Harlan

County, U.S.A.," Dickens started releasing solo albums in the 1980s.

First released in 1987, It's Hard To Tell the Singer From the

Song (Rounder) finds her backed by top-notch bluegrass musicians,

slipping renditions of Bob Dylan's

"Only a Hobo" and Dallas Frazier's

"California Cottonfields" between her uncompromising originals,

including the title song, "A Few Old Memories" (recently covered by

Dolly Parton), and "Will Jesus Wash

the Bloodstains From Your Hands?"

With new tributes to the late Guthrie cropping up left and right these

days, it seems appropriate to revisit the work that established his

towering reputation. Dust Bowl Ballads (Buddha) is a reissue of

the 1940 collection that captured the folk troubadour at what many

consider the peak of his artistry and political relevance.

Many of Guthrie's best-known — and most frequently recorded —

songs are found in this collection, including "Do Re Me," "I Ain't Got

No Home," "Pretty Boy Floyd," "Dust Pneumonia Blues," "Tom Joad" and

"Talking Dust Bowl Blues." The instrumentation is pretty simple: an

acoustic guitar, the occasional harmonica and Guthrie's rugged voice.

One of many artists to enjoy a revived career thanks to the folk revival

of the 1960s, influential bluesman Lonnie

Johnson left behind a tremendous body of recorded work.

The Unsung Blues Legend (Blues Magnet), however, is a previously

unreleased recording that captures the melodic New Orleans-born

guitarist in the intimate environs of a blues-loving pal's living room.

The down-home "concert," recorded not long before Johnson's death in

1970, finds Johnson taking a guitar solo on "Danny Boy" and performing

"I Can't Give You Anything But Love Baby," "St. Louis Blues," "Careless

Love," "Summertime," "September Song" and 11 other tunes.

Another acoustic blues guitarist,

COLOR="#003163">"Philadelphia" Jerry Ricks, learned the

subtle tricks and licks of his trade at the feet of some of its masters

as he booked them into Philly's Second Fret cafe in the 1960s.

Mississippi John Hurt,

COLOR="#003163">Lightnin' Hopkins,

COLOR="#003163">Skip James, Son

House, Rev. Gary Davis,

Mance Lipscomb,

COLOR="#003163">Bukka White and

COLOR="#003163">Brownie McGhee were among the blues legends

to teach and inspire Ricks. The former dishwasher subsequently traveled

to East Africa with Buddy Guy's

blues band in 1969.

He lived in Europe for most of the 1970s and '80s, and recorded 13

albums there. Now back in the United States, his latest album, Many

Miles of Blues (Rooster Blues), features 14 songs recorded in the

former church Blue Heaven Studios in Salina, Kan., including

COLOR="#003163">Furry Lewis' "I Will Turn Your Money Green"

and Skip James' "Special Rider."

Rhythms, Arrangements Add Up Nicely

Frequent comparisons to folk-rock stalwarts

COLOR="#003163">Fairport Convention as well as dreamy

pop-rockers the Cranberries hint at

the multitextured sounds of British folk-pop band Equation. The Lucky

Few (Putumayo) finds the 5-year-old band incorporating tougher

rhythms and diverse arrangements into their sound.

The catchy lead-off track, "Not the Man," is indicative of the more

aggressive approach they've taken since their previous album. Gentler

songs such as "Mother and Child," "Autumn Tune" and the traditional

"Sheffield Park" honor their folk influences, while they visit the blues

fields for the moving "Hard Underground." Those songs are propelled by

the twin musical drives of brothers and band co-founders

COLOR="#003163">Sean Lakeman (guitar) and

COLOR="#003163">Seth Lakeman (fiddle) and are imbued with

lyrical grace by the sweet vocals of Kathryn

Roberts.

Literate singer/songwriter Pete Nelson used the dramas of divorce to

fuel his second album, Days Like Horses (Signature), subtitled "A

Novel in 15 Songs."

The Massachusetts artist — whose first album sat high on the Gavin

Americana charts and earned numerous critical kudos in 1996 — deals

here with issues of loss, renewal and hope set against familiar

backdrops like train stations, sports games, roadhouses and daydreams.

Musically, he flavors the songs with touches of blues, country and

reggae. He's accompanied by guests Dar

Williams, Patty Larkin,

Susan Werner,

COLOR="#003163">Cliff Eberhardt,

COLOR="#003163">Peter Mulvey and Ben

Demerath.