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February 28, 2008

Clara Rockmore - The Art of the Theremin

There are few musicians who can really make their instrument speak. I don't just mean sound imitation or call-and-response, but really make an instrument provide the full range of expression found in the human voice. Charlie Parker, Son House, and Tom Cora were some of the few musicians who fully brought their instruments to life. Clara Rockmore was another. In her hands, a primitive electronic instrument became a voice that could sing, whistle, wail and cry.

Clara Rockmore was the world's only Theremin virtuosa. She brought the instrument into the public eye, and with it played things that were not only unthought-of, but actually were quite musical and profound. Hearing her play, you would have no idea the sounds are coming from a little box with two wires sticking out of it.

Musically, this album bears a lot of similarities to the Pablo Casals album I posted earlier today. The repertoire is mostly from the romantic and impressionist eras, with one early modern piece (the stunning Stravinsky Berceuse). And like that album, all the pieces are accompanied only by a piano, which happens to be played by Clara's skilled and sensitive sister, Nadia Reisenberg.

Biography from Wikipedia:

Rockmore was a child prodigy on the violin and entered the Imperial conservatory of Saint Petersburg at the age of five. She studied violin under the virtuoso Leopold Auer, and remains to this day the youngest student ever to be admitted to the institution. Unfortunately, bone problems due to childhood malnutrition forced her to abandon violin performance past her teen years. That however led her to discover the newborn electronic instrument and arguably become the greatest ever virtuosa of the theremin.

Rockmore had several gifts that enabled her to play the theremin so well. Her classical training gave her an advantage over the many theremin performers who lacked this background, including the instrument's inventor. She possessed absolute pitch from birth, helpful in playing an instrument that generates tones of any pitch throughout its entire range, including those that lie between the conventional notes. She had extremely precise, rapid control of her movements, important in playing an instrument that depends on the performer's motion and proximity rather than touch. She also had the advantage of working directly with Léon Theremin from the early days of the instrument's commercial development in the United States. Rockmore, as the mature musician she was, saw the limitations of the original instrument and helped to develop the instrument to fulfill her needs, making several suggestions to improve the theremin as a performing instrument. Such suggestions, like a faster volume antenna, wider musical range, and control over the instrument's tone colour were incorporated by the inventor in later versions. She had a special theremin tailored by Léon Theremin himself to meet her unique requirements.
Léon Theremin proposed to marry Clara several times, though she declined. For her birthday once, he made her a cake. When she approached it, the lights went on and the cake began to rotate. If that's not love, what is?

Clara Rockmore - Art of the Theremin
Year: 1987
Label: Delos
just listen.
mr | mp3 191-192kbps | w/o cover | 67mb

I was going to share Clara Rockmore's Lost Theremin Album, but her nephew spent most of his own money to produce it, and needs the sales. It's a really good album, and includes one of the most haunting versions of Summertime ever recorded. So if you like what you hear here, support the Clara Rockmore Foundation so he can continue to release her music.

also check out In Clara's Words - An interview Clara Rockmore gave to Bob Moog in 1977.

Ian & Sylvia - Live at Newport

Ian & Sylvia were a bright light in the folk scene of the early '60s. They were bright, energetic, and adventurous. They never tried to sound like rural singers, because they weren't. They were professional entertainers who used folk music as a platform upon which to create their own style of contemporary song. Their arrangements were fresh, and the presence of a flatpicking guitarist helped their sound immensely. Their vocal harmonies are what stand out as being the most daring and enduring aspect of their music (check out the soaring a-capella version of The Greenwood Sidie [The Cruel Mother]).

Ian Tyson and Sylvia Fricker were also both good songwriters, who penned several tracks that became hits in the hands of wimpier, poppier singers such as The We Five. In the wake of Bob Dylan's electrification of folk music, they tried to keep up with the trends, going electric, and eventually, sappy and un-listenable. Eventually they split up, with Ian Tyson reinventing himself as a cowboy singer.

But these tracks come from their early acoustic years, when they perfectly embodied all that was exciting about folk music. Just listen to the incredibly energetic French Canadian rowing song V'le Le Bon Vent, or the up-tempo C.C. Rider. You'll be bouncing in spite of yourself. They could also sing a fine slow ballad or blues song when it was called for, and pull out enough tight quavering vibrato to carry it off.

Recorded at the 1963 & 65 Newport Folk Festival

Ian & Sylvia - Live at Newport
Year: 1996 (released)
Label: Vanguard

get it here.
mr | mp3 192+kbps vbr | cover & booklet scans | 65mb

Pablo Casals - Early Recordings 1925-28

Before audio recording, if people wanted music in their house, they had to make it themselves. Nearly every well-to-do house had a piano, and 90% of americans played an instrument. Sheet music was widespread, popular composers were household names, and performers, even great ones, were relatively unknown. At the dawn of the recording era, a few virtuosos began to shift the attention of music lovers from compositions to performances. Pablo Casals, Fritz Kreisler, Andrés Segovia, and Vladimir Horowitz were the first great classical musicians who could be heard across the continent, and who defined the sound of both their instrument and their repertoire forever.

Pablo Casals was the first great cello player of the recording era, and he remains one of the greatest classical musicians of the 20th century. Of course, that statement can be misleading, because he was really a 19th century musician by birth and mentality. He was never particularly bothered by the concerns of modernism. Like fellow Spaniard Andrés Segovia, his soul was a romantic one, and this romanticism permeated all the music he made. It is as though he lived each piece of music he interpreted, wept with its sorrow, rejoiced with its joy. And he never overdid it. The emotion is never gratuitous; rather, every nuance of his playing only deepens the mood and further suffuses the piece with an indefinable melancholic joi de vivre.

It should go without saying that his tone, technique, and timing are beyond perfect. I say beyond perfect because they are always supporting the music rather than calling attention to themselves. As a young man, he had some of the flashiness of Horowitz and Kreisler, but as he matured he abandoned all superfluity. He was not one to waste his time on gimmicks or games of amusement. The music he played was from the soul and for the soul.

He was also, incidentally, a piano player, violinist, conductor, and human-rights campaigner. He refused to perform in any countries which recognized the totalitarian rule of Generalisimo Franco in Spain. He received the Presidential Medal of Honor from John F. Kennedy. He was an artist of conscience, above all.

Pablo Casals - Early Recordings 1925-1928
Year: 1994 (comp)
Label: BMG

from his soul to yours
mr | mp3 112kpbs mono (equivalent to 224 kbps stereo) | with covers | 60 mb

and get his fantastic Bach Cello Suites at Le Roi s'amuse

February 26, 2008

Jim Kweskin & The Jug Band - Greatest Hits

This double album collects most of the best tracks from the Jim Kweskin Jug Band's 3 albums for Vanguard records: Self-Titled (Unblushing Brassiness), Jug Band Music, and See Reverse Side for Title. The title is a little misleading, because the band never got on any charts, and were only starting to get noticed by a larger audience by the time they disbanded.

This era of the Jug Band predates the 1967 version, so it does not have fiddler Richard Greene, and as a result is a little less musically adventurous. Nevertheless, they were about the most adventurous folk act of the 60s, re-arranging all kinds of songs into a remarkably diverse palate of jug band tomfoolery. They resurrected a variety of standards and obscurities, from old blues and jug band numbers to tin-pan alley songs and novelty ditties to early rock and roll songs. And not only did they put their own instantly recognizable stamp on every song they played, but they utilized endless creativity in their arrangements so all the songs retain their uniqueness and the album never feels repetitive.

For anyone who is suffering from an overdose of soft-spoken, self-centered, navel-gazing, musically impotent, Greenwich Village "folk" singers or singer-songwriters of the 60s and 70s, this album is the antidote! One listen to "Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me," should be all anyone needs to realize that there is more to good folk music than introspective boys living in their parents' house and strumming non-descript guitar lines to alleviate their whining vocal delivery. This music equally dispells any notion that the early boisterous groups of the folk scare (Kingston Trio, Brothers Four, Chad Mitchell Trio, etc.) had any musical value, showing that acoustic music can be fun, up-tempo, and humorous without being 2-dimensional.

All ranting about the fey "folk" aside, this is a really good album, very rich in moods and textures. You will also see these arrangements of these songs being covered by virtually every other jug band since them. More about them can be found in my previous posts.
Jim Kweskin & The Jug Band - Greatest Hits
Label: Vanguard
Year: 1970
take the antidote. (is now posted as cd rip at Merlin in Rags).
my rip (vinyl, cleaned) | mp3 192+ kbps vbr | with cover | 124 mb

Jim Kweskin - Guitar, Vocals, Comb
Fritz Richmond - Washtub Bass, Jug
Geoff Muldaur - Guitar, Kazoo, Vocals, Washboard
Maria D'Amato - Fiddle, Kazoo, Vocals
Bill Keith - Banjo
Mel Lyman - Banjo, Harmonica
Bob Siggins - Banjo, Vocals
Bruno Wolf - Harmonica, Vocals

and get Jim Kweskin & The Jug Band - Jug Band Music at Broke Down Engine
and several other Kweskin albums at Merlin in Rags
& Jim Kweskin with Mel Lyman & Fritz Richmond - Relax Your Mind also at Broke Down Engine

February 23, 2008

TransMongolia - Gesang des Himmels

There is no experience akin to hearing throat singing for the first time. It is such a foreign sound to anyone who has not grown up in the deserts of central Asia. And yet it resonates deep within us, because as foreign as it sounds, it still comes from something very universal and recognizable: the human voice.

Imagine a cross between an operatic tenor, a yodeling cowboy, a church organ, a sitar, and a growling bluesman. Throat singers sound kind of like that. But different. By aligning all the resonant chambers in their vocal chords, they are able to harmonize with themselves. This produces an eerie effect which is all the more alien because it comes out of a song with recognizable lyrics.

So what happens when you get five Mongolians together who all throat-sing and play 2-stringed horse-headed trapezoidal string instruments (and wear crazy costumes to boot)? Well, you get this really wild group TransMongolia, who make music with enough drive to send you galloping around your house (or preferred music-listening area). And I say galloping, because the rhythms they use somehow invariably conjure up the feeling of horseback-riding (a Mongol specialty). Really. Listen. This music really feels like trotting, prancing, and galloping, and it's quite infectious.

Though it feels really ancient and primordial at times (the all-vocal chant Tengeriin Duu could very well be the sound that separated the world from the heavens at the beginning of time), Transmongolia ain't your mother's throat singing (well, actually, it was my mother who discovered this band whilst visiting Austria...).
Though they draw from centuries-old tradition, Transmongolia sounds very contemporary; I could imagine them appealing to fans of Metallica as much as listeners of world music. In fact, traditionally throat singing is performed solo and unaccompanied, so the idea of a throat-singing musical group only dates back to the '80s, with the groundbreaking Tuvan group Huun-Huur Tu.

The members of Transmongolia augment their singing with a variety of instruments including: the forementioned 2-stringed horse-headed trapezoidal string instruments, roughly equivalent to a string quartet; 2- and 3-stringed mongolian banjos; a jews harp; a very haunting mongolian oboe; a didjeridu; drums and other percussion. The album is very well-produced and recorded, with a wide variety of textures, tempos, and moods. Whether aurally sparse or dense, it never sounds like too much or too little, and the all-acoustic setting allows the beautiful overtones to ring through.
Hosoo / Ensemble Transmongolia - Gesang des Himmels
Year: 2005

get ready to gallop.
mr | mp3 192+kbps vbr | w/o covers | 95mb

Covers/Scans: booklet (outside), booklet (inside), cd, tray, back

find out more about throat singing at wikipedia

February 18, 2008

Cannon's Jug Stompers - Best Of

Cannon's Jug Stompers was one of the first jug bands, and one of the best. Their sound is more bluesy and archaic than some of the other, more urban and jazzy jugbands. They were kind of like the Memphis Jug Band, only a little more insane and not quite as popular. Gus Cannon was a rather remarkable musician, in that he could play the 5-string banjo and a jug simultaneously. He's also one of the few musicians ever to play slide banjo. Noah Lewis made a mournful harmonica sound which perfectly complimented the driving jug and galloping banjo. The guitar player often doubled on kazoo. They were a major influence on the Grateful Dead, but then again…who wasn't?

Well here you are. Some fine foot-stomping good-time ruckus.

Because there needs to be more jug band music.

The Best of Cannon's Jug Stompers
Year: 1991 (comp)
Label: Yazoo
you'll find it here. (re-posted March 24 '08)
nmr | mp3 256 kbps | no cover | 122 mb

here's the AMG review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.:

When listening to blues singers from another era, many are turned off by the music's rustic simplicity. Just a guy or gal with a guitar, singing in a whiny voice. Compared to your average country-blues singer, a band like Cannon's Jug Stompers is downright accessible. Equipped with a guitar, banjo, harmonica, and, of course, a jug, these folks were bona fide noise makers. If the listener happens to be a Deadhead, he or she will be familiar with songs like "Minglewood Blues," "Viola Lee Blues," and "Big Railroad Blues." As one can also divine from the song titles, banjoist Gus Cannon, harmonica player Noah Lewis, and a number of bandmates stick close to the blues. There's a relaxed laziness to pieces like "Wolf River Blues" and "The Rooster's Crowing Blues" that separate the group from noisier, more boisterous bands like the Skillet Lickers. There's a great version of "Walk Right In," a song that became a big hit for the Rooftop Singers in 1963. A disclaimer on the back of the CD case mentions that it is impossible to completely clean up these old recordings. Nonetheless, considering the 70-75-year-old records Yazoo had to work with, the end product sounds pretty darn good. The liner notes include a nice long essay on the history of the band by Don Kent. The Best of Cannon's Jug Stompers delivers 70 minutes of traditional jug band music, offering a fine introduction to both the band and the musical style. In other words, it's a classic.

Joseph Spence - Bahamian Guitarist

There's no one quite like Joseph Spence. His music is utterly his own. It consumes folk, blues, jazz, calypso, hymns, sea chanties, children's game songs, and tin pan alley pop, emerging an idiosyncratic entity in the form of insanely syncopated guitar and vocal meanderings. No matter the source of the song, it always comes out sounding like Joseph Spence and only Joseph Spence.

As near as anyone can tell, he had no teachers and no followers. That is, unless you count as followers all those slack-jawed guitarists slowing down his records and trying to fathom how one man with a guitar could make those sounds. Elijah Wald has made an instructional dvd about his guitar style, but Spence remains even more inimitable than fellow innovative jaw-droppers Django Reinhardt and Doc Watson. His music cannot be captured because he was in a constant state of improvisation. Not to mention his melodic counterpoint, startling rhythmic variation, and vocal technique which falls somewhere between singing, grunting, scat, and freestyle rap.

His first recordings were made by Sam Charters, who was recording an album of Bahamian Folksongs in the 50s, and saw Spence playing in the street. Charters walked over to him and stuck out a microphone, and Spence continued playing like it was nothing. The recordings for this album were made much the same way, coming from an afternoon of one-takes in an apartment, and from a concert that evening.

What can I say about this music? It's very quirky, sharp and unexpected, but warm and surprisingly danceable. Like Louis Armstrong, Joseph Spence had the ability to mutate an old sentimental song into something totally warped, anti-histrionic, and wonderful. Spence and his music are informal, eccentric, and completely uninhibited. At one point he interrupted the concert to have a conversation with a 4-year old (not included on the album). He freely admits "I don't know none of the words to these songs, so I just sing 'la dee dee dee' ...," in part because most of them he picked up off the radio and reconstructed from memory. But his gravelly and garbled grumblings become a remarkable second instrument that plays off his guitar like a marble off an earthquake.

Joseph Spence - Bahamian Guitarist: Good Morning Mr. Walker
Label: Arhoolie
Year: 1972 & 1990

Get it here

also, get his Complete Folkways Recordings at El Diablo Tun Tun
for you guitar players, check out Elijah Wald's instructional dvd

February 10, 2008

Taj Mahal & Toumani Diabate - Kunlanjan

First off, let me say that this album has a special place in my heart. I was living in Florence, studying art, and I had left all my music in the US. But to my surprise, the school I was studying at had a few albums that had been copied onto the computers by former students. This was one of those albums, and let me tell you, it saved my life. From that point on, whenever anything was wrong, be it a stressful plane flight, a personal loss, or a part of a painting that just wouldn't work, all I had to do was play this album, and everything became alright.

From the opening notes of Queen Bee, my breathing slows, my pulse regulates itself. The world becomes a better place. And yet it never approaches a state of complacency or boredom. The overlapping of different traditional styles and sounds provides a source of tension which is continually transformed into tranquility, and an edge that draws friction out of the harmony. This music breathes, as life itself.
This living, breathing quality comes from Toumani's incredible sense of improvisation and Taj's rock-steady rhythmic foundation. The successful integration of their disparate musical styles is a testament to the experience and skill of the players, who are at the vanguard of cross-cultural musical projects. No one has been more vital to the cross-fertilization of the blues with other musics than Taj Mahal, who has combined calypso, reggae, jazz, rock, Hawaiian, and East Indian music with the blues over his 40+ year career.

Similarly, "more than any other artist, Toumani Diabaté is responsible for introducing the kora—a 21-string harp unique to West Africa—to audiences around the world…who is at the vanguard of a new generation of Malian griots who are constantly looking for ways of modernizing and still honoring their traditional music." He comes from 71 generations of Kora players, and yet his style is utterly his own. Together with Taj, they combine their talents with those of fellow kora master Ballaké Sissoko and singer Kassé-Mady Diabaté, to round out this supergroup of traditional Malian musicians.
There are few albums that combine blues and African music as well as this. It would serve well to introduce anyone to either musical style. In my opinion, it's the best of Taj Mahal's world music albums, and Toumani's most successful international communication.

And while this album could be criticized by purists on either side of the ocean, Toumani has this to say: “The griot’s role is making communication between people, but not just historical communication. In Mali I can work in the traditional way; elsewhere I can work in a different way. Why not?”
Taj Mahal & Toumani Diabate - Kunlanjan
Year: 1999
Label: Hannibal
get it here
MR | mp3 192+kbps vbr | w/o cover | 80mb

quotes & picture from a Toumani Diabate biography at Concerted Efforts
& see Taj Mahal's official site

February 8, 2008

Geoff Muldaur - Sleepy Man Blues

"There are only three white blues singers -- Geoff Muldaur is at least two of them." -- Richard Thompson

Well, pretty much everything I said about Dave Van Ronk applies to Geoff Muldaur. Both have deep roots in blues and early jazz, both sing and play guitar with authority, and both are excellent arrangers who never take things too fast. Geoff has an even better voice than Van Ronk, falling somewhere between Bukka White and Lonnie Johnson. And, like Van Ronk, he is a musical eclectic who has made folk, blues, jazz, & rock albums. Though not as great a guitarist as DVR, he is a multi-instrumentalist (guitar, clarinet, washboard...) whose playing is always spot-on.

But I mean, he's a really fantastic singer. Really. He can sound both ebullient and resigned in a breath. All of twenty-something years old when he made this album, he sings with the authority of a man at the other end of life. Fifty years unfold in a phrase. In fact, the word 'sing' can't even describe it. It's like a moan but with more force, like a shout but with more subtlety. A deep and boomy warbling trill that knocks you down as much as it pulls you in. Geoff Muldaur belts the blues like few white people ever have (Jo-Ann Kelly being the only exception that comes to mind). He manages to sound fully vital and world-weary at the same time.

Sleepy Man Blues is Geoff's first album, and he sticks to the classics (well, old &
obscurites country blues classics...). Backed by Fritz Richmond on washtub bass and Eric Von Schmidt on mandolin & harmonica (& with Bill Keogh on piano and Dave Van Ronk on guitar for a couple cuts), most of the cuts sound straight out of the Sleepy John Estes/Yank Rachell/Hammie Nixon blues-jug band mold. While this is certainly a traditionalist/revivalist album, the quality of Geoff's singing makes it one of the brightest examples of that genre.

And if you have any doubt as to the right of a white kid in his early 20's to sing the blues, consider that by the time he made this album, he had already hitchhiked across the south with a broom in hand, trying to get to Texas to sweep off
Blind Lemon Jefferson's grave. That, my friends, is what they call street-cred.

While he would go on to make great albums with the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, Maria Muldaur, Paul Butterfield, Amos Garret and others, there is a rawness to this early work that disappeared as he got more sophisticated with his arrangements and heterogeneus in his style. As far as I know, it has never been re-released except as a japanese import. In recent years he has returned some to this kind of stripped-down music (without abandoning his diverse & eclectic style) and made some good albums. If you like this album, check out some of them & support him so that he'll be able to make more and tour, rather than writing horn charts, film scores & commercial jingles for a living.

Geoff Muldaur - Sleepy Man Blues
Year: 1963
Label: Prestige

here it is
MR - straight from vinyl | mp3 192+kbps vbr | with cover | 69mb

Check out his website for more info on him, discography, & tour dates.

February 2, 2008

Dave Van Ronk - Sunday Street

Dave Van Ronk isn't very well-known to most people. But most of those who have heard him really treasure his music. Among folk and blues guitarists, he's something of a god, or a grandfather (are the two not the same?). He pivotal in Bob Dylan's development, housing the young Bobby Zimmerman, who slept on his couch for months; teaching him songs, which Dylan later ripped off and recorded before Van Ronk could; and exposing him to surrealist literature, which Dylan pretended to ignore but secretly studied avidly. Like John Fahey and Davy Graham, he accidentally started a whole school of guitar playing: all the Kicking Mule records from the '70s, featuring pretzel-fingered guitar arrangements of ragtime music, can be traced back to Van Ronk's arrangement of the St. Louis Tickle in the early '60s.

Dave Van Ronk was the musical conscience of the folk movement. While hordes of Boston and New York 'folk' musicians were strumming guitars, writing topical songs, and singing quaintly, Van Ronk was diligently crafting exquisite arrangements of old folk and blues tunes (he was one of the first white blues singers). It's hard for most people to judge just how good of a guitar player he was because he never did anything extravagant. But there is an intricacy to his timing, a purity to his tone, and a stark beauty to his sense of phrasing which mark him apart from those guitarists who manage to get their fingers to do what his do.

As Van Ronk explained:

"I am an accompanist. With the exception of a brief time in the 1950s when I wanted to be Mr. Superchops I've never been interested in that. I'm a singer. And I'm a singer who's very, very fussy about accompaniments. So I think about what I'm doing. My idol in this regard is Duke Ellington, who paid attention to voicings, timble, dynamics, tone color and all that kind of thing. When I play 'Maple Leaf Rag,' there are probably 150 guitarists who could tear me a new asshole playing pretty much the same arrangement I do. But I didn't do that so I could do that. That was a research project, and what I learned from learning how to do that has been applied hundreds and hundreds of times since -- to accommpaniments, which is what I do do."
I should mention his singing. Like many of his blues forebears, a life of drinking hard liqour and singing his pipes out has left its mark on his voice. It is not a pretty voice. It's rough around the edges, and in the middle too. But ther is more than gravel in this voice; there is white-hot rage, impoverished sorrow, and tender gaiety. By 1976, Dave Van Ronk's voice was raspy and ragged, but his singing had grown widely expressive, able to convey a multitude of emotions, moving from a growl to a moan to a murmur in a single line. His singing power can be felt in Nobody Knows the Way I Feel This Morning and his devastating cover of Joni Mitchell's That Song About the Midway.
The tempo of this album is rather slow. But it never lags. Quite the oppisite, it keeps you on your toes, always apprehensive and grasping for the next bar. By sticking to a pensive pace, Van Ronk makes every note ring with distinction. The single-riff accompaniment to Mamie's Blues is a remarkable example of simplicity that not only never gets boring, but actually becomes more intense through its endless repetition. This intensity is only bolstered by the repetitive sound of his heavy breathing.

As Elijah Wald (student and biographer of DVR) wrote in the liner notes:
Without a doubt, this is Dave's greatest single album. Every song perfectly displays one or another facet of his work, from the straight, traditional blues of "Down South Blues," a direct homage to one of Dave's early idols, Scrapper Blackwell, to the last of Dave's string of unique interpretations of Joni Mitchell's work. Then there is the title song, which announced a new commitment to songwriting and shows the skill and humour that Dave brings to that overburdened art. After a ten year hiatus from solo, acoustic, blues-based music, Sunday Street was like Dave coming back and saying, "This is what I do." He has done a lot since, from swing jazz to a jug band version of "Peter and the Wolf," but this album was the perfect summary of his basic artistic approach. Though he may not have thought of it that way, Sunday Street was a musical manifesto, stating Dave's aesthetic and demonstrating its pwer. It is also, incidentally, one of the few genuine masterpieces to come out of the folk-blues revival.
Notes on the Songs:
by Dave Van Ronk and myself
1. Sunday Street (Dave Van Ronk)
Most twelve bar blues have only two lines of lyrics per verse, which is all right, if somewhat predictable. I tried to make this one a little different by giving each musical line a separate lyric, thus reaching a grand total of six lines -- and absolutely no spot for the singer to inhale. Back to two lines.

2. Jesus Met the Woman at the Well (Traditional)
Any woman who can candle five husbands should have no difficulty with Jesus Christ
Ian & Sylvia do a very boisterous version of this song, to constrast the mournful treatment here.

3. Nobody Knows the Way I Feel This Morning (Traditional)
In the 1950s while working with a traditional jazz band, I had the good fortune to accompany a vastly talentad woman, Phoebe Ingram by name. L>ike Bessie Smith, she was something of a protégé of Clarence Williams. I'm not sure if Clarence wrote this song, but Phoebe sure sang the bejesus out of it. I've made some changes, not because the song needs them, but because I have no recordings of it and twenty years is a long time. I wish someone would record Phoebe so there'd be no need for this type of nonsense.
Check the version by Sippie Wallace and the Kweskin Jug Band to be found in this blog's archives.

4. Maple Leaf Rag (Scott Joplin)
Composed by Scott Joplin and published in 1899.
And sold over a million copies of sheet music!

5. Down South Blues (Traditional)
Originally recorded by Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell. Scrapper was from Indianapolis -said all the best blues guitarists were from Indianapolis.

6. Jivin' Man Blues (Traditional)
This piece sounds to me like it was originally a "toast," which is a long, narrative poem meant to be recited rather than sung. They are usually incredibly filthy. This would be very much in character for Frankie "Half Pint" Jaxon, who recorded it in '29. He also recorded "Freakish Man Blues" and a version of the "How Long Blues," the lyrics of which were simply "How long?" over and over and over.

7. That Song About the Midway (Joni Mitchell)
Seems like no album of mine would be complete without a Joni Mitchell song. The images are mostly carney.
An even more profoundly devastating take on middle age than Radiohead's High and Dry.

8. The Pearls (Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton)
This is the hardest song I no doubt played in my life. Jelly Roll Morton composed it as a piano solo. The guitar transcription takes some liberties, but what can you do?

9. That'll Never Happen No More (Traditional)
Blind Blake, of whom nothing is known, even his real name is in dispute. He spent some time in Chicago, we think.
To make matters more confusing, there was an early calypso singer named Blind Blake (Blake Higgs), altogether different from the ragtime guitar virtuoso Blind Arthur Blake. Though the place of his birth is not certain, he is likely from Jacksonville, Florida. This fact singlehandedly disproves Scrapper Blackwell's claim above.

10. Mamie's Blues (Traditional/Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton)
Again, Jelly Roll Morton, certainly the greatest jazz composer before Ellington and a singer of incredible subtlety who claimed to have invented jazz in 1906. There is little point in argument.

11. Would You Like to Swing on a Star? (Van Heusen-Burke)
I can think of nothing whatever to say about this song -- it is perfect.
Cute song. Dave's performance a compelling case for that claim. He did another version of this song with a rock band, on Dave Van Ronk and His Hudson Dusters. Maria Muldaur also did a nice version of it on her album On the Sunny Side.

Year: 1976
Label: Philo/Rounder

hear it here
mr | mp3 192+kbps vbr | with cover | 76mb

there are a few other DVR posts floating around the blog pool:
Somebody Else, Not Me at Fourth String, Thrid Fret --> new album link:,
The Folkways Years 1959-61 at Merlin in Rags
Just Dave Van Ronk at Lost in Thyme or Entre a Mi Mente
Dave Van Ronk & His Ragtime Jug Stompers at Broke Down Engine
Two Sides of Dave Van Ronk at freebornman

Also check out this fine discography.