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This spirited new CD, from Freedom Song Network founder and Labor Heritage/Rockin' Solidarity Chorus director Pat Wynne, features 11 original songs (including one by, and another co-authored with, Bernard Gilbert) and one restyled folk classic. The originals reflect her theatrical background in their arrangements and her political commitments in their lyrics. The message of keeping our spirits alive in "desperate times," and taking action as well, runs throughout songs such as "Singing is Believing." Several anthems celebrate the resilience of women ("I Never Felt Better," "A Woman's Hands"), and the motif of women's creativity recurs in "Silences"—a melding of themes from Virginia Woolf and Tillie Olsen with a wonderful guitar solo by Camino Landau.
Overall the album feels as if it could be the soundtrack from a one-woman show about finding hope and moving from individual distress to collective action. "Fruit Trees in Bloom," a blues- and jazz-inspired reflection on finding joy amidst dark clouds, captures nicely that San Francisco moment when colorful blossoms appear in February, like rays of hope in the depth of winter. Clever lyrics, worthy of a San Francisco Mime Troupe production, characterize the upbeat "Charlie's Song," about the outsourcing of jobs. My own favorite, however, is Wynne's arrangement of "Joe Hill," sung in a moving gospel mode.
While this album will appeal more to those who favor Latin, jazz, and blues rhythms than to folk purists, the subject matter of people's struggles and creativity resonate well with the values of progressive folk music.
—Estelle FreedmanHank Cramer, Caledonia.
Hank Cramer has been singing Scottish songs since childhood. Hank is married to Kit McLean, of Scottish descent, and they have spent much time in Scotland. A recent journey back brings us this collection of Hank's favorite Scottish ballads. This is music learned in the pubs and family gatherings, and the authenticity rings through.
It starts with a fine whaling song, and I was knocked out by the second song, "A Health to the Company," a beautiful drinking song of conviviality and friendship which we would do well to learn to sing and share.
"Red is the Rose," with Irish lyrics and the Scot melody "Loch Lomond" brings us a beautiful interplay of voices dancing around each other. Leah Larson's voice and fiddle give a very touching feel to it.
A quiet piano accompanies a very beautiful rendition of "The Beaches of St. Valery," a poignant story of 10,000 Scottish soldiers abandoned during the evacuation of Dunkirk. Very moving, and a piece of history that many have never heard.
There is a nautical work-song sung a capella, "Bonnie Hielan' Laddie," good for any occasion one is moved to come up with a sea shanty. "Farewell to Tarwathie" has a familiar lilt. Again the instrumentation used, fiddle and tin whistle, wonderfully sets the tone. I very much enjoy his creative use of different instrumentation for different songs -- fitting the musical resources to the song, and not what one may expect.
A ballad dating to the Napoleonic wars or earlier, "Annie & Her Gallant Soldier," tells of one wanting to be with her love, requiring a decision to travel to distant lands, share adventures, hardships, and follow the regiment on the march -- even to the battlefield. Leah Larson joins him on this duet.
On "Sound the Pibroch" (pibroch being the highland war-pipe), the refrain "rise and follow Charley" honors clansmen who rose in support of Prince Charles in 1745.
Jamie McPherson, a famous Robin-Hood outlaw, was captured and hanged at the Cross of Banff in 1700. He composed the melody of "McPherson's Rant" in his cell while awaiting execution. Years later, poet Robert Burns wrote the lyrics: "Sae rantingly, sae wantonly,/ sae dauntingly gaed he,/ he play'd a spring and he danc'd it round,/ below the gallows-tree." Movingly presented.
"A Cameron's Lament" is a poignant tale of a mother's loss of her only son, "still too young to shave," who becomes a soldier in World War I.
It's a delight that we are gifted with another CD from Hank Cramer. It's well worth the time to listen to the stories and the beautiful presentation.
-- Vic Saravia, , with biographical notes from Jessica Bryan and Tom Clunie.The Johnson Girls, Fire Down Below.
The Johnson Girls (Alison Kelley, Bonnie Milner, Joy Bennett and Deirdre Murtha) have garnered a well-deserved reputation as one of today's best musical aggregations in the area of sea chanties and maritime music. From Connecticut's Mystic Seaport to San Francisco's Hyde Street Pier and venues throughout Europe, their special a cappella musical talents have won them countless fans and admirers.
On Fire Down Below, their voices ring out with great harmonies and a deep and abiding love and respect for the music, lore and traditions of the sea and its songs. Here are chanties and maritime pieces from sources as varied as upstate New York's Erie Canal, the Great Lakes, the hills of West Virginia, the coastal waters of the southern United States, the West Indies, the United Kingdom and Ireland. Here are everyday work songs sung by sailors to ease the drudgery of constant exertion, maritime ballads telling memorable tales that range from the playfully erotic to the tragic, with modes from poignantly sad to nautically naughty and beyond.
Personal favorites include: "Cornish Lads," a powerful piece lamenting both the decline of Cornwall's fishing industry and the closing of the last tin mine there. "The Tailor in the Chest" is a tale of maritime hanky-panky with a clever conjugal twist. Others are "Titanic," the beautiful and poetic "Nantucket Lullabye," and "Victoria," a song with a definite warning to quit before one gets in too deeply.Even such chestnuts as "Shallow Brown," "Santianno," and "One More Day" are given new, fresh treatments, Johnson Girls style. And the male voices joining in on "One More Day," are a group of chanty men and fellow comrades such as Frank Woerner, Dan Milner, David Jones and John Roberts, helping to make the musical merriment even more enjoyable.
This latest Johnson Girls offering is just what the ship's doctor ordered
-- Robert Rodriquez