Latest free CDs available to review writers—this could be you! Contact Beth Berkelhammer if interested.

  1. Wendy Burch Steel, Open Wings. Debut release from Northern California Bluegrass Society nominee for Best Female Vocalist, featuring six original songs plus five more by Bill Monroe, Peter Rowan, Rodney Dillard. Burch is supported here by the very finest: Laurie Lewis, Tom Rozum, Richard Brandenburg, Chad Manning, and more.
  2. Lousia Branscomb, I’ll Take Love. Thirteen Branscomb originals performed by an impressive roster of talent that includes Claire Lynch, John Cowan, Dale Ann Bradley, Alison Krauss, Rob Ickes, Alison Brown, Stuart Duncan, Jim Hurst, Mike Witcher, Missy Raines, Buck White.


Joanne Davis, Love Rises

At long last we have Joanne Davis’s first recording, with the promise of more to follow. “Right up there with Malvina Reynolds,” some have said. “World class,” says Bob Franke. And from Bob Sherman (“Woody’s Children,” WQXR), “A gifted songwriter&hellips;very, very funny&hellips;real, touching songs of human relationships.” Folks love her warm, highly personal performances, her powerful use of images, her “witty, occasionally wacky” humor, and her amazing range—“songs that will break your heart or break you up with laughter.” See her in person if you can, in various California venues and sometimes in the New York City area, but in the meantime, listen to this excellent CD. It runs the gamut in 50 minutes, and song lyrics and comments from Davis are included.

There are laughs aplenty. The “Broken Bagel” is a “broken token” song that always convulses audiences. There’s the brilliant (and delicious) “Chocolate.” “The Personals,” her true-life reaching-out adventure. The tongue-in-cheek “Song of Struggle” (on a benign battlefield), with its choice, clever lines. And the cheery update of familiar “Nursery Rhymes.” There are fine, upbeat songs like “You Set Me Singing” and the “Round-Again Waltz,” with its gentle, elegant marriage of words and music. There’s the thoughtful, nostalgic imagery of “The Tall Grass.” And best of all, the intense, moving songs about Davis’s children, including my favorite, the powerful and touching “Naomi’s Song (Weaving),” which brings tears to my eyes every time. Davis accompanies herself on guitar and concertina, with additional instrumental assists by a fine cadre of her musician friends.

It’s a treat to know the remarkable, talented Joanne Davis; here’s your chance to be touched by her magic. You can order Love Rises via e-mail from, or by writing to Joanne Davis, For more information and to hear samples of several songs, visit Davis’s website at Happy listening.

—Sol Weber

Dick Holdstock & Allan MacLeod, Seasoned Songs.
Holdstock and MacLeod, 2012;

Dick Holdstock and Allan MacLeod are well known in folk circles for their performances of sea songs, shanties, and traditional ballads. Last fall they released Seasoned Songs, a CD of traditional songs that they had not previously recorded. In October, two lively CD release concerts were held, in Berkeley and Winters, showcasing the duo and the musicians who assisted on the recording.

The CD offers 16 songs, most with simple choruses, drawn from Holdstock and MacLeod’s English and Scottish heritages. The songs champion working men and women—the ones who weave, dig the in coal mines, sell needle cases, and harvest corn for a living. The package insert explains the origins of all 16 songs, and the song lyrics are available on the Holdstock-MacLeod website. Seasoned Songs is a solid addition to their numerous previous recordings.

Dick and Allan met at the 1976 Santa Rosa Folk Festival, where they were performing individually. Since then, they have appeared together at many top-notch festivals such as the Edinburgh Festival, Newport Festival, the Mystic Sea Festival, Tacoma Sea Festival, Sea Fever Festival (UK), and Bridgnorth Festival (UK). Both artists come from hardworking families, and as Allan says, “a left-wing family.” Allan spent a year traveling with a British Trade Union Congress back in 1962 under Ewan MacColl. Dick collected “Jovial Man of Kent” from Ronald Resch in a Kent village pub about 30 miles from where he grew up, and learned “Ale of Old England” from Barry Temple in 1992 at the Broadstairs Folk Festival, also in Kent. Allan remembers collecting “Cape Breton Farewell” from Dick and Diane Thies and “Sae Will We Yet” from Tony Cuffe.

Kudos to all the fine musicians who contributed to this recording: Larry Hanks, Carol Holdstock, Celia Ramsay, and Dave Nachmanoff. Dick Holdstock and Allan MacLeod will perform at the San Francisco Sea Music Festival on September 14 at the Hyde Street Pier. You can order Seasoned Songs from, iTunes, Amazon, or CDBaby.

—Jean Crossley