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The Harvest Years
The Harvest Years
Price: £10.99

5.0 out of 5 stars An Exceptional Package, 27 Aug. 2015
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This review is from: The Harvest Years (MP3 Download)
Whereas most singers on the 1960s folk scene seemed to have picked up their singing styles from a limited number of influential members of the revival – like Ewan McColl, for example – or from each other (or in many cases, from sources external to folk music altogether), you can tell immediately that Shirley Collins had listened to and learned from traditional singers. It’s ironic that at a time when there were traditional stylists sitting in the corner of the taproom of many an English pub – long gone now, both singers and taprooms – so few young singers bothered to pay any attention to them. But Collins did, as you can hear every time she opens her mouth. It’s one of the things that makes her so special. Interestingly – paradoxically, even – one of the other key factors that makes her special has been her willingness to take part in progressive and experimental approaches to the music. After her collaboration with Davy Graham, ‘Folk Roots, New Routes’, the best known examples are surely her albums of 1969 with sister Dolly (‘Anthems In Eden’) and 1970 (‘Love, Death And The Lady’). Both of these Harvest albums are included in this very valuable package, along with about an LP’s worth of additional material. The first was built around a carefully structured suite of traditional songs, brilliantly arranged by Dolly, featuring early English musical instruments. The second album selects rather darker songs, again with Dolly’s arrangements, with a slightly more eclectic approach than before. In both albums, whatever the accompaniment or arrangement, Shirley is invariably the still, calm centre of every song (in effect, this was how she approached the Davy Graham collaboration, too). The additional tracks are a combination of out-takes from ‘Love, Death And The Lady’, and one side from the later ‘Amaranth’ LP (the other side was drawn from ‘Anthems In Eden’), plus a few extras. This adds up to a compelling portrait of one of England’s finest folk singers at the top of her game, complemented by her sister’s arranging brilliance.


Cod Liver Oil & The Orange Juice: Reminiscences of a Fat Folk Singer
Cod Liver Oil & The Orange Juice: Reminiscences of a Fat Folk Singer
Price: £1.99

2.0 out of 5 stars The Sub-title says it all, 19 Aug. 2015
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Hamish Imlach was a great raconteur, renowned for entertaining his audience at least as much with his patter and his stories as with his singing and playing, and this is, as the subtitle says, a book of reminiscences - not so much an autobiography as a pack of anecdotes shuffled into a kind of an order whose adherence to chronology comes and goes. So you do get quite a strong sense of his personality, as well as a very rough idea of his life story. When things happened is rarely entirely clear and names come and go at random, so if you’re looking for subjective (or even generally informative) retrospective view of the folk revival in Scotland, you’d better try elsewhere, but that’s not the point. To be honest, though, tales that might have a warmed-up audience rolling in the aisles can sometimes be a bit flat on the page, some descend into rambling and some misfire altogether. But the passion for life and friends and entertaining people shines through very strongly all the way. The boozing tales are all jolly good fun, until in time, inevitably, the darkness starts to show through, and later in the book, some descriptions of the consequences of over-indulgence seem almost tragic rather than funny.


The Mayor of MacDougal Street [2013 edition]: A Memoir
The Mayor of MacDougal Street [2013 edition]: A Memoir
Price: £6.47

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, if frustrating, 4 Feb. 2014
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Van Ronk's original idea was to write a wide-ranging history of the Greenwich Village scene, with his collaborator Elijah Wald. Sadly he died while the project was under way. What we have, then, is essentially a truncated memoir of his own time in the Village, which pretty much stutters to a halt some time in the mid-1960s (he lived another 40 years). It's true that this means that it covers the time most readers will probably be interested in, but there is a sense throughout of a project that is only partly realised. At times, the narrative lapses into lists of names - people whose role in the story are thereby acknowledeged, but never expanded upon. Also, the fact that he saw the project as being historical rather than autobiographical means that much of the information about himself and his background is vague and sketchy. Whether this is because he was deliberately resisting letting the potential reader into aspects of his life that he considered not relevant to the story he wanted to tell, or whether it's another mark of a project that remains unfinished is impossible to tell. So much for what we don't get - what we do get is enormously valuable as an account of that time and place, its joys and its frustrations, its heroes and villains, Much of it reads very well, too - on the face of it, you get the impression that Wald has succeeded much of the time in capturing the man's voice, of conveying his delight in talking, in words, in telling stories. This is a fascinating and important story and while this is very far from telling it all, it offers enough to make it required reading for anyone who is interested in that story - in what went into it, and what came out of it.


Hand Me My Travelin' Shoes: In Search of Blind Willie McTell
Hand Me My Travelin' Shoes: In Search of Blind Willie McTell
by Michael Gray
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Dylanologist's View Of Blues History, 26 April 2012
Gray's biography is a remarkable and enormously valuable piece of work, so long as you accept first that - quite the reverse of his work on Bob Dylan - it is an investigation into a man's life, not into that man's art. In fact, you might say that it's only tangentially concerned with the latter. As the former, it is a tour de force, demonstrating extraordinary persistence, insight, and a forensic attention to detail. In that respect, it might even be superior to any other biography of a blues singer ever published. It also functions very successfully as an investigation into the mechanics of biography - the ways in which information about a person's life must be gathered, how those ways are constrained by factors both internal and external to that life. Some of its most effective passages are concerned with those aspects, and Gray can be both witty and challenging in his tales of encounters with both the inevitable bureaucracies and the diverse individuals whose respective filing systems and memories are so vital to his quest.

Given all that, it is perhaps only to the likes of the present reviewer, who has spent 40 years reading blues literature, that something about Hand Me My Travelin' Shoes seems a little odd. For somebody brought up on the kind of blues writing I'm used to, you might even say that Gray's apparent incuriosity about the development of Willie's music soon starts to seem positively weird. At one point, Gray himself quotes the old historians' maxim that "the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence", but elsewhere in the book, in the absence of much evidence about where McTell's music came from, he seems happy to conclude that McTell just created it for himself. And yet, there is a telling passage where Gray criticises David Evans for the fact that, given the opportunity to ask Kate McTell questions that might have led to information as to whether Willie had fathered any children (and so might have surviving heirs) Evans just asked more questions about guitarists. The difference is between somebody (Evans) whose interest is in the broader picture of the music and another (Gray) whose interest is focused primarily on one man.

Why that one man? It's tempting to suggest that Gray is interested in Blind Willie McTell because Bob Dylan told him to be. Certainly, his interest in the pre-war blues seems mostly to date from when he heard Dylan's wonderful song 'Blind Willie McTell', with its plangent refrain line "Nobody sings the blues like Blind Willie McTell". Prior to that, as is apparent from the early editions of his book on Dylan 'Song and Dance Man', Gray would appear almost to have deliberately resisted any suggestion that an understanding of Dylan's deep roots in American traditions had anything to tell him about that man's art.

Does this matter? Probably not - we all start somewhere and whatever the initial prompt for Gray's interest, it is readily apparent that his love and appreciation of McTell's music is genuine and profound. There is so much information in the book, so much precious biographical and historical data, that it seems almost churlish to complain that you emerge from it no wiser about where McTell's music came from, how it developed, what made it special in his own day, what makes it great now. If Dylan's line is taken at face value (and I know, I know, you should never take anything Dylan says at face value, but for the sake of argument...) and nobody sings the blues like Blind Willie McTell, this is not the book to help you understand how and why. But all the same it is a book that no blues fan can afford to ignore.


Spoils
Spoils
Price: £7.92

4.0 out of 5 stars Like Nothing Else Around, 1 Aug. 2011
This review is from: Spoils (MP3 Download)
I like Alasdair Roberts because he doesn't sound like anybody else, because unlike so many other young folkies, there's no real analogue for his music in the history of the folk revival. You couldn't really mistake his songs for traditional ones (at least not if you're paying attention) but he somehow captures some essential spirit of the tradition, in ways that so many strive for and fail to achieve. Paradoxically, it's this that makes him a genuine original.


Sleep With One Eye Open
Sleep With One Eye Open
Price: £8.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Old Time Music Made New, 1 Aug. 2011
First of all, a polite round of applause for the digital booklet - such a basic addition, but one which is so rarely provided with downloaded music. Second, a raucous standing ovation for how Thile and Daves have managed to produce a set that injects a fresh, in-your-face energy into some great old songs and tunes while keeping absolutely intact the intrinsic qualities that made them great songs in the first place. It scarcely bears repeating that Thile is a genius on his chosen instrument, and there's plenty to bear out that reputation here, but technical virtuosity is not what this is about. Daves is pretty good, too, and the combination has a fire and an immediacy, not to mention a genuine contemporary resonance, that most other young musicians would give their eye-teeth for.


Boombox Squaredance
Boombox Squaredance
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars ... and this is the out-takes?, 14 Jun. 2011
This review is from: Boombox Squaredance (MP3 Download)
Apparently consisting out out-takes from the sessions that produced their fine album 'Reap What You Sow', this is further evidence of the sheer brilliance and tight focus of these outstanding musicians. Don't look here for bluegrass-style pyrotechnics - this is traditional music making at its most straightforward, in one sense, but at its most transcendent, in another. They play these tunes for the uncomplicated joy of playing them, because they're great tunes, and they can play them magnificently, not because they are vehicles for take-off solos and flash displays (I'm a big fan of take-off solos and flash displays, in their place, but they're just not called for here). The sheer energy of their playing, the sheer pleasure that emerges from their music-making, is what distinguishes the Foghorn String Band.


Reap What You Sow
Reap What You Sow
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Playing It Straight, 14 Jun. 2011
This review is from: Reap What You Sow (MP3 Download)
While so many old time and bluegrass bands these days construct perfect little items to flatter our aesthetic sensibilities, The Foghorn Trio sit down, tune up and play. And make, no mistake, they can play. There are no dazzling displays of improvisational virtuosity here - look elsewhere if that's what you want - but the sheer musical energy of these guys is enough to power the national grid. The front line of mandolin (the admirable Caleb Klauder in one of his many incarnations), fiddle (Sammy Lind, a true master) and banjo never lets up, and the guitar and bass rhythm section propels it all along. Great tune selection, great singing, great playing. Great album.


A Sad Day (Blues Collection)
A Sad Day (Blues Collection)
Price: £5.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Surprising Late Work By Blues Stalwart, 17 Nov. 2010
Piano bluesman Eddie Boyd made many records over a career that took him from post-war Chicago to a celebrated old age resident in Europe, where he settled from the 1960s onwards. Most of his records, generally in an urban blues style, with a small band accompanying, are well worth hearing, but this one is rather different. Unusually, he's entirely solo - there's no rhythm section, no horns, no lead guitar, just Eddie Boyd and his piano. What's surprising is that it has a very distinctive, lyrical quality. The absence of accompanists seems to offer him a kind of melodic space, and the result is a delightful, if slightly poignant set of songs and instrumentals. Most bluesmen of his generation who were making records into the 1980s tended to trade on what seemed to be expected of them, but here Boyd chooses instead to try something new - not radically new, but different enough to make this something of a gem of a late recording.


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