From The Folknik Jan/Feb 1999

Betsy Rose
Paper Crane Music
P.O. Box 9538, Berkeley, CA 94709
(510 ) 525-7082

Betsy Rose has made an album of highly personal songs about motherhood, childhood, and parenthood (only one cut is not original). The mood is spiritual and sometimes sentimental, always heartfelt and also very moving ("Birthmother"). As a non-mother, I could appreciate the expressions of joy and frustration ("Thanks to Life" and "Can I Have It"), of hopes for the future ("I Want a World for You"), and appreciation for the work of our own parents ("Raising Up Children"). I suspect that mothers as well as fathers will feel even more deeply moved by these songs. The musical arrangements, assisted by Nina Gerber's magic touch, provide a wonderful background for Rose's passionate voice, and several meditative cuts provide welcome spiritual regeneration.

-Estelle Friedman

Gordon Bok
Timberhead, P.O. Box 840
Camden, Maine 04843

The title tells it all-this is a CD of gatherings of friends and musicians in various combinations and places. The booklet cover reads "Gordon Bok with Carol Rohl, harp, and a host of Maine Musicians". If I have counted correctly, Gordon sings alone on only three cuts; there are choruses on four and instrumentals only on others. Emphasis is on the harp; in seven selections the only accompaniment is Carol on the harp and Gordon playing one of several different guitars, the 'cellamba' or the viol.
This is not a series of separate pieces but rather a presentation in which one song or instrumental flows into another. It starts with a piece from Paraguay, "Llegada" (Arrival), often played at the beginning of a parade or festival and ends with "Gordon's Farewell" to a house he sold which had been in his family for four generations. Singing usually alternates with instrumentals; there are three work songs and in the middle "The Partygoer" from Venezuela.

Choruses are the 'January Men' and the 'Quasimodal Chorus!', both of fluctuating memberships; a 'Small World Orchestra' plays on three cuts. The fine musical taste of Gordon Bok predominates throughout as he presents the 'host of Maine Musicians' in this delightful CD. No home should be without one.

-Faith Petric

Kings of Mongrel Folk
Mark Graham and Orville Johnson
4922 - 46th Ave. South, Seattle, WA 98118

Washingtonians Mark Graham and Orville Johnson are a couple of pros, and in spite of the fact that there's just the two of them and hardly any overdubbing, the music is very solid. It's pretty much the same as hearing them live. Orville plays guitar, dobro and mandolin; Mark alternates between very fine harmonica playing and clarinet. Both guys take leads on the vocals.

Mark is, of course, the author of some of the silliest comic folk songs in recent decades, including "Zen Gospel Singing" and "I Can See Your Aura and It's Ugly". This recording features "Their Brains Were Small and They Died" and "Oedipus Rex" and my personal favorite, "Neighbor of the Beast", a country western weeper about the guy who lived at 667, next door to the antichrist at 666. But there's a wide variety of stuff on this recording, some of it more serious (including two penned by Orville) and some sweetly funny. There's also a lot of enjoyable instrumental work, and some fine cover material, such as Norman Blake's outlaw ballad, "Billy Gray". The album is just some of everything-humor, blues, old timey-you know, mongrel folk.

-Mitch Gordon

Dock Boggs - His Folkways Years 1963-1968
Smithsonian Folkways (2 discs) SF 40108

Dock Boggs recorded only 12 songs in the 1920s, but his raw, powerful singing and distinctive banjo playing caused Harry Smith to include him in his Anthology of American Folk Music and Mike Seeger to search for him in the hills of Kentucky (1963).

This set includes 50 blues, instrumentals, regional and religious songs originally released to high acclaim on three Folkways Records LPs in the 1960s. They have influenced musicians ever since. Extensive notes by Barry O Connel and Mike Seeger. With bluesy and lonesome banjo finger picking and singing, this collection is an amazing legacy from an original and great American musician's life.

Black Banjo Songsters of North Carolina and Virginia
Smithsonian Folkways SF CD 40079

The sounds and social history of African American banjo playing-32 instrumentals and vocals, recorded between 1974 and 1997. Extensively annotated with performers' life histories, tunings, lyrics, bibliography and discography. This music aptly forges the link between West African griots, gourd banjo music that came here with enslaved Africans, and performers of 20th-century blues and string-band music.

Some of the players: John Snipes, Dink Roberts, Joe and Odell Thompson, John Jackson, Etta Baker and others. Notes by Cece Conway (associate professor of English at Appalachian State University, folklorist and filmmaker) and Scott Odell (former head of Smithsonian's National Museum of American History). Many of these recordings interested me a great deal, but overall this CD lacked variety and would be hard for many people to listen to straight through. A must for the hard-core traditional banjo student, in part because there are not a lot of recordings of African-American banjo players.

Southern Banjo Sounds
Mike Seeger
Smithsonian Folkways SFW CD 40107

A survey of traditional Southern banjo techniques, styles, instrumentals and songs played on a variety of 23 mostly vintage banjos. Music ranges from 19th-century African-American Mississippi to 1940s Earl Scruggs. Extensive notes by Mike Seeger include tunings and stylistic information. Source information for the repertoire includes many musicians that Mike Seeger met or researched during his impressive musical career.-Evo Bluestein (all three banjo reviews)

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