Homegrown Music shares information on musical instruments and do-it-yourself entertainment, this issue covers an introduction to lesser-known folk singers, including Lenny Anderson Kate Wolf and Jim Post.
Marc Bristol–a homegrown musician who performs regularly throughout the Pacific Northwest–began sharing his knowledge of do-it-yourself entertainment with MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers back in MOTHER issue 50. Marc’s columns have touched on everything from access information for recorded music to detailed instructions on how to make your own instruments. Marc is interested in hearing any suggestions, comments, or questions you may have about the subject of do-it-yourself music, and he’ll try to write about requested topics in future columns. Address your correspondence–for this column and this column only–to Marc Bristol, Dept. TMEN, Duvall, Washington.
“I guess all songs is folk songs,” Big Bill Broonzy once commented. “I never heard no horse sing ’em.”
That’s one of my all-time favorite quotes. Yet regardless of the fact that we are all “folk”, I suspect that most people think of that particular kind of music — and of the artists who perform it — in somewhat more narrowly defined terms.
I, for instance, perceive a “folk singer” as someone whose repertoire includes mainly traditional tunes and/or topical songs that deal with political, social, or simply very personal views and feelings. Folk music is often considered less commercial than “pop”, too . . . but that can’t be considered a hard and fast distinction, because sometimes material not specifically intended to have “top 40” appeal does strike a chord in the hearts — and pocketbooks — of the masses. (Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” and Tim Hardin’s “If I Were a Carpenter” are two examples.)
In any event, I think most of MOTHER’s readers will agree that — as a rule — popular songs have less depth and significance than do folk tunes. And because the best sellers tend to continually present the same old stereo-typed attitudes, rather than individual beliefs and emotions, there’s more variety in folk music, too.
For proof of’ those statements, you need only listen to today’s many fine “non pop” artists. Now I certainly can’t mention all the talented contemporary folk performers in this limited space, but I would like to acquaint you with a few of the lesser-known folk singers and groups that typify the rich and diverse talent displayed by this country’s current crop of folk singers.
STEVE LEHNER AND MAUREEN MAY
I first heard of Steve and Maureen when I received their Ballad of the Buffalo album in the mail, along with an invitation to attend a local concert at which they were scheduled to perform. When I listened to the record — and later heard them “live” — I felt that the pair had somehow been able to capture and communicate in song the very soul of the great prairies. Their music — which features Steve on banjo and mandolin and Maureen on guitar, fiddle, and an unusual zitherlike instrument known as a ukelin — doesn’t shout for attention . . . instead, it speaks with a quiet passion of the love for life that all people who are close to the earth know.
Significantly, Steve and Maureen wrote many of the tunes in the album. Their songs “Summer in the Northland” and “Blue Skies” speak of the longing that many of us feel as a result of being pulled from the land by our society’s centralized economic structure. “Pickle Jar”, “Your Deeds”, and “Ballad of the Buffalo” — the title song — address similar issues, but do so even more directly . . . and none of the music is done in the hackneyed “angry young folk singer” style. Rather, the duo delivers material with all the gentleness of a mother kissing a sleeping baby.
The album is nicely rounded out by a couple of old Tin Pan Alley standards — ” Kinda Lonesome” and “Don’t Fence Me In” — plus a trio of fine instrumental numbers. Steve and Maureen’s recording is available for $8.00 postpaid from Lonetree Records, Dept. TMEN, Port Orchard, Washington.
Because this kind of music is so personal, it’s generally better — if possible — to hear a folk singer’s live performance before listening to his or her recorded work. In a concert setting, the artist will usually introduce or lead into songs with anecdotes or comments that add to the entertainment value of the performance and can help the listener better understand and enjoy the music.
Then again, in the case of Bruce “Utah” Phillips, telling stories and making music serve somewhat separate purposes. Stories constitute a good part of his show and often have his audiences rolling in the aisles. But Phillips is also a very aware, dedicated man . . . many of his humorous tales are, in fact, thinly disguised commentaries on serious social issues.
His songs, on the other hand, are generally anything but political. They address the need for men and women to feel . . . to laugh, to cry, and to love. “Utah” is widely renowned as a songwriter (in fact, many prominent folk artists, including Doc Watson, use his material), and when you listen to his tunes, it’s easy to see why. Compositions like “Daddy, What’s a Train”, “Queen of the Rails”, “I Remember You”, and “She’ll Never Be Mine” are strong, meaningful expressions of human sentiment and experience.
In my opinion, “Utah” Phillips ranks as one of America’s most valuable natural resources. He plays folk festivals and clubs throughout the country, and if you get a chance to see him, by all means do. Meanwhile, you’re sure to enjoy any of his several albums. For a list of those recordings — and their prices — send a request to Philo Records, Dept. TMEN, North Ferrisburg, Vermont.
“I’ve tried my best to understand why we stand out here in the rain, in our anger and our pain, afraid to feel the love that’s in our hands” (copyright 1981, Another Sundown Publishing Company . . . reprinted by permission).
As those words demonstrate, Kate Wolf is often able to communicate — through her lyrics — the emotions many of us have but sometimes find difficult (or impossible) to express. And by sharing her feelings, Kate helps us understand our own.
Kate Wolfs albums are available — for $8.98 each postpaid — from Kaleidoscope Records, Dept. TMEN, El Cerrito, California.
Ask just about any musician to name America’s all-time greatest folk singer and storyteller, and you’re almost sure to get the answer “Woody Guthrie”. With his many classic songs (such as “This Land Is Your Land”) and his masterful use of the talking blues idiom, Woody inspired virtual regiments of later-generation tale-spinners and guitar minstrels . . . including Lenny Anderson.
Lenny, in fact, has performed in several “An Evening With Woody Guthrie”-type shows around the San Francisco Bay area. But he also writes songs of his own, and has produced a wonderful cassette collection of homegrown tunes entitled A Song Would Be Better. Much of his material deals with social topics (junk food, politics, the rights of native Americans, and public transportation) . . . and Lenny evokes powerful sentiments and emotions in several very personal tunes, as well, including the title cut. The tape (which is available — for $7.50 postpaid — from Lenny Anderson, Dept. TMEN, Kenwood, California) features Lenny on guitar and harmonica against an acoustic bass accompaniment.
I met Faith Petric at the First Annual Festival of the Saws in Santa Cruz, when both of us were leading workshops and performing. She ran a kazoo seminar, and I taught washboard-playing technique . . . but when only a few people showed for Faith’s session, we ended up combining our classes. The results were pleasant indeed!
Faith — who was born in a log cabin in Idaho in 1915, and has traveled extensively — has seen a good bit of life . . . and her experiences come through in the presentation of her songs. As far as I know, she doesn’t write her own compositions . . . but her repertoire is a refreshing mix of traditional folk and cowboy songs, topical material, and ballads by some of her contemporaries (including the late Malvina Reynolds . . . one of Faith’s friends and an inspiration to her).
Petric’s wonderful album, which is appropriately titled Faith Petric, is available — for $6.00 postpaid — from Bay Records, Dept. TMEN, Alameda, California.
As a youth, Jim Post was a congregation-leading singer in a church in Texas . . . and today — perhaps partly as a result of that background — his voice and stage charisma are so powerful that only a concert, or (to a lesser extent) a “live” album, can convey what he’s all about.
Fortunately, both of his albums on the Flying Fish label were recorded live. Magic. . . in Concert captures Jim’s performances at an antinuclear benefit and an anti-draft-registration rally . . . and tends to reflect the political side of the artist’s work, However, Post can be a humorist, too, and the collection includes some hilarious stories and songs. Still other selections are more serious and feature Jim’s pure voice and acoustic guitar in an awesome display of his ability to express love and passion.
In the second album, Shipshape (which Jim tells me he considers his best), Post is accompanied by Randy Sabien on violin and Corky Siegel on harmonica. The recording doesn’t include any storytelling, however, so — because yarn spinning is such an important part of a typical Post performance — I suggest that you listen to Magic . . . in Concert first. (Once you do, you’ll definitely want to hear Shipshape, too!) Both albums are available — for $8.98 each postpaid — from flying Fish Records, Dept. TMEN, 1304 West Schubert, Chicago, Illinois 60614. And by the way, Flying Fish offers recorded folk music of all types, so you’d do well to request the firm’s catalog when you send your order.
It’d be all but unthinkable to mention the Flying Fish label without introducing Bryan Bowers, autoharpist extraordinaire. Bryan’s material includes compositions of his own making, and is a delightful mix of absolutely astonishing instrumentals and superb vocal numbers.
Anyone who plays an autoharp — or who simply enjoys mellow, imaginative acoustic music — will want both of Bowers’s albums. His first collection is titled The View From Home and focuses mostly on fine old traditional tunes. Home, Home on the Road, his most recent work, contains — typically for Bowers — sensitive numbers (listen to “This Age That We Live In” and “Berkeley Woman”) plus some rather rambunctious humor, such as “The Scotsman” (in which the longstanding question, “What do they wear under their kilts?” is unabashedly answered).
Both titles can be purchased — for $8.98 each — from Flying Fish.
GINNY REILLY AND DAVID MALONEY
Over the years the “pop” industry has produced a number of individuals and groups that have adapted folk material to their own styles . . . and thus brought the music to a wider audience. The “folk revival” of the 60’s, in fact, was largely the result of such acts (Peter, Paul, and Mary — for example — helped popularize the work of Pete Seeger and the previously unknown Bob Dylan).
I may be biased, but I think we could all use another folk revival (the sooner the better) . . . and the folk/pop duo known as Reilly and Maloney may be just the act to start one. I have to admit that when I first went to see Ginny and David perform, I was more than a bit skeptical of what had been described to me as their “new, clean” folk music. But I came away awed by the pair’s ability to reach out and touch each member of the audience with their talents and their personalities (and that, after all, is what folk music is about).
The team’s repertoire is somewhat heavy on songs about love relationships, but they also do tunes by (and perform in shows with) the likes of Tom Paxton, Jim Post, and Tom Dundee. You may wonder (as I do), upon listening to their work, why they felt a need to “clean up” the lyrics of well-known songs. Nevertheless, it’s difficult not to admire their excellent presentations. And judging by the act’s rapidly growing following, I’d say a lot of people are impressed.
Reilly and Maloney have four albums available at the moment ( At Last, Alive, Good Company, and Everyday ), and David has a solo recording entitled The Harvest Is In. All of them may be ordered — for $7.50 apiece, postpaid — from Freckle Records, Dept. TMEN, Seattle, Washington.