Reviews

Latest free CDs available to review writers—this could be you! Contact Beth Berkelhammer if interested. See recent back issues for more CDs still available for review. Bluegrass and country music lovers in particular, take note of these offerings:

  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. LOUISA 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.
  3. PETER ROWAN BLUEGRASS BAND, Legacy. We listed this CD for review back in July/August 2011, and to my surprise, it has yet to be claimed and reviewed. Eleven of the 13 tracks are Rowan’s originals. With Jody Stecher, Keith Little, Paul Knight, Del McCoury, Ricky Skaggs, Gillian Welch, Dave Rawlings, Tim O’Brien—just wow! Also noteworthy are the wonderful photos of the musicians (by Robert Hakalski) in the accompanying booklet.

CD REVIEWS

HOLLY TANNEN, The Flower of Australia: Three Songs for Julian and His Friends
Holly Tannen, 2011; www.hollytannen.com, CDBaby

Holly Tannen wears many diverse hats: folklorist, ballad maven, song writer, gadfly, and critic of the contemporary socioeconomic and political scene as manifested through her skillfully crafted songs.

In the best folk tradition, she has taken a trio of old tunes—“A Miner’s Hymn” from County Durham in Northern England, “Brisbane Ladies,” a Queensland variant of “Spanish Ladies,” and “Flowers of the Forest,” a Scottish lament for young men caught up in the insanity of war, and reworked them with powerful, up-to-date lyrics drawn from today’s headlines. What results is a musical message that is loud, unmistakable, and devastatingly clear. “Julian’s (In Prison),” “The Geek Shall Inherit the Earth,” and “The Flower of Australia” will strike the listener with the kick of a musical laser.

Members of the power elite and ruling class, beware: your criminal behavior and corrupt practices will no longer go unchallenged and your days are numbered.

Tannen, on vocals and piano, is assisted by some of the finest musicians on the West Coast: guitar wizard Steve Baughman, Amelia Hogan and Danny Carnahan on vocals, Myra Joy on cello, and Michael Hubbert on clarinet. 

All money raised from this recording will go to prevent the extradition of Julian Assange to the United States and support his hopeful return to his native Australian homeland. Thanks to Holly Tannen and her musical amigos for showing that the power of music and song can indeed be more powerful than guns, bombs, and related weaponry. Highly recommended.

—Robert Rodriquez

ADAM MILLER, When the River Ran Backwards: Adventures in Folksong.
PLI Productions, 2013; www.folksinging.org

Adam Miller is a master storyteller in song. He travels the country presenting programs for schools, libraries, and senior groups and teaching autoharp workshops. Adam’s latest recording is a collection richly inspired by historical events. Each selection was researched to uncover its origins and the facts behind the legend being commemorated. When the River Ran Backwards offers 26 songs and tunes of great variety, with stories that range from tragic to comic. The liner notes provide interesting facts about each track and describe the instruments used in the recording.

Complementing Adam’s skillful autoharp playing and guitar fingerpicking are Sharon Allen, Ray Bierl, Lee Davis, and Given Harrison on harmony vocals, Richard Burkett on mandolin, Lisa Burns, Given Harrison, and Hugo Wainzinger on bass, and Joe Eding on viola and musical saw. Among several purely instrumental tunes, a duet with autoharp and musical saw is surprisingly lovely.

The few songs that might be familiar to listeners are presented in fresh ways, but most were new to my ear. They originated in our early history on through to contemporary times.

Adam pays tribute to many musicians in the folk music community who have inspired him. He explains, “As the singers who influenced my musicality retired, some of the folksongs that they were keeping alive in their repertoires retired with them. I do my best to keep some of those less well known folksongs from becoming extinct in my lifetime.” A very worthwhile goal.

—Sally Schneider