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  1. Bearfoot, Doors and Windows. New Alaskan Americana from the Telluride Bluegrass Band Champions of 2001. Samples at
  2. Dale Ann Bradley, Don’t Turn Your Back.. Bluegrass gospel, originals, and covers of Tom Petty and Fleetwood Mac, from IBMA 2007 & 2008 Female Vocalist of the Year. “I want it to inspire people to hang in with whatever they’re facing.” Samples at
  3. The Gibson Brothers, Ring the Bell. “Our most hard-driving bluegrass album” from brother duo, with full band on all tracks. Samples at
  4. Kieran Kane, Somewhere Beyond the Roses. “Stripped-down production and unusual instrumentation complement Kane’s writing to chilling effect.” Voice, banjo (tuned to GCGCC), baritone sax, electric guitar, and drums. Samples at
  5. Pride of New York, Pride of New York. Irish-American supergroup: Joanie Madden on flute and whistle, Brendan Dolan on keyboards, Billy McComiskey on button accordion, and Brian Conway on fiddle. Samples at
  6. String Sisters, Live. Tunes and a few songs from Celtic fiddlers Annbjørg Lien (Norway), Catriona Macdonald (Shetland), Liz Knowles and Liz Carroll (US), Mairead ni Mhaonaigh (Ireland, from the band Altan), and Emma Härdelin (Sweden, from the band Garmarna). With piano, double bass, guitar, percussion and drums. Samples at


Old Town School of Folk Music Song­Book, 50th Anniversary Edition. Info and orders: Companion CDs available from

This songbook opens with a brief history of Old Town School of Folk Music, which was founded in Chicago in 1957, and combines a performance venue with classes in a wide range of instruments.

It is packed with 117 classic songs from the folk repertoire. Each has complete lyrics, a transcription of the melody, and chords in large print. To aid with transposing to other keys, most songs also provide alternate chords in another key, and many have small summary chord charts using Nashville number notation.

The user-friendly layout presents the songs alpha­betically, and starts each one on its own page, with two-page songs laid out across a single left-to-right spread to avoid turning pages mid-song. Space between songs is often graced with photos of Old Town classes, conveying a sense of the school’s joy, focus and community.

Still learning some of the basics? The back section is a rich resource primarily for guitar players: charts of common and more varied chords; clear tips and exercises to learn tuning, scales, transposition, arpeggios and Travis picking, reading tablature and Nashville number charts. Finally, there are some elementary techniques for banjo and harmonica; and basic chord charts for banjo, ukulele, dulcimer, and mandolin.

As long-time instructor Mark Dvorak writes in the songbook’s introduction: “Some of the sturdiest songs known to the English-speaking world—from centuries-old ballads to African-American spirituals to old-timey numbers to blues to folk favorites to songs from Chicago’s own rich songwriting tradition—are all bound together in a single collection. Each song is a doorway through which lies an opportunity to renew ourselves; to discover again what remains common in our long and varied musical heritage.”

—Lisa Hubbell

Cathryn Fairlee, Cathryn Tells Celtic: Ancient Tales Covered in Mist and Moss. CD info and samples:

This recording won an iParenting Media Award for Healdsburg storyteller Cathryn Fairlee, whose narrative talents are truly varied and diverse. She is equally at home telling everything from Irish wonder tales to Greco-Roman myths, tales from the Mayan creation cycle as well as literary classics from the Qing dynastic period of Chinese history. On this, her second recording, the rich and ancient tapestry of Celtic folklore, myth, legend and story take center stage; and what results is a narrative and musical feast for ear, heart and soul. Fairlee serves the hearer with a set of six very diverse and enchanting tales from a widespread set of sources, including the world of ancient Welsh epic, Ireland’s ancient mythological cycle, a seventeenth-century Scottish ballad turned magical narrative, a 12th-century Breton werewolf legend, a Selkie legend from the Scottish Hebrides and a classic Irish wonder tale which gives us a real treat with several stories told within a classic Celtic frame setting.

As if the tales themselves are not enough, Fairlee skillfully manages to insert several examples of music and musical interludes both within and between the stories. In the Breton tale of “Sir Garwaf,” Fairlee incorporates verses from the traditional English song, “Greensleeves,” and quite nicely at that. In the magical tale of “Manawydden,” taken from the Welsh epic, “The Mabinogheon,” music appears enchantingly in the form of her rendition of the ritual seasonal song, “Hey Ho, Nobody Home.” But perhaps the most beautiful and haunting example is her rendering of a traditional seal croon in her Hebridean story of the Selkie Mother.

In “Binorie,” she takes the classic Scottish Child ballad and resets it into a very memorable tale of sibling jealousy, murder and retribution involving a musical instrument, which literally becomes judge, jury and executioner to bring final justice and uncover a deadly crime. The two Irish offerings, “Balor Evil Eye” and “Prince Coneda,” while not having music to enhance their telling, are nonetheless Fairlee treats in every sense of the narrative word. Cathryn is interested in working with musicians, as folk music and folk tales are a natural partnership. You can contact her at

—Robert Rodriquez