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.

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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.


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.