Reviews

Regime Change!!

This is the last issue of the folknik for which I (Kathryn) serve as editor of the Reviews page. Yes, after 10 years (!) editing this page, it’s time to turn the editorial duties over to someone else. Your new Review Page editor, Lisa Hubbel, has been a member of the club and the east bay folk community for a long time, and is a wonderful songwriter in her own right! Please join me and the rest of the folknik staff in welcoming Lisa. Her email address is

General Instructions

CD REVIEWS

Joe Craven: Django Latino. Available at www.joecraven.com/joe_craven_music.html

Editor’s Note: This description was edited from a description on the Home-Grown Music Network website. Nashville-based Compass Records is re-releasing this CD on their label.

At age 21, Django Reinhardt entered into a turbulent and brilliant partnership with pianist and violinist Stephane Grapelli. Both exhibited a mastery of musical expression, and together they recorded some of the most significant jazz of the 20th century. The grace, soul, taste, and unmistakable tone of Stephane's violin along with Django's unconventional intensity were hallmarks of their group, The Quintet of the Hot Club of France. Joe Craven, well-known for his virtuosity as a multi-instrumentalist and 17-year veteran of touring as a member of the David Grisman Quintet, has painted his appreciation for Django and Stephane's one-of-a-kind music in glorious color on Django Latino, where he crafts infinitely appealing instrumental works from Django and Stephane's texts, making them swing and glide with a pronounced Latin flavor.

Django Latino makes the most of its creator's imaginative capacities. Craven successfully internalizes the multifaceted music of Reinhart, then recasts it through the lens of a rich Latin soundscape, creating tracks that are "festive and spicy where the originals are swinging and hot" (Allaboutjazz.com). Playing mandolin, mandola, cavaquiño, ukulele and a full range of percussion instruments, Craven uses modern, multi-tracking technology to play nearly every part on several of the tracks, which range from Cuban danzón to Brazilian choro samba to Puerto Rican plena. "Ambitious as that might sound," says the LA Times of the project, "Craven brings it off, playing with briskly swinging inventiveness and convincing authenticity."

Denise Norton O’Sullivan: Little Margaret. Available from Denise at PO Box 1141, Marshall, NC 28753.

Denise Norton O’Sullivan may not be well-known among traditional folkies—even fans of the traditional ballad and unaccompanied singing—but her musical heritage and credentials are as deep as the soil of western North Carolina. A ninth-generation ballad singer, Denise comes from a family making and singing traditional music in Madison County, North Carolina. Listening to Norton O’Sullivan is like being taken to another place and time, placed in the hands of a spell-binding storyteller. The majority of her songs are narrative ballads that have been in her family for centuries.

Here are comic ditties such as "The Burglar Man" and "Four Nights Drunk," tragic murder ballads such as "Down in the Willow Garden" and "Knoxville Girl," the ghostly narrative of "Little Margaret," and a ballad in the broken-token tradition, "Pretty Fair Miss." Other cuts worthy of mention include a ballad I encountered here for the first time—a tale of unrequited love called "Fine Sally," the pitiable complaint of a newly married woman about her new situation in life ("Single Girl"), and two fine hymns—"Nothing Can Hold Me Here" and "Amazing Grace." As someone fortunate enough to have heard Denise Norton O’Sullivan close up, I KNOW she will be heard from again. Denise amply proves that the old songs are still the best songs. If you like the unaccompanied ballad as rendered by a master, this recording is just what the musical doctor ordered.

--Robert Rodriquez

Alan Irvine The Red Dragon—Tales of King Arthur as Composed and Retold by Alan Irvine. Available from Alan at 2704 Tilbury Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA, 15217; 412-521-6406; www.alanirvine.com.

This is the latest recording by acclaimed Pennsylvania raconteur Alan Irvine. Here he tackles stories from the rich heritage of Arthurian literature and romance, stories that were generations old during the height of the Renaissance in England and western Europe. Irvine has given these timeless, magical, and wondrous tales a new and freshly innovative retelling. Four stories make up this delightful recording: "Merlin’s Prophecy," foretelling the coming of Pendragon; "The Sword in the Stone," relating how Arthur actually became King of the Britons; "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," with its classic tale of adventure, quest, and the pitfalls of human behavior and frailty; and "Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady" (also known as "Gawain and Ragnel"), with one of world folklore’s most famous and debated riddles as the core of its central plot.

Through expressive vocal intonation, descriptive phraseology, and poetic imagery, Irvine has captured the musical flavor of ancient Britain with these narratives hearkening back to an age when heroism was the order of the day, chivalry flowered, and magic and other-worldly enchantments hid behind every tree and around every forest glade. Irvine’s fine retelling of the tale of Gawain and Ragnel is all the more intriguing as he has had a running argument with this story for years--a decade-old debate about this story is still on his website.

Listen to this recording, and understand what good storytelling is all about!

--Robert Rodriquez