Book and CD Reviews

From The Folknik July/August 1999

Book Review

Calf's Head and Union Tale: Labor Yarns at Work and Play
by Archie Green

University of Illinois Press,
1325 South Oak St., Champaign, IL 61820

During my years of working in construction, I considered myself fortunate to be paired with (or even on a job with) a good story or joke teller. Archie Green's Calf's Head and Union Tale took me back to a time when I heard jokes, stories, or observations in a variety of accents or dialects. At one time or another I'd held union cards in Alaska, New York, and California, and as teenager I’d been strongly influenced by Jack London and Robert Serv-ice—two wonderful story tellers. Clearly Archie Green has enjoyed exposure to many of the same influences and experiences that working people universally run. Although his approach or study is quite academic, the book should capture the imagination and interest of anyone who has been involved in the struggle to survive the erosion of hard- earned rights and benefits won or lost by working people.

Under ordinary circumstances, that "exposure" to various stories would take a long period of time, job changes, and changes in geographical location, but now, thanks to the former Professor Green, we have the humor, tragedy, and insights of some working people and their experiences in a single well-researched book. This book also has some interesting illustrations and there are 13 pages of references.

- Herb Jager

Note from Faith: Besides great funny and ironic jokes of workers' experiences, a lot of union and labor history is painlessly presented in the stories in these pages.

CD Reviews

California in my Heart
Michele Whizin and Matthew Werner

$15 per CD, plus $2 shipping,
Catalpa Records, PO box 1314 Santa Cruz, CA 95061-1314, 831- 427-3153, <>.

Of the 14 tunes on this CD, 9 are originals, including 2 lively bluegrass instrumentals. The album begins with the inspiring chorus, "Climb the mountains, get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you like sunshine flowing into trees," which Matthew Werner took verbatim from a book written a century ago by naturalist John Muir, and wove them into his original ballad, "John of the Mountains." It’s a fine piece of songwriting.

Werner’s love affair with California’s "Range of Light" colors many of the original compositions on this recording. The great harmony singing, simple acoustic arrangements, and good songwriting make this album enjoyable. The songs are peopled by stock California characters: Native Americans, overland immigrants, stage coach drivers, loggers, miners, and water barons.

One of the most beautiful songs on the album is "Mountain Air", sung by the composer, Michele Whizin, who has an enrapturing alto voice. Whizin plays the acoustic bass, and sings well throughout this album. Her rendition of "A La Ru", a Spanish language lullaby from the nativity play "Los Pastores," is memorable. Michele also sings a swing-flavored arrangement of "Man Walks Among Us," the late Marty Robbins’s ode to our vanishing deserts. Whizin belts out the old chestnut "Darkness on the Delta," she gets a nice gospel feeling on Alice Stuart and Marianne Rooney’s "On the Banks of the Tuolumne." Phil Johnston’s hard-driving guitar picking shines on Werner’s original bluegrass number, "Northcoast Town," a modern saga of the loggers put out of work by federal laws intended to protect ancient forests and endangered species.

- Peg Healy

Thunder Perfect Mind
Logan's Well

PO Box 1524 Sebas-topol CA 95473
707-829-6672, <>.

This is the album Steeleye Span would have made if they were still rocking in the Nineties, taking traditional music beyond the edge. Logan's Well is a terrific new trio (or recombination of local yokels) that is musically modern, yet deep into roots music, flavored with creativity, humor, and respect. Dumbek, open tuning, electric guitar, and banjo are all here and make for some extremely good listening. They may also succeed in the mainstream; where else are you going to hear an 11th century Irish ballad ("Donal Og") verging on jazz , or "The Little Beggar Man" ending in a soft scat duet? Their wild mocking rides through "Auchindoon" and "Geordie" and more sweetly "The Tender" are wonderful.

This group produces balanced layers of sound, with subtle background harmonies. The astonishing guitar duo of Steve Baughman and Dylan Schorer walks through a delightful "Good Natured Man/An Comhra Dunn" with casually masterful modulations. Carleen Duncan's warm, resonant alto voice holds its own with confident power. The composed pieces tend to serious subjects, are neither depressive nor naive. The group's name comes from an ee-rie, bluesy ballad, "Jubilee," about the destiny of a Chero-kee girl raised by white folk. The album title, "Thunder Perfect Mind," has a historical source but it's also the kind of non sequitur you'd expect from Steve after listening to these arrangements. After all, he wrote music reviews for the folknik under the pen name of "Exchequer Pig."

- Peg Healy

Keeping Love Alive - CitySongs, 1996-1998

University of Minnesota School of Social Work
386 McNeal Hall, 1985 Buford Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55108; 612- 626 1241.

SFFMC member Helen Kivnick, Executive Director of CitySongs, gave us this CD when she visited the Bay Area recently. Launched in1992, CitySongs has worked with over 500 young people ages 8-14 years who come from all over the Twin Cities metro area, and has given over 100 public performances. The choir is a rainbow of colors; participants meet two nights a week after school to rehearse, get instruction on singing, harmony, movement, choreography, song writing and more. The stated aim of CitySongs is "Helping young people develop competence, confidence, and individual potential through diverse group music participation." A member says "Singing takes my mind off something bad and makes me happy." A parent says "In this world of danger, CitySongs is an island of safety." Local groups working with young musicians may take inspiration from CitySongs., get information direct from Helen or the address above.

As to the music itself—The strength and beauty of the young voices blended in the 12 songs given here is enough to inspire and give hope to all of us. Songs are written by the singers, sometimes in collaboration with adults involved. Training and practice show through; even the words of raps can be understood. When they sing "Let's Change the World," you believe they can do it.

- Faith Petric

CDs waiting to be reviewed

To review these or other recordings listed in previous folkniks phone 415-661-2217 or drop a card to 885 Clayton, SF 94117. The first four are from Folkways.

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