return to the May/June 2003 folknik


If you have just released a CD or scholarly tome, send a review copy to: SFFMC, 885 Clayton Street, San Francisco, CA 94117; or to someone who has agreed to review it, and send the review to me (Kathryn LaMar, 21295 Birch Street, Hayward, CA 94541; 510 733 0425;

If you're a writer of excellent taste, and regularly acquire items to review, by all means review them and forward the review for publication right here.


Singing the Living Tradition
Beacon Press, Unitarian Universalist Association, 25 Beacon St, Boston, MA 02108; 1-800-215-9076.

This is a truly remarkable songbook, celebrating "a living faith with both roots and wings," a liberal Christianity also "embracing the riches of humanism, feminism, mysticism, neutral theism, the Jewish tradition, other faiths, and the skepticism generated by disillusioning woes and woes." High-minded, yes, but also a book that's sheer pleasure to leaf through, one revelation after another, over 400 songs, hymns, and rounds, many that are unique to this amazing collection. Often I've searched for some piece of music, only to discover it lurking within these very pages.

In addition to all the music in the book, there are over 300 inspirational and thoughtful readings from biblical sources, poets, and others, such as Paul Robeson, Albert Schweitzer, W. E. B. DuBois, Dorothy Day, Margaret Mead, Mother Teresa, and a great many more. Here's a thought from Edward Everett Hale: "I am only one but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do." -Sol Weber


VOCOLOT: Heart Beat
Oyster Albums, PO Box 3929, Berkeley, CA 94703

Linda Hirschhorn is a singer and composer with a limber, fine-grained voice and an ear for a sinuous melody. Her best-known song, perhaps, is Circle Chant, which has been taken up at peace rallies and actions across the country and beyond.
Since 1988, she has led Vocolot, a women's a cappella ensemble that showcases her compositions and her pungent harmony writing. Their latest album Heart Beat, like its predecessors, offers up a seamless vocal blend on songs in English, Yiddish, Hebrew, and Ladino. What's new is an infusion of rhythm.

Elizabeth Stuart plays a variety of percussion instruments, including dumbak, tambourine, and thigh; on occasion, the other women pitch in on shakers and hand claps. But, beyond the percussion, many songs draw propulsive energy from the vocal arrangements: melody lines ride atop a rhythmic bed of voices. La Comida - sung in Ladino, the language of Sephardic Jews driven from Spain by the Inquisition - dances along on a stuttering mesh of nonsense syllables.

Thematically, the songs cover a broad territory, addressing (to name a few) the possibility of a just peace in the Middle East, the strength and solidarity of women ("When these hands are baking bread, ancient rhythms move me on"), the love of a mother for a daughter, the spirit of resistance, and the beauty and mystery of existence. The slow, haunting Los Bilbilicos is, to quote the liner notes, "about pining for love when nightingales sing and the roses are in full bloom."

Varied as the album is, musically and lyrically, its emotional center is a kind of hope, even in a hard season. As Ellen Robinson sings on the gorgeous Guide Me, "Bread of plenty, feed me, till I want no more." - Bernard Gilbert


Nautical, Pastoral And Pub Songs; <>

This long-awaited second recording from Riggy (Ricky) Rackin is a real pleasure, giving us on a CD quite a few of the wonderful and unique traditional songs that we in the folk club have been enjoying from Riggy for years. This new album (unlike his first, which consisted of hymns) features a selection of songs from his core repertoire, accompanied with his concertina and a bit of guitar. It draws from three genres: sea songs, songs of the rural (mostly English) countryside, and pub songs (the latter testifying to the benefits of drinking and male companionship). With only a couple of exceptions, these are all songs that I'd never heard outside of Riggy's singing, and this is a testament to Riggy's keen ear for interesting and unusual traditional songs.

There are several real gems here. The sea songs include the wonderful Wave Over Wave, which is an eloquent explanation of what brings happiness to a sailor who loves being at sea, and Spanish La-dies ("we'll rant and we'll roar like true Yankee whalermen"). The drinking songs include It's Not Yet Day ("until the sunbeams 'round us play, we'll joke and pass around the pitcher") and a real favorite of mine, Staying Out All Night ("if only I could spend my days, staying out all night"). But the song that really grabs me by the heart is the pastoral song Home Lads Home, a nostalgic reminiscence about the young men and horses who did the farm work together, several of them lost in World War I.

Riggy offers up a fine array of great songs, many of them about men who loved their work, or at least their nights out drinking. Clearly Riggy's music is a labor of love as well. Highly recommended. - Mitch Gordon


JOE JENCKS: I Hear Your Voice
Turtle Bear Music, 8314Greenwood Ave. N., PMB #215, Seattle, WA 98103; 877-485-2479; <>

We who are feeling like old-fogey folkies and wonder who will be the minstrels and muses of the next generation need look no farther than Joe Jencks. This, his second recording, has close to an hour's worth of spectacular, soul-moving yet foot-tapping music. There's only one cover (Woody Guthrie's Deportee); all of the self-penned others are musical gems. The influences and styles are di-verse, but never get in the way of the lyrics; his clear tenor voice, front and center on every song, is a joy to hear (there are plenty of vocal and instrumental harmonies for depth); and the recording is well-paced. Included are songs honoring ordinary working folks in victory and still struggling (Rise as One, Christmas in Mansfield), a very African-sounding song honoring human-rights martyr Ken Saro Wiwa, a reggae-ish You Don't Have the Right addressed to power brokers and exploiters, heart-felt and wry love longs (Dance With Me and Highway Romance, respectively). The humorous Men Are Good looks at media messages that should be sent. There are songs of personal growth and gratitude (On Belay; Leaving), and a beautiful message-song (Do It for the Singing) closes the album. One of the best songs seems more of a chant (3 notes!), but is a great anthem that can be sung by all in these dark times-"Sing with anger / Sing with fear / Sing with laughter / Through our tears /Sing with power in our strife / We are singers, singers of life." More than recommended-Prescribed for survival in today's world! Get this one for the singing! - Kathryn LaMar