CD and Book Reviews

From The Folknik Jan/Feb 2002

Gordon Bok - Dear to our Island

Timberhead Music, PO BOX 840, Camden, Maine 04843,

Of the generous 18 cuts on this almost 61-minute recording, only 9 songs and 2 instrumentals are Gordon singing and playing alone. He involves friends and neighbors in harmony, orchestral and choral arrangements, creating a rich variety of old and new tunes and songs. Other musicians are Will Brown, Anne Dodson, Cindy Kallet and Carol Rohl, The Quasimodals, The January Men, and the Small World Orchestra. As noted in the accompanying publicity, "Gordon continues to challenge himself with new styles and arrangements." And five of his own poems are included.

Of the individual selections, there are several you've never heard before and aren't likely to hear elsewhere, but they A will enrich your musical life and delight your musical ear! There's a slave song, a reel, the gentle Coonemare Cradle Song, Eric Bogle's Now I'm Easy, and Jock O'Hazeldean, along with a Tarascan Indian dance tune and songs of sorrow and comfort. All flow smoothly one to another.

This recording comes with my own, personal highest recommendation. No Bok fan will consider being without Dear To Our Island, and if one is just discovering Gordon, this is a fine place to start.

- Faitb Petric

Charlie King and Karen Brandow - I Struck Gold

Appleseed Recordings, PO Box 2593, West Chester, PA 19380;

I have always maintained that absolutely no one can put together an album like Charlie King, and this one certainly fulfills the promise. Although there's only a little over 45 minutes of playing time on the recording, that's more than enough to run the entire gamut of human emotions, and set you off on a new song-learning jag. There are simply entertaining songs (Dave Gordon's I Struck Gold, Andrew Lawrence's God Danced; two wonderful Steve Goodman songs (The One That Got Away and The Ballad Gf Penny Evans), covers of extremely meaningful songs I never heard before (Angel Parra's Que Sera de Mis Hermanos, beautifully rendered by Karen; and Bonnie Lockhart's Dignity) and ones that seem ubiquitous these days (Malvina Reynolds' I Can't Sleep).

And of course some Charlie originals. These can be counted on to inform of some little-known labor history like Six Days With the Boss, better-known recent history like Wal-Mart Union Gonna Rise Again, portraits of new role models like Yanira Merino, or offer quixotic looks at some recent cultural icons, Tinky Winky (this one will make you cry), and Barny (I didn't know whether to laugh or cry at this one).

Charlie never overuses a musical style, and each cut on this recording is rendered in a manner that befits the subject matter and is unlike any other. Arrangements also run the gamut, from a single unaccompanied voice to full bands with lots of harmonies. So, as with each of Charlie's previous releases, this is a masterpiece from a master, and of course it's highly recommended!

- Kathryn LaMar

Whale Chasing Men - Songs of Whaling in Ice and Sun - Composed, sung, and told by Harry Robertson

Screensound Australia CD/SSA/WC0022; McCoy Circuit, ACTON ACT2601;

This is a re-issue of a 1971 album by Harry Robertson, a native Glaswegian who immigrated to Australia and worked (mostly as engineer) in the whaling industry there and in New Zealand. Harry was a very literate man who knew exactly what he was writing and singing about. He was well respected in his adopted land, and known as one of the founders of the Australian folk movement.

Harry had a good, solid, full-ahead voice; it's not pretty, but it's perfectly suited to his songs, and the songs are clear and powerful descriptions of a way of life. Processing the Whale is all you'll ever need to know about that, clear and complete. Flensers (a reading) is strong stuff with good contrasts. Norfolk Whalers, about the "hand whaling" (whaling out of small rowing boats as they did out of St. Vincent), is a good picture of that industry. While Blubber Laddie reminds me of one of MacColl's less-subtle productions, it tells us about a caste of people about whom we would know nothing otherwise. And it's good to hear The Wee Pot Stove as Harry meant it to be, with all the verses, and not (forgive us) misattributed to Eric Bogle.

Alex Hood sings two songs here very well, as does Marion Henderson, whose singing of Whaling Wife is simply stunning. The accompaniments on this recording rarely get in the way of the songs. The harshness and graphic clarity of some of these songs may offend modem sensibilities, but that's probably good. I hope most of these songs become part of our lexicon, because they're part of how we got where we are. An important chronicle and a good job.

- Gordon Bok

Celtophile Recordings on Green Linnet
Eric Park/Woodlark (707) 745-0110

I've recently discovered this series of inexpensive Irish and Scottish music collection CDs, and I got a little crazy (buying about 8 or 10 of them - well, I love a bargain!). They run about $8 each, and consist of songs and instrumentals from throughout the regular Green Linnet catalog. Often Celtic music collections are geared to a non-musical audience and are little more than New Age background with a tin whistle, but never fear--not so this series. Most of the Celtophile CDs are excellent, and appeal to both the hardcore Celtic music enthusiast (especially the collections featuring one instrument, such as Masters of the Celtic Accordion) and the newbie (especially the song collections). Many of rny favorite Irish and Scottish singers and bands are featured, such as Deanta, Niamh Parsons, Silly Wizard, Patrick Street, and Altan.

These are great recordings to put on when you don't know what to play, or want a variety. They're also good gifts for friends you want to introduce to this music. I haven't liked all of them--Here's To The Highlands had too many tracks with rock instrumentation for my tastes. But I especially liked the Scottish fiddle, harp, flute, and accordion CDs, and the song collections Songs From The Heart and Putting On Airs. These are available from Green Linnet, and through distributors like Andy's Front Hall. Local folkie distributor Eric Park charges $7.50 apiece, and carries a lot of other interesting stuff.

- Mitch Gordon

Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina and Richard Farina

by David Hajdu, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY) 2001, 328 pages, ISBN 0374281998, hardback, $25.00

(A short excerpt from a longer review by Michael Cala in Sing Out!, Vol 45, #3, Fall 2001.)

Of the four profiled in this book, it is Dylan who emerges the most complex and certainly the most influential. Starting out as a wide-eyed kid from Minnesota who lies almost pathologically about his roots, young Robert Allen Zimmerman arrives in New York already thunderstruck by BaezŐs quick national success with her first Vanguard LP. How he would shortly transform publicly into the balladeer with bad attitude and the poet of alienation is mesmerizing reading.

This book is well worth reading. Hajdu is an entertaining storyteller and introduces us in these 328 pages to most of the major and minor personalities associated with the early days of the folk revival.

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