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 COLOR="#003163">Woody Guthrie
COLOR="#003163">Hazel Dickensand Dust Bowl icon
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 COLOR="#003163">Pete Nelson
COLOR="#003163">Pete Nelsonand acoustic blues guitarist
(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 COLOR="#003163">Kingston Trio
COLOR="#003163">Neil Diamondand 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 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
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 COLOR="#003163">Judds
COLOR="#003163">Linda Ronstadtand the
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
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
COLOR="#003163">Skip James, Son
House, Rev. Gary Davis,
COLOR="#003163">Bukka White COLOR="#003163">Brownie McGhee
COLOR="#003163">Brownie McGheewere 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 Conventionas 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 COLOR="#003163">Seth Lakeman
COLOR="#003163">Sean Lakeman(guitar) and
COLOR="#003163">Seth Lakeman(fiddle) and are imbued with
lyrical grace by the sweet vocals of Kathryn
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,
COLOR="#003163">Cliff Eberhardt COLOR="#003163">Peter Mulvey
COLOR="#003163">Peter Mulveyand Ben