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  1. ELLA JENKINS, Call-And-Response Rhythmic Group Singing, Smithsonian Folkways. A reissue of Ella Jenkins’s first recording, originally released in 1957. Jenkins’s life work has been to encourage children (and adults) to sing in groups for enjoyment, using simple call-and-response chants and songs from many cultures and in different languages. Clapping and simple percussion instruments are also used. On this recording, Jenkins teaches a group of children 10 chants; it’s a pleasure to hear them. Of particular interest to teachers, parents, or anyone who leads groups of humans in song.
  2. KIERAN KANE, Somewhere Beyond the Roses, Compass Records. Banjo meets Bari! Baritone sax, that is. This 2009 solo release from singer-songwriter-banjo man Kieran Kane (formerly of critically acclaimed, and charting, country-bluegrass duo the O’Kanes) features Kane’s banjo and vocals, plus sax, electric guitar, and drums. A quick listen to a few tracks left me wanting more, and I have a date planned with this CD soon. The one cover included is “Tell Me Mama,” by blues-harp god Little Walter Jacobs—heck, I may have to review this one myself.


GREENHOUSE, Dreams and High Hopes
Jackalope, 2009

I’ve been listening to the “new” Greenhouse CD, Dreams And High Hopes, in my “new” (to me) car constantly for the last few days, and I have really been enjoying it. This band has been playing around Sonoma County for many years, and I’ve been an audience member on many occasions. The CD captures a lot of what happens at their gigs, and it provides some surprises as well—like Michael Rofkar’s tasty electric guitar playing and his excellent songwriting. I was blown away to read in the album notes that the title song comes from Rofkar’s own hand. It’s a well-told tale of an Irish-famine immigrant drawn into the American Civil War. He finds his childhood best friend in the sights of his rifle and, luckily, does not kill him. That incident is told in the song to great effect. I like that stylistic device, and it’s used again, in pirate voice, during Patricia Casey’s rendition of “The Maid on the Shore.” Very cool!

There’s a lot of fine musicianship on this recording, as well. Jon Berger, my favorite Sonoma County violinist, comes through loud and clear on almost every cut. He also does a fine job on mandolin, melodeon, viola, and whistle, filling in the spaces with texture and filigree in a most artful and appropriate manner. Several guests sweeten and expand the production. I was thrilled by Todd Denman’s soaring pipes, particularly in the Nollaig Casey tune “The Mouseskin Shoe.” Michael Capella brings his tasty Dobro into the mix on the country-flavored title cut.

My favorite piece on this CD is the final song, “Lone Shanakyle,” a beautiful ballad written in the 1860s, which tells the sad story of Ireland’s holocaust experience of a generation before. The production values on this cut really shine, and every player provides perfect support for an important and beautiful historical presentation.

Well done, Greenhouse! I am certain that Greenhouse’s High Hopes will garner much attention from Celtic music fans around the world.

—Riggy Rackin

TOM SMITH, Journey Home.
Birch Beer Records, 2011

Tom is a New England folk veteran who has been delighting audiences for more than 35 years. Some quotes from his listeners: “Songs that are in turn humorous, touching, thought provoking, inspiring.” “He'll make you laugh and cry (maybe even in the same song)—a very captivating songwriter and performer.” I agree.

This latest recording offers 13 songs, mostly originals, including the totally delightful and clever “Lick My Face” (aka, “A Declaration of Independence”). You can enjoy a video clip of Tom performing this song at It bowled me over. You’ll probably have the same reaction.

Other songs include “Annie on the Stairs,” a love song to an old house and its familiar creaky sounds; “A Folksinger's GPS” (very funky; that internal guidance system that carries us through life); a poignant song, “The Last Folksinger”; “Phil’s Guitar,” a lively ode to a beloved instrument; a cheery glass-worker's song, “The Jolly Glazier”; “Swallowed by the Hole,” a mining disaster saga; “Working Poor,” about hard times; the exuberant “Street Singer’s Heaven” (by Bob Bovee and Stevie Beck); the title song, “Journey Home,” a song-writer’s prayer, and more.

This is a fine album. Get it. (There's even a “Lick My Face” T-shirt available!)

For a copy of “Journey Home,” send a check for $14 to Tom Smith Music, 281 Court Street, Dedham, MA, 02026. Or visit either website listed above to place an order. For more information, write to Tom Smith at

—Sol Weber