Love Is A Four Letter Word 45 by Joan Baez

May 29, 2012

Joan Baez was a key figure in the American folk revival movement of the 1960s. She has also been in the forefront of social causes for the last half-century. While her popularity peak was during the 1960s through the mid-1970s, she continues to record and perform live down to the present day.

“Love Is A Four Letter World” is a Bob Dylan composition that I don’t think has ever been recorded by him.

It is a song that has always been associated with Baez, who first issued it as a single during early 1969. It spent four weeks on the BILBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart and peaked at number 86.

The song has since become an iconic Joan Baez tune. It has appeared on a number of her albums and is still a part of her stage act.

Raven Singer by Ian Tyson

May 15, 2012

Ian Tyson, born 1933 in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, is now one of the grand old men of the 1960s folk movement. He and his former wife, Sylvia Fricker, were an important duo in the revival of folk music during the turbulent 1960s (as Ian & Sylvia). Their time together, 1959-1975, produced a body of work that was among the best of the era. Their subsequent move to Nashville resulted in an early form of country rock.

At the age of 78, Tyson shows no signs of slowing down as he has remained active in the studio and on the road. Every few years he emerges from his Calgary farm with a new album of well-created and thoughtful material. Raven Singer is his fourth album since 2000, in addition to a two-DVD concert video and a successful autobiography.

The new album immediately takes the listener to a familiar place in the world of Ian Tyson. The singer-songwriter’s self-penned songs reflect his incisive views of the world around him; his love of the West hovers above his music and helps make the stories real and ultimately entertaining and charming. Also, though his distinctive voice shows the wear and tear of the miles traveled, it is still serviceable and fits his stories well.

”Under African Skies” and “Back To Baja” are travelogues of his latest adventures. “Blueberry Susan” is a nostalgic tribute to the first guitarist he ever encountered, plus a farewell to some old friends, Red Shea, Monte Dunn, and David Rea, who passed away recently.

He visits his western roots with “Charles Goodnight’s Grave,” which actually rocks a little, and on “Saddle Bronc Girl.” Elsewhere, he reached back two decades for a moving re-working of his song, “The Circle Is Through.”

Ian Tyson is a durable survivor and his new album should be a delight for his fan base and folk aficionados alike. Raven Singer is a fine addition to his large and impressive body of work.

Article first published as Music Review: Ian Tyson – Raven Singer on Blogcritics.

Deeper In The Well by Eric Bibb

April 24, 2012

Eric Bibb comes from an outstanding pedigree. His father, Leon, was a part of the early 1960s folk revival movement in the United States, Paul Robeson was his godfather, and John Lewis of Modern Jazz Quartet fame was his uncle.

He was exposed to music as a child and received his first guitar at the age of seven. He is a traditional folk/blues artist who relies on an acoustic sound. During the course of his long and prolific career, he has released close to three dozen albums and received a number of blues awards.

During the past 40 years, he has recorded for a number of labels but has now signed with the Stony Plain label out of Canada, which specializes in folk, blues, and roots music. If his debut album for the label is any indication, it will be a good match.

Deeper In The Well finds Bibb continuing to explore the folk and blues heritage. As with many traditional blues artists, he is a virtuoso on the guitar, be it a six, seven, or nine-string, plus can also play a mean banjo when required. He is supported by harmonica player Grant Dermody, who plays a prominent part in his sound, upright bass/accordion player Dirk Powell, fiddler Cedric Watson, drummer Danny DeVillier, and Cajun triangle player Christine Balfa.

He is at his best on a couple of traditional folk tracks when he presents “Boll Weevil” and “Sinner Man” in all their raw starkness. He also gives a smooth and precise interpretation of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A Changin.’”

“Bayou Belle” is a modern folk/blues song right out of the southern Delta. It has an ominous style as it spins its tale of love’s longing. Oddly, the title track is the one that moves him farthest from his roots. “Dig A Little Deeper In The Well,” written by deceased Nashville songwriter Roger Bowling, comes close to being a conventional country song, complete with fiddles, banjos, and harmony vocals.

He is also a noted songwriter. Tracks such as “In My Time,” “Music,” “Movin’ Up,” “No Further,” and “Sittin’ In A Hotel Room” all find him fusing folk and blues traditions.

Deeper In The Well is a fine addition to Eric Bibb’s large catalog of releases, as it is a modern interpretation of some old traditions. Bibb remains one of the better practitioners of his chosen style of music.

Article first published as Music Review: Eric Bibb – Deeper In The Well on Blogcritics.

Alice’s Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie

January 12, 2012

Will all commie pinkos please report to the Group W bench at Alice’s Restaurant?

Arlo Guthrie had a hard act to follow. His father was the legendary Woody Guthrie, whose songs influenced hundreds of artists, and became the focal point for political protest for the generation that was to follow his death at the age of 55 in 1967.

During the last four-plus decades, Arlo Guthrie has released dozens of albums, toured constantly, and become a respected member of the modern day folk movement. His first album, released the same year as his father’s death, remains his most enduring and memorable because of the title song.

Alice’s Restaurant was issued during September of 1967 and elevated Arlo to the upper ranks of 1960s folk artists. The title song, “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree,” was a definitive song of the Vietnam War era and remains the grand opus of his career. It became such a hit that two years later, the song was made into a movie.

The song was an 18-minute talking blues style anti-war song. There really was an Alice, a restaurant, and an officer, Obie. It was a first person account of his arrest for littering, a visit to his draft board, and of being regulated to the Group W bench for rejects. The 27 glossy 8 X 10 pictures with circles and arrows was a bonus. The humor, which attracted the attention of millions, belied the serious political commentary and biting anti-war message. The song has been updated a number of times through the years, including during the Reagan and Bush administrations, but the original remains the classic version.

Most people who purchased the album did so for the title track, but there were several other songs that represented the era well. “Chilling of the Evening” was a melodic but scathing criticism of the Vietnam War. “Ring-Around-A Rosy Rag“ concerned an arrest for drug use hidden in 1920s-style music. “The Motorcycle Song“ was another humorous and clever track with odd rhyming that was a nice ride through the anti-protest movement of the late 1960s.

Alice’s Restaurant is somewhat dated today but remains a funny, joyous, and ultimately insightful album that did Arlo Guthrie’s father proud.

Article first published as Music Review: Arlo Guthrie – Alice’s Restaurant on Blogcritics.

Michael by The Highwaymen

December 27, 2011

The year 1961 produced a variety of number one hits typical of the pre-Beatles era. They ranged from the easy listening of Bert Kaempfert and Lawrence Welk (“Wonderland By Night” and “Calcutta”), to the dance tune of Chubby Checker (“Pony Time”), to the doo-wop of The Marcels (“Blue Moon”), to the rock ‘n roll of Del Shannon (“Runaway”). Add in Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, Roy Orbison, plus the number one song of the year, “Tossin’ And Turnin” by Bobby Lewis, and you have a lot of different sounds and styles.

The trend continued when a folk song made a rare appearance at the top of the Billboard’s Pop Singles Chart, September 4, 1961. That track, “Michael” by The Highwaymen, would remain in that position for two weeks.

“Michael, Row The Boat Ashore” was an African-American spiritual that became popular during the American Civil War. During the 1950s, folk artists Pete Seeger and The Weavers recorded the song and performed it regularly in concert. It was The Highwaymen, however, who produced the most memorable version.

The group was formed during 1958 by five freshmen at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. They had to have been one of the most educated bands ever to reach number one: Bob Burnett (Harvard Law), Steve Butts (Ph.D. Columbia in Chinese Politics), Steve Trott (Harvard Law), Chan Daniels (Harvard Business), and lead singer Dave Fisher (a plain over Wesleyan graduate who would become a career musician, session player, and songwriter) released eight albums and charted five singles before breaking up in 1964.

The Highwaymen were a classic folk group and an important part of the late 1950s and early 1960s folk revival. Their harmonies on traditional folk tunes made the music more palatable to a pop audience and helped folk music crossover into the mainstream.

Their cover of “Michael Row The Boat Ashore,” which they shortened to just “Michael,” was their crowning commercial achievement as it sold over one million copies in The United States and topped the singles charts in both the USA and Great Britain. Their peppy version of the old standard remains the definitive version.

The group, minus Daniels (who passed away during 1975), re-formed in 1987 for their 25th college reunion. This led to them playing 10-15 concerts a year until Fisher’s death during 2010.

The Highwaymen were an influential folk group who managed to produce one of the better selling folk singles in music history. A half century ago this year, they were on top of the music world.

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A World Of Our Own/Sinner Man 45 by The Seekers

August 27, 2011

The Seekers can best be described as a slick pop/folk group from Australia. They consisted of lead singer Judith Durham, guitarist Pete Potger, guitarist Bruce Woodley, and stand-up bassist Athol Guy.

They are best remembered in The United States for their top five hits, “Georgy Girl” and “I’ll Never Find Another You.”

I found their May, 1965 release their best. “A World Of Our Own” reached number 19 on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart. It reached number three in the U.K. It was a up-tempo tune with Durham’s vocal floating above the tight harmonies.

The bonus was the flip side, “Sinner Man.” It was an up-tempo folk song, with acoustic guitars strumming as fast as can be. It is one of the great lost folk songs of the mid-1960s.

The Seekers were popular for a short time in the United States during the mid-1960s but were superstars in England and particularly their home country of Australia. They have sold close to 50 million records worldwide.

The broke up in 1968 but reunited during 1992; a reunion that lasted for 11 years. They have again reunited and are on tour.

The Cruel War 45 by Peter. Paul, and Mary

August 15, 2011

Peter, Paul & Mary were an instrumental part of the 1960s folk revival. While most of the folk music of the era was sparse and simpl, their harmonies pushed it in a pop direction and made it appealing to millions of music fans.

While they sold tens of millions of albums and had a number of big single hits that crossed over onto the pop charts, their version of “The Cruel War,” released during April of 1966, was a minor hit reaching number 52 on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart.

It was a gentle anti-war/protest song that became popular during The Vietnam War era. While the song would not become one of their staples, it was still one of its better renditions.

The Debut Album Plus by Joan Baez

August 1, 2011

Whatever your opinions on Joan Baez’s political views and social activism, there is little doubt that she has been one of the important figures in American folk music for the last 50 years and the possessor of one of music’s all-time purest voices.

Her coming out party was the 1959 and 1960 Newport Folk Festivals, the first as Bob Gibson’s unscheduled guest and the second as a solo performer. Just after her second appearance, she traveled to New York City to record her first solo album. She spent four days making the album in the ballroom of the Manhattan Towers Hotel, where many Vanguard label artists recorded due to the room’s live-feel acoustics. Released in October of 1960, it enjoyed little commercial success until two years later — once Baez had become a star — when it began a 140-week run on the Billboard Magazine Pop Album Chart.

Her self-titled debut was a typical folk album of the day. It consisted of 13 traditional folk songs, including “Silver Dagger,” “House Of The Rising Sun,” “Donna Donna,” “Wildwood Flower,” “Rake and Rambling Boy,” and “All My Trials.” The focus lay squarely on her voice as Baez provided the only instrumental accompaniment with acoustic guitar, save for some added acoustic playing by Fred Hellerman of The Weavers on several tracks.

It’s nice to have this historic album back in circulation. It has been reissued a number of times, in fact, and they all suffer from a little distortion on the high notes; this release is no exception. Since this is an ongoing problem, the issue is probably located in the source tape, which may well be the one used to create the original vinyl LP.

Ten bonus tracks included on this newest edition are essential for any Joan Baez fan — or collector of American folk music, for that matter — as they include performances that predate the release of her official debut. In 1959, Boston booking agent and concert promoter Manny Greenhill issued Folksingers ‘Round Harvard Square in a limited quantity on the small Veritas label. The album showcased the growing folk scene in the Boston area. It featured six solo performances by Baez, four each by local folksingers Bill Wood and Ted Alevizos, plus four duets between Baez and the men. All 10 of the Baez tracks are included here.

As far as I know, this particular collection of recordings has never been officially issued on CD. It was briefly reissued ’60s on vinyl in the ’60s, but through legal action Baez forced the set to be withdrawn and has never since consented to its release. Music falls into the public domain 50 years after its original recording, however, which has resulted in these performances once again seeing the light of day.

The sound of these 10 tracks is fine considering they were recorded in a tenement basement over a half century ago. The type of material is similar to her official debut but, interestingly, there are no duplicates. “Banks Of The Ohio,” “O What A Beautiful City,” “Sail Away Ladies,” “Black Is The Colour,” “Lowlands,” and “Virgin Mary (What You Gonna Call Your Pretty Little Baby)” were likely all part of her live act at this early stage of her career.

Bill Wood was a local folk singer and a Harvard undergraduate, while Ted Alevizos was a member of the Harvard faculty. Both have long since disappeared from the music scene, but they could sing, and here they leave their mark in these studio performances with the then-18-year-old Baez.

The Debut Album Plus is an essential early ’60s release. The music may underscore a simpler time but it remains historically significant, particularly in light of the turbulent era in which the U.S. would soon be immersed.

Article first published as Music Review: Joan Baez – Joan Baez: The Debut Album Plus on Blogcritics.

Tom Dooley 45 by The Kingston Trio

June 29, 2011

While The Kingston Trio had a number of chart single hits, it was their album sales that made them superstars of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Five of their first six album releases reached number one and combined, occupied the top spot on the charts for 46 weeks. They were a folk group consisting of banjo player Dave Guard, and guitarists Bob Shane and Nick Reynolds.

Their first single was released September 29, 1958. “Tom Dooley” was based on an American folk song written during the late 1860s. It would become their biggest hit reaching the number one spot on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Chart for one week.

They were one the leading leading artists in the ressurrection of folk music during the pre-Beatles era.

My Life 45 by Phil Ochs

May 31, 2011

Phil Ochs is an unknown name among most of the current generation of music fans. During the mid-1960s, he was second only to Bob Dylan as a folk artist.

His music may be somewhat stuck in the sixties but it still deserves a listen today. He was an angry, take no prisoners protest singer who railed agains the U.S. government, war, and a number of other subjects that crossed his path.

His album releases were commercialyt successful but he never had a song reach the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart. It was not for a lack of trying. “My Life” is representative of his music and while it may not have been suited for AM radio play, it deserved to make the charts. Many of his albums are worth seeking out.