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.


The Happiest Man In The World By Eric Bibb

February 28, 2017

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I don’t know if Eric Bibb is the hardest working person in show business but he has to be one of the most prolific, Whether alone or with a wide assortment of friends, he releases albums with regularity.

The Happiest Man In The World finds Bibb combining his talents with the Finnnish group North Country Far and English jazz/folk bassist Danny Thompson. His music tends to tread the line between blues and folk. While most of his albums tend to be more blues oriented, this times he comes down more on the folk side of the equation.

Bibb wrote of co-wrote 11 of the 14 tracks. My only criticism is the set could have used a little bite in places but his wonderfully soulful voice carries the day. His acoustical approach to such songs as “Tell Ol’ Bill,” “Prison Of Time,” “Toolin’ Down The Road,” “Wish I Could Hold You,” and “Creole Café” are smooth and laid back. His cover of the Kinks classic rocker “You Really Got Me” is unique as it opens up new textures as he re-invents the song.

One thing that remains consistent in most of Bibb’s work is the positive nature of his music. In a world that is many time bleak, he tends to explore the sunny side of life.

The Happiest Man In The World is a consistent album that will mke you smile and relax and sometimes that is enough


Josh At Midnight By Josh White

January 4, 2017

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Josh White, (1914-1969), packed a lot of adventure and music into his 55 years of life. A practitioner of the southern blues who branched out into gospel, country blues, and traditional folk; he was an early black artist whose issued a number of protest songs. A friend of President Franklyn Roosevelt, for whom he gave a command performance at the White House in 1941; he was blacklisted during the McCarthy Era of the 1950’s. He made a commercial comeback during the 1960’s and his music and style has influenced the generations of folk and blues singers who have followed.

Now Ramseur Records will reissue what may be his finest album on August 19. Josh At Midnight, originally released in 1956, is primarily of album of traditional folk songs from a southern blues perspective.

It is a raw album with roots firmly entrenched in the Delta blues of the first half of the 20th century. Only one microphone was used during the recording session and the only instrument besides White’s guitar is the bass of jazz musician Al Hall. The only other person involved was vocalist Sam Gary. The remastering makes everything have a clarity that is superior to the original vinyl release but it is still primitive by today’s musical standards.

Nine of the 12 tracks are in the public domain, which fits White’s approach well. “Joshua Fit The Battle Of Jericho,” “Jelly Jelly,” “Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dyin’ Bed,” and “Takin’ Names” are fused into a blues style and sound. White does not perform the songs as much as he attack’s them. There is passion and emotion that combines with harshness.

Josh At Midnight is a resurrection and re-introduction of an important musician who is often forgotten about in the 21st century. The fact that it has been reissued as a vinyl only release adds an authenticity to the listening experience.


On Top Of Old Smoky: New-Old Time Smoky Mountain Music By Various Artists

December 27, 2016

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Sometimes a creative idea works and such is the case for the third release by The Great Smoky Mountains Association. While they continue their exploration of music originating in the Great Smoky Mountain area of the United States, this time they gather modern day artists to presents a legacy of the area.

The 23 tracks by various artists presents traditional folk music and bluegrass tunes from the Smoky Mountains area. This is a raw and stripped down release and unless you are a fan of this brand of music; many of the artists will not be recognizable. The one every recognizable performer is Dolly Parton who re-visits “Little Rosewood Casket” from her trio days with Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris. She gives a haunting rendition that carries you back about a century.

The songs can be considered classic folk songs that are indigenous to the area. They represent the cultural heritage of the people who used to populate the area before much of it became a national park. Many of the songs were originally preserved as field recordings by Joseph Sargent Hall in 1939, who was seeking to save the heritage of the region. Now modern technology allows these songs to come to life in a way unimagined at their creation.

“On Top Of Old Smokey” is the first track and is sung a cappella by Carol Elizabeth Jones. It focus’ on the lyrics in a way not usually associated with this old tune and is representative of the album’s approach of preserving the heritage of this old material.

“Black Mountain Rag” with fiddle player Trevor Stuart, banjo player Travis Stuart, and guitarist Jeff Keith and “Bonaparte’s Retreat” by fiddler Bruce Greene are examples of the origins of what was to become bluegrass music. “I Wonder How The Old Folks Are At Home” by singer/guitarist Bryan Sutton is a poignant song of longing for home that was probably sung around the camp fire on a journey.

The enclosed booklet provides a history of the area, plus a review of all 23 songs, the artists, and includes the lyrics as well.

On Top Of Old Smoky: New Old-Time Smoky Mountain Music is a trip back in time for anyone interested in the musical heritage of an area of the United States. A labor of love that works.


Pete-Pak By Pete Seeger

October 6, 2016

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Pete Seeger walked this earth for nearly 95 years. He was a radio personality during the 1940’s, a member of the early folk-revival group The Weavers, and as a solo artist spent nearly five decades promoting peace and the environment, writing such songs as “Where Hale All The Flowers Gone,” “If I Had A Hammer,” and “Turn Turn Turn,” plus resurrecting folk songs from around the world.

Since his death, there have been a number of re-issues. The latest is a remaster of his first Grammy winning album Pete, originally issued in 1996 at the age of 77. This release is combined with a DVD that covers 23 years of his career. First is a 55 minute live performance with Paul Winter and friends at the 1982 Living Music Festival in Litchfield, Connecticut. Next is Pete-nic, which is a 17 minute spontaneous performance, recorded at a picnic in 1997 by many of the musicians who had participated in the Pete project. Finally there is a 2005 performance of “Take It From Dr. King,” commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Pettus Bridge March in Selma, Alabama.

Pete is probably the best of his late career releases. It combines traditional folk tunes, a number of covers, and two originals. “John Henry,” “Drunken Sailor,” “Roll The Old Chariot Along,” and “Old Time Religion” are the type of songs that have graced Seeger’s repertoire for most of his career. Songs that have no known author but have undergone changes due to time and place and Seeger’s interpretations are another link in their chain. The two originals, “My Rainbow Race” and “Well May The World Go” are poignant songs from a man nearing 80.

Most of Seeger’s albums have been sparse affairs but here many of the songs are within a band setting, including sax, cello and guitars. It is a rare nod to the modern age by a traditional artist.

The Living Music Festival live performance presents a 63 year old Seeger at the top of his profession. He is joined by The Paul Winter Consort and they form one big group. Seeger is relaxed and his banjo play is some of his best. The concert was recorded with three cameras and meant for release but sat in the vaults for 33 years. It is a highlight for any Seeger fan.

Seeger was an uncompromising traditionalist. Many of his songs had a meaning and message. Pete-Pac is a celebration of culture meeting music.

 


Power In The Blood By Buffy Saint-Marie

January 9, 2016

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Buffy Sainte-Marie is an iconic folk singer whose career stretches back to 1962. Always in the forefront of social activism and protest, she has now returned with her 16th studio release Power In The Blood.

While her voice still takes some getting used too, it is fine for a folk artist interpreting, in this case her own songs. She has always been a talented songwriter who is best known for her incisive songs of protest, pride, environmental concerns, and anti-war themes. Often forgotten is the fact that she has produced a number of love songs, including the beautiful “Until Its Time For You To Go.” Her new release continues to visit these themes that have served her so well for the last half-century.

She was an important part of the folk protest generation of the 1960’s and the title track and chilling “The Uranium War” return her to that time period. At the other end of the spectrum is the beautiful “Love Charms (Mojo Bijoux),” which just about matches anything from her past.

She reaches back to her first album of over 50 years ago for a re-imaging of “It’s My Way” and then alters the words to another previous release “Generation.”

In some places she veers away from the simplicity of her past as her vocals are layered. It is also good to see an album of all original material.

Despite a couple of loves songs her new album is not as gentle as many in her past. The harder edge fits the world around her well as she continues to inter-act with her surroundings.

Power In The Blood continues Buffy Sainte-Marie’s legacy of strong songs that move in many directions. It shows some growth, which is always appreciated for an artist in her mid-70s. It is a good traditional folk album, which is what is expected for an artist of her stature.


Carnero Vaquero By Ian Tyson

October 26, 2015

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At the age of 81 most people are quietly retired, sitting in an easy chair, sipping margaritas, or some other beverage. Not so with folk icon Ian Tyson who continues to play around 40 concerts a year, manages his cattle ranch south of Calgary, and is about to release his 17th album.

Tyson’s career began in 1959 as a part of the folk duo Ian & Tyson, which were an important part of the 1960’s folk revival movement. They moved to Nashville in the early 1970s and experimented with a primitive folk/rock sound. Since their break-up in 1975, Tyson has gravitated back to his native Canada and has settled into a country/folk niche with an emphasis on country and western stories and music.

The title of his new album, Carnero Vaquero, is Spanish for ram and cowboy. It sets the tone for his stories of the Canadian west. Rotating between original compositions and covers, he presents a laid back album of authentic and soulful tunes.

He includes a bright remake of the early 1960’s Ian & Sylvia song, “Darcy Farrow.” The imagery of “Wolves No Longer Sing” transports the listener to a different place and time. “Doney Gal” is an old traditional folk song that he updates to his western style.

He adds a number of new compositions to the mix. “Will James,” “Cottonwood Canyon,” and “Jughound Ronnie” all represents the thoughts and feelings of a man approaching the winter of his life.

Tyson’s voice has a world weary feel, which suits his music well. It has miraculously recovered from when it was severely damaged in an accident in 2007. The album was recorded in an old stone building on his ranch and has a simple quality that is timeless.

Ian Tyson keeps rolling along producing a brand of music that has resonated for a half century. Carnero Vaquero is the latest chapter in his stellar career.