Just A Simple Soul By Bert Jansch

January 8, 2020

Just A Simple Soul is a long overdue album as it gathers the best material from Bert Jansch’s 40 year solo recording career. As an added listening bonus, the 39 tracks are presented in chronological order, which enables the listener to appreciate the distinct periods of his career and the evolution of his music.

Jansch began his recording career in 1965 and over the next four decades released 25 solo albums. In addition, he was a founding member of Pentangle and would record and tour with the group for the rest of his life, 1967-1973, 1981-1995, 2007-2011 (his death). Pentangle emerged as on the most innovative and influential folk bands in music history as it combined traditional folk music with elements of jazz, blues, and rock.

Jansch was always able to bridge styles. His lyrics have always been folk oriented but the guitar work borders on the blues, similar to early Bob Dylan. He was one of the best acoustic guitarists of his era and his innovative and creative innovations are unmatched.

Any study of Jansch’s music begins with his ode to the passing of a friend, “Needle Of Death.” It is folk music at its distressing and painful best. Add in such songs as “Poison,” “Angie,” and “It Don’t Bother Me” and you have some of the better traditional folk music of the second half of the 1960’s.

For a time he was maintaining two careers; as a solo artist and member of a high profile band. “The First Time I Ever Say Your Face,” “Reynardine,” and “Moonshine” represent a more commercial approach apart from Pentangle.

From the 1990’s on, his music was reflective and at times simple. “Morning Brings Peace Of Mind,” “When The Circus Comes To Town,” “On The Edge Of A Dream,” and the title track are mesmerizing in their calmness and simplicity.

Jansch was a rare musician who was able to produce memorable music both within and outside of a band. When the best music of his solo career is gathered in one place; it forms one of the better listening experiences available.


Voices By Tom Rush

April 19, 2019

Tom Rush is part of the quickly disappearing original connectors to the folk revival movement of the 1960’s.

Rush has spent nearly all of this 50 year career interpreting the songs of others. His early covers of James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, and Jackson Browne helped them gain needed exposure. He has only written 20 songs during the course of his career. That is what makes his new release, Voices, unique and interesting as it contains 10 original compositions plus his arrangements of two traditional tunes. 

Now in his late 70’s, he remains a folk singer. There may be a little bluegrass in some of the music and his arrangements of “Corina Corina” and Elder Green” have a light blues feel, but his lyrics and melodies remain at the center of American folk music.

His focus is always on the words, whether some else’s or in this case his own. Songs of life, sex, regret have been constant topics during his career and are presented is a straightforward manner.

He has always had a subtle and wry sense of humor, which is exhibited quirky “If I Never Get Back To Hackensack.”

The center of the album revolves around such songs as “Going Down To Nashville” and “Voices,” which deal with life from his 77 year old perspective.

Tom Rush is like an old friend who stops by every few years and then disappears for a while. Voices is his latest calling card and it is well-worth the visit.


The Waifs By The Waifs

November 14, 2017

Folk music is alive and well down-under. Little known in the United States, The Waifs are folk music icons in their home country of Australia, having plied their trade for the past quarter-century.

Donna Simpson, Vikki Thorn, and Josh Cunningham, with supporting musicians David MacDonald and Ben Franz, gathered at Cunningham’s home and recorded a live, mostly acoustic set of original songs. The result was their new album Ironbark, which is a two-CD, 25 song set.

Thorn, Cunningham, and Simpson have voices that are made for harmonizing together, whether in two’s or three’s. They also rotate the lead vocals, many times on the same song, and also have the capacity for providing dual lead vocals as well similar to the Everly Brothers style.

They write all their own material, which are story songs in the folk tradition. Instrumentation is kept mostly to a minimum in order to keep the focus on the words and voices.

Tracks such as “Ironbark,” “Song For Jacqueline,” “Higher Ground,” and “I Won’t Go Down” represent their approach. The stories are reflective while the music washes over you. It is music for the mind and soul rather than the dance floor.

Ironbark is a folk album in the traditional sense. The Waifs have put together an album of tales that is well-worth exploring.


Migration Blues By Eric Bibb

October 19, 2017

Eric Bibb has recently produced a series of excellent and relevant albums highlighted by 2014’s Blues People. He has a laid back and simple approach that often belies the messages of his music.

His latest release, titled Migration Blues, is centered around a fusion of past and present migrants or migrations that are explored within a folk and blues format. The 15 tracks include 12 original tunes and three cover songs. Bibb (vocals, acoustic guitar, and banjo) is joined primarily by JJ Milteau (harmonica) and Michael Jerome Browne (guitar, banjo, and mandolin).

Keying off the Southern American migration of Afro-Americans from the rural south to the industrial north due to segregation and poverty, he moves his music to present-day reasons for escaping various home countries. “Refugee Moan,” “Four Years No Rain,” “We Had To Move,” and “With A Dolla In My Pocket” focus on the effects of war, prejudice, and starvation in their home countries and the hopes and realities of their new homes. Particularly chilling is “Prayin’ For Shore,” which presents the dangers at sea and of their destination as well.

The Three cover songs are a laid-back version of Bob Dylan’s “Masters Of War,” a hopeful interpretation of Woody Guthrie’s classic “This Land Is Your Land,” and a moving version of the spiritual “Mornin’” Train” that ends the album.

Despite the seriousness of the topics, Bibb’s voice and music make it all very listenable. Milteau’s Harmonica is an important component to the sound on many of the songs as it provides a nice counterpoint to Bibb’s guitar work.

Eric Bibb has paid homage to the American blues through his stories and music. Migration Blues is an album that deserves a listen.

 


Relax Your Mind By Jim Kwesken

August 3, 2017

Jim Kweskin and His Jug Band was a seminal band during the 1960’s folk revival. Unblushing Brassiness (1963), Jug Band Music (1965), and Jim Kweskin And The Jug Band (1966) were all creative and unique approaches to the folk music idiom. The band also represented the lighter and fun side of folk music.

Kweskin took a time out from the band in 1966 to release the solo album Relax Your Mind. The music was in the same vein, and several of his bandmates were present, but it was less focused and cohesive. In retrospect it seems like an album of songs that Kweskin wanted to play and record that may not have been exactly right for his band.

There are two live tracks from a performance at Club 47 in Cambridge. “I Got Mine” and “Buffalo Skinners” not only show the technical proficiency and creative nature of Kweskin but also the goofiness that made his sound an important part of the folk movement.

The studio material has a simple and raw sound and has a jam-like feel to it. Kweskin has always been an under rated guitarist but it it Jug Band harmonica player Mel Lyman who steals the instrumental show.

The material comes from a number of sources. “Bye and Bye” is an old Southern gospel song that Kweskin interprets from a folk perspective. “Guabi Guabi” is an African folk song that undergoes an Americanization. “Eight More Miles To Louisville” is an old country song made famous by Grandpa Jones and shows how adept Kweskin was at adapting material to his own brand of folk music.

Two classic blues tunes make an appearance. Mississippi John Hurt’s “My Creole Belle” and Ledbelly’s “Relax You Mind” are Kweskin exploring a distinctly American art form. It is the opening track; “A Look At The Ragtime Era (Sister Katie’s Night Out): I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister” that is a career thesis statement for Kweskin, both as a solo artist and band leader.

Relax Your Mind is an often overlooked album in the journey of Jim Kweskin and of 1960’s folk music. It is not your usual folk music album, which makes it interesting and a necessary listening experience for any fan of the era.

 


A Song I Can Live With By Chip Taylor

July 10, 2017

Chip Taylor may be an artist you may not have heard of but he is an artist you probably have heard.

He is one of the latest inductees into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame. His career has now reached the 60 year mark as it stretches back to his big 1960’s hit by the Troggs, “Wild Thing. Hundreds of songs have followed that have spread out into rock, country, and folk. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin, Willie Nelson, Dusty Spring, and Frank Sinatra are just a few of the artists who have recorded his songs.

He has also been a consistent presence in the studio; producing consistent, melodic, and lyrically incisive music. His solo albums tend to be laid back affairs that are comfortable in a country of folk music setting.

His newest release, A Song I Can Live With, is a lot lighter than his recent releases. He used a stream of consciousness approach in the creation of the songs. Songs such as “Crazy Girl,” “New York In Between,” “Save Your Blues And Your Money,” and “Little Angel Wings,”


Mirrors By John Hammond

March 16, 2017

John Hammond was a white blues musician in the early 1960’s; a time period when the blues where not commercially successful or white. For better or worse, he is also the son of legendary Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame producer John Hammond Sr. who signed such artists as Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Pete Seeger, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Bruce Springsteen.

Hammond began his career in the Greenwich Village club scene of the early 1960’s and helped pave the way for a generation of blues artists who would follow. To date he has released 34 albums and most have been reissued except for 1967s Mirrors, which now returns in a remastered form.

Hammond released some of his strongest albums for the Vanguard label during the mid-1960’s. His 1963 self-titled debut, 1964’s Big City Blues, and  1965’s So Many Roads are considered classics of 1960’s traditional blues. As he was leaving the label, Mirrors was assembled from the outtakes of his previous three albums. Side one (CD tracks 1-6) are electric and side two (CD tracks 7-13) are acoustic.

The album contains three Robert Johnson compositions, all recorded at a time when Johnson was all but forgotten. “Stones In My Passway” and “Walking Blues” are sparse acoustic interpretations that retain Johnson’s power. “Travelling Riverside” is an electric extravaganza featuring a number of young musicians who would become famous including harpist Charlie Musselwhite,  guitarist Robbie Robertson, drummer Levon Helm, and Mike Bloomfield on piano.

“Get Right Church” is a traditional gospel tune made famous by the Staple Singers. Hammond strips it down to basics with just his voice and guitar.

“Statesboro Blues” and “Keys To The Highway” have been recorded dozens of times, most famously by the Allman Brothers and Eric Clapton respectively. It is interesting to hear his early electrified versions of these old blues staples.

As good as the electric tracks may be, the essence of John Hammond’s music is acoustic performances like “Death Don’t Have No Mercy,” ”When You Are Gone,” and “Rock Me Mama.”

Hammond has never veered from the blues. Mirrors may have never been reissued in any form and may not be a cohesive album given the various sources of the material; yet it contains a number of performances worth hearing.