FROM YOUR NEW REVIEW EDITOR: What was I thinking? Was it the great snacks at the folknik reception at Camp Harmony, the 1998 issues that yielded up my song "Band of Angels" and my daughter’s birth announcement, or appreciation for al that the various editors have done over the years to help keep us bound together as a community? Yes, yes, and yes! MANY THANKS to Kathryn LaMar for 10 years of dedication in editing this page, and to those who submitted reviews for my first issue.
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This is from a June 19, 2004 concert, when six labor choruses converged in Washington DC for a celebration of progressive and labor culture. Each chorus presents a combination of original material, covers, traditional labor and African freedom songs. If you’re tired of over-produced, technically perfect choral recordings, and long to hear heart-felt music sung by people who absolutely love to sing, this is the recording for you! Despite the untrained voices evident in each choir, all of the words of the songs can be easily understood, and the overall impres- sion is one of euphoria that pervaded the entire day of the convergence. Each chorus has a unique sound, and the recording is exceedingly well-paced to ensure you’ll never get bored listening to nearly an hour’s worth of music. The Brooklyn Women’s Chorus, directed by Bev Grant, does a wonderful job with "Bread and Roses," Bev Grant’"s The Women are Coming," and "Stand Up," based on the famous Martin Niemoeller poem. The Bay Area’s own Rockin’ Solidarity Labor Chorus, directed by Pat Wynne, contributes a medley of Spanish Civil War songs, plus Bernie Gilbert’s still right-on parodic "Bush Medley 2." The newest chorus, the D.C. Labor Chorus, directed by Elise Bryant, presents the stunning introductory processional "Welcome Union Members," a beautiful version of "Senzenina," and Ysaye Barnwell’s poignant arrangement of the traditional "I Feel Like Going On." The New York City Labor Chorus, directed by Peter Schlosser, and probably the oldest and most professional-sound- ing chorus, contributes "Workers Sing Your Union Anthem," set to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy; Bertolt Brecht and Han Eisler’s "United Front"; Florence Reece’s "Which Side Are You On?" and "El Pueblo Unido." The Fruit of Labor Singing Ensemble (from Raleigh, NC) provides exceptionally traditional-sounding rhyth- mic versions of "Asikatali" (a South African freedom song), Sweet Honey in the Rock's "Ella’s Song (We Who Believe In Freedom)," and "Ain’t Gonna Rest ‘Til I Get My Freedom." The ever-enthusiastic Seattle Labor Chorus, directed by Janet Stecher, performs David Francey’s "Torn Screen Door," Billy Bragg’s "There is Power in a Union," the ubiquitous but evergreen "Siyahamba," and a great new Lou Truskoff parody of "Java Jive" called "Fair Trade Coffee." Julie McCall’s "No Bizness Like War Bizness" is attributed in different places in the liner notes to the D.C. and the Bay Area Choruses (but who cares, it’s a great version), and the recording closes with the combined choruses singing "You Gotta Go Down and Join the Union." Please, get a-hold of this recording! You’ll never regret it.
--Kathryn LaMarWAKE THE DEAD: Blue Light Cheap Hotel. Available from www.wakethedead.org, also contact information for bookings and for recordings by the various band members.
To compartmentalize Wake the Dead’s music is a sheer impossibility; to simply call it the Grateful Dead meets Planxty or Patrick Street or Bothy Band does this intriguing musical aggregation a deep injustice. Their latest effort is musical “eclectricity” gone joyously wild, and the more I hear their sound, the more I find it literally grabs hold of me. The band includes Sylvia Herold, Cindy Browne, Kevin Carr, Danny Carnahan, Maureen Brennan, Brian Rice and Paul Kotapish on an assortment of instruments such as Celtic harp, jaw-harp, fiddle, guitar, hand percussion, mandolin, Uillean pipes, double bass, octave mandolin, and delightful vocals, with some of the tightest harmonies you’ll find anywhere.
For me, highlights include two beautiful Herold renderings of "Lady with a Fan" and Bob Dylan’s "Farewell Angelina," the kickoff "Sugar Magnolia," Danny Carnahan’s "Down the Days," and the old-timey based medley "Boll Weevil—Highlander’s Farewell—Mr. Charlie." Several instrumental pieces deserve special mention, including the Penguin Café Orchestra’s "Music for a Found Harmonium," the waltz-like "Soir et Matin," and the sprightly "Martin Wynne’s Reel." From the rock-and-roll sounding "Don’t Let Go" to the traditional "March of the King of Laois," this music covers a lot of territory.
But what emerges in the final analysis is an effort that deserves great praise and cheer. Whether it is "Tennessee Jed," "Stella Blue" or "He's Gone," the musical result is the happy same: a fine recording by a band that defies artificial definition or arbitrary description. This CD may not come off my player for quite a long time to come. Very highly recommended: no brag, just fact.