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Many of you know Bruce Brackney through his performances with Rose Tattoo, Rebel Voices, et al.
Now at last Brack has produced his very first CD, which reflects the passions, concerns, joys and sorrows of his life.
Still a card-carrying Wobbly, Brack has been a active participant in the saga of modern times, from riding the rails to musicland political exuberance to settling down with his beloved companion, Margaret Potter—right next to the E&N Line, of course.
Several of the songs on this CD express Brack’s deep-seated love of railroads and railroading. His rousing rendition of “The Wabash Cannonball” concludes with his own jestful finale. His version of ”North Star,” with lyrics by his longtime comrade Utah Phillips, expresses his love of his home state, Minnesota (The North Star State).
“Kettle Valley Line,” perhaps the costliest mile-by-mile line ever, is a history of one of my own favorite areas of our beautiful British Columbia. In this, as in so much of this album, I’ve revisited or learned so much of midwestern and western U.S. and Canadian history.
“Another Time and Place” by Dave Van Ronk is a rhapsodic love song and a musical tribute to Brack’s 20-year comradeship with the legendary Van Ronk. “Ask Me Tonight” is a tender version of a bawdy song.
“Old Coyote” is a musical tribute to western history and mythology. It demonstrates a universality of spirit not limited by time and space. ”Silverheels” is a testament to the heroine of the 1861 Colorado smallpox epidemic.
If you’re seeking lots of militant politics, perhaps this album’s not for you. However, if you value artistry and tenderness and Dickensian compassion, best expressed in “Orphan Train,” you might enjoy, even relish, this CD. It does conclude with the stirring “Rebel Voices” rendition of “Hold the Fort,” which still tingles my own old/new left soul.
Some sterling support music is provided by Phais and Jason Romero and Brack’s current musical partner Rick Van Krugel on mandolin and banjo.
Blessings and peace to you all.
—Dave Rothkop, Victoria, B.C.
(Founding Father, SFFMC. 1949)
You will enjoy this collection of familiar tunes whatever instrument you play, but it is a “must-have” for autoharp players, as it embodies the standard autoharp repertoire. If you think you have heard these tunes played often enough, think again. You haven’t heard them like Adam presents them. His arrangements are original, varied in picking style, and fresh to the ear. And this album is a real bargain as it is packed with twenty-four solos.
Adam plays several types and makes of autoharps. Each of their voices is shown to good advantage. You can distinctly hear the differences in tone as he alternates them after each tune. This adds variety for the listener. Can you guess which harp he is playing—Orthey, Fladmark or Oscar Schmidt? The liner notes do not give it away, although the cover picture shows an older Oscar Schmidt “Wildwood Flower,” with its handsome design by Ivan Stiles.
Although most of the tunes on this album are traditional, Adam shows his versatility with “Maria” from West Side Story, “Pine Apple Rag” by Scott Joplin, and “Living in the Country” by Pete Seeger. His selections roam from O’Carolan to Sondheim, and he presents them all well.
How did he fit so many tunes on one CD? He plays those fiddle tunes at breakneck speed, mimicking the sound of a mandolin. As the title notes, Adam is playing bare-fingered in a flat-picking style with his fingernails! On the O’Carolan pieces, his bare finger touch is gentle and expressive.
Just to mention a few of the cuts that were exceptional to me: “I Will” by Paul McCartney is charming with its syncopated rhythm and open chording. “Polly Swallow” is played with great feeling and melody variations. In “Planxty John Irwin” one can almost see the character of Colonel Irwin. The playing is somber, strong and stately. My favorite tune is “The Modest and Pleasant Eileen O’Farrell” or “The Charming Fair Eily.” This is a very old tune, but a new one to me. The title describes it perfectly—a lovely melody with little embellishment. You will like those fast fiddle tunes as well.
The liner notes include little-known details of the tunes’ origins. Adam also shares where he learned the tunes and the influences of other musicians on his choices. With this excellent recording, Adam “has done himself proud.”