Reviews

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  1. JOURNEY HOME, Ain’t Got Long: Traditional American Songs of Glory, Death, and Resurrection. For this project, the brainchild of Steve Baughman, a group of friends met to sing folk spirituals and gospel songs together, developing harmonies and arrangements organically. Song leaders, Caroline Bonnet, Mary O’Brien, Riggy Rackin; with chorus, Steve Baughman, Patrice Haan, Sylvia Herold, Marlene McCall, Doug Olsen, Tom Wagner.
  2. NINA JO SMITH, People, Places, and Sings. Singer-songwriter Nina Jo Smith’s first studio recording. Eleven originals (“Out on a Limb,” “Buddha at the Backdoor,” “Brokedown Ford”); backing musicians include Martin Young, Alan Thornhill, Jimmy Calire.

CD REVIEWS

Amelia Hogan, Transplants: From the Old World to the New
Amelia Hogan, 2013; www.ameliaisaverb.com

This recording has been a long time in the making, but the results are more than worth the wait. This is a journey in song that succeeds on several levels—telling the story of the Celtic ancestors’ trek from Ireland to America in the second half of the nineteenth century, reflecting Hogan’s family heritage in a musical autobiography of sorts, and tracking the path these songs took to reach her through family members, colleagues, and others.

Here are songs that span a broad emotional landscape: a children’s song in Irish; music’s eternal magic and mystery as expressed in Yeats’s poem “Fiddler of Dooney”; the familiar traditional love song, “Wild Mountain Thyme”; the grim despair of the famine in “The Praties They Grow Small”; love’s loss and a political allegory, in “The Wind That Shakes the Barley”; and perhaps the recording’s musical linchpin, the poignant tale of the immigrants’ transatlantic journey in “Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore.”

Once in America, the Irish experience takes on new themes as expressed, angrily, in “No Irish Need Apply”; or in the story of a soldier caught in the aftermath of the Civil War in “Lakes of Pontchartrain”; or the hardships endured by coal miners in “Sixteen Tons.” Hope for a brighter future shines through in Hogan’s beautiful interpretation of “Bright Morning Stars,” while sad and witty recollections of home and loved ones are evoked in such stirring pieces as “A Stor Mo Chroi” and “The Boys of Barr Na Sraide,” in which young boys hunt the wren on Saint Stephen’s Day as in days of old.

The narrator of “To Welcome Poor Paddy Home” joyously sings out his pride and happiness to be an Irishman, seeming to speak for the recording itself, as that message is repeated over and over again on Transplants.

If Hogan is the catalyst of this journey, the beautiful and very tasteful guitar accompaniment of Ray Frank adds a dimension of musical magic all its own. Other musicians who ably assist in this effort include Lewis Santer on mandolin, Ananta on violin and cello, Winter Sichelschmidt on bass, steel guitar, and snare drums, Deirdre McCarthy on bodhran, and Keith Johnson on bouzouki and guitar.

The excellent liner notes provide not only the lyrics to each song but also valuable information on sources and tell how the songs entered Hogan’s repertoire.

Transplants is an absolute must for any fan of Irish song, heritage, and tradition, and of course for those who are already fans of Hogan’s singing. This is Irish music at its very best.

—Robert Rodriquez

Peter Rowan, Legacy.
Compass Records, 2010

If you enjoy bluegrass and gospel music, Legacy is for you. Paying tribute to Bill Monroe, who became his mentor some 47 years ago, Peter Rowan and band give us music in the classic old bluegrass style on “Family Demon,” “Turn the Other Cheek,” and “Let Me Walk Lord by Your Side.” Phrases like “Now I lay me down to sleep” in “The Night Prayer” and “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” in “Turn the Other Cheek” will remind you of old-time gospel songs. This is the kind of Sunday gospel I grew to love when the San Francisco Folk Music Club started having campouts in the woods back in the 1980s.

In contrast, “Jailer Jailer” belts out a very different kind of message: “My god is better than your god.” “The Night Prayer” reminds us that “what you want the most you need the least.” In “Family Demon,” the harsh topic of alcoholism is softened by the band’s strong vocal harmonies. Jody Stecher shines on his original modal “Catfish Blues.”

Rowan’s bandmates are highly accomplished instrumentalists, as demonstrated by Stecher’s mandolin and Keith Little’s banjo on “Raven” and by Paul Knight’s steady, consistent bass backup. Guest stars Del McCoury and Ricky Skaggs sit in on “God’s Own Child,” making beautiful harmony. My favorite cameo is by Gillian Welch on “So Good,” which, according to Peter in an interview broadcast over National Public Radio, features six-part harmony. Nearly all of the CD’s thirteen tracks are Rowan originals, showing Rowan’s great range and skill as a songwriter. The one instrumental, Jody Stecher’s “Lord Hamilton’s Yearling,” features Tim O’Brien on fiddle. Legacy wraps up with a zipper song called “Across the Rolling Hills,” honoring Rowan’s Buddhist practice.

Peter Rowan and his band will appear at the Strawberry Music Festival on Friday, August 31.

—Jean Crossley