Reviews

Awaiting Review (Some Still Waiting—Some New)

To review any of the following CDS, contact SFFMC, 885 Clayton Street, San Francisco, CA 94117:

General Instructions

BOOK REVIEW

TIM BROOKES: Guitar: An American Life

(New York: Grove Press, 2005), 340 pp.

Two compelling stories -- one the step-by-step creation of a custom guitar for the author, the other the history of the guitar in America -- alternate in this well-researched and highly readable book. The vignettes tracking the process of constructing a guitar provide current interludes for the historical chapters, which are packed with information, characters, and anecdotes about the guitar becoming the premiere American instrument. Immigrant cultures from Spain, Hawaii, and Mexico; the technology of radio and recordings; and economic pressures ranging from the Great Depression to the mid-life crises of amateur folks all contributed to the growing popularity of the guitar.

Brookes writes with great wit. The book is never dull and always engaging. Whether you want to learn how great guitars are made or how Joseph Kekuku, Maybelle Carter, Eddie Lang, or Sister Rosetta Tharpe transformed American music, the answers are here. I recommend this book highly as a gift for yourself or other serious or amateur guitar players.

--Estelle B. Freedman

CD REVIEWS

DAVID WINTERS: Cooking Up Something for the Kids.

Winters Music, 63 Van Ness Ave. Santa Cruz, CA 95060; (831) 426-4940

And cooked up something for the kids he has indeed. This CD is exclusively on guitar--no other instruments, no words, just fine arrangements of songs most kids would know at least some of. David, an outstanding guitar player (who actually earns a living doing it) calls it "an instrumental collection of traditional tunes for your family to sing and dance along with." There's a medley including "Itsy Bitsy Spider," "This Old Man," "Old MacDonald" and other gems. Individual treatment is given to "I've Been Workin' on the Railroad," "La Cucaracha," "Hava Nagila" and half a dozen others ending with the popular "Brahms' Lullaby." I visualize this as the CD you'll softly play for the kids as they go to bed, happily singing the songs along in their heads as they fall asleep.

Have no kids or kids you owe presents to? Get the CD for the pleasure of listening to some great guitar playing.

--Faith Petric

ALAN SENAUKE: Wooden Man: Old Songs from the Southern School.

Available from Bill Evans, (888) 599-2233
www.nativeandfinerecords.com

"When the wooden man begins to sing, the stone woman gets up to dance." An enigmatic phrase from a ninth century Chinese poem. "When the old songs are sung, singer, listener, and the song itself come alive."

I have been carrying the songs on Wooden Man with me for many years. Most of them are old songs that speak about lost love, natural disasters, prison, death, and more--themes of folk music that have sadly been discarded by the nabobs of popular music. But in a real sense they are popular music. Old songs continue to be sung because they carry truths about our lives. Such truths go beyond oneís direct experience. I never waited out a dust storm or sat in a small town jail or even dreamed about kissing my dead lover. Vivid lyrics and plain melodies open another's experience to each of us. In a strange sense, we live a new life, and the song becomes our own. Recorded at home in Berkeley by Brendan Doyle, the voices and instruments have a wonderful immediacy. The musicians here--including Bill Evans, Kate Brislin, Jody Stecher, Eric & Suzy Thompson, and Larry Hanks--are among the finest of our generation. We are all old friends, sharing songs and tunes for decades. Whether it is old time, blues, bluegrass, or Cajun music, the effort on Wooden Man is as true as possible to tradition, source and root feeling. This is what makes Wooden Man's voice authentic and compelling. I hope you enjoy it.

(From the release announcement by Alan Senauke)

VARIOUS ARTISTS: In Harmony's Way: A Celebration of Traditional Group Singing in the San Francisco Bay Area

Available from Steve Baughman at www.inharmonysway.com

Under the inspiration of finger-picking guitar wiz Steve Baughman, 18 Bay Area singers were brought together for a memorable 3-day recording session. The wonderful results include 22 songs--over an hour of mostly a capella singing in multi-part harmony, primarily from British and American traditional musical sources and settings. Even a partial list of the contributors to this recording-- Sylvia Herold, Shay and Michael Black, Ed Silberman, Pam Swan, Richard Adrianowicz, and Lani Herrmann--shows the excellence of what Baughman has accomplished.

Ranging from the traditional US and British sources to as far afield as Liberia, the music is joyous and wondrous. Here are shanties, drinking songs, love songs, ballads, and an occasional musical surprise (just listen to what they do with Clementine). Cuts deserving special mention include Shay's beautiful rendering of "Oro Mo Bhaidin", Sylvia's treatment of "April Morning," Riggy's slow beautiful shanty "Roll Boys Roll," and "Let Union Be," featuring the entire ensemble. Finally, there is Steve's performance of "Jonge," a Bassa-language song from Liberia. As I listened to this recording, I was reminded of a similar one from decades ago--the original Folk Legacy Golden Ring, which rapidly became a classic. I firmly predict a similar fate for this one. As you listen to this recording, let the music, songs, voices, and wonderful harmonies ring forth in joy and wonderful profusion.

--Robert Rodriquez