VARIOUS ARTISTS – Singer Songwriters From Home (Hemifrån MFH 1501)

Singer Songwriters From HomeHere’s a Swedish label celebrating the art of the singer-songwriter with the music of four US exponents: Greg Copeland, Keith Miles, Barry Ollman and Bob Cheevers – all experienced but not well-known outside their home country, hence the tag “Hidden Treasures”.

The compilers and artists have worked hard to avoid the clichés of the genre but even so a good many of the songs fall into the gentle and thoughtful category. The first selection: Copeland’s ‘Wait for Me’, Miles’ ‘Playing Your Guitar’, Cheevers’ ‘These Are My Words’ and Ollman’s ‘Longtime Friend’ fall more or less into this grouping and Cheever’s strays dangerously close to the “you’re my woman etc etc” category. I’ll forgive him that for coming up with the first track that really sets the album alight – ‘The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow’, a rousing re-telling of Washington Irving’s story. It’s preceded by ‘Roughhouse Boys’, Copeland’s reflective Civil War song, and followed by Miles’ country-rocker, ‘Homeland’, recorded fifteen years ago by Kenny Rogers.

Ollman’s ‘Murmuration’ takes a new look at something we’ve all seen at one time or another. It features Tim O’Brien’s mandolin and other guests sprinkled throughout the record include Patrick Sky, Spooner Oldham, Larry Knechtel, Jackson Browne, David Lindley and Garry W Tallent. Of the four, Ollman is the only performer I’m certain that I’ve heard before and while the album is enjoyable enough it lacks the bite I want from a singer-songwriter. A little early Phil Ochs or even Tom Paxton in protest mode wouldn’t go amiss.

Dai Jeffries

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BARRY OLLMAN – What’ll It Be? (Self Released)

ollmanChances are you’ll never have heard of Barry Ollman. Not unless, that is, you happen to be a music collector. His father a Midwest correspondent for Billboard from 49-75, Ollman grew up immersed in music, not to mention gathering an impressive collection of autographs. This was the spark of what would see him become perhaps the definitive collector of Woody Guthrie, an obsession that has also encompassed the social movements of the time as well as Guthrie’s contemporaries, musical and otherwise. He’s also on the board of the Guthrie Foundation.

As well as being a music collector, Ollman’s also a musician, performing as a folk singer-songwriter since the late 60s. In the 90s, introduced by his photographer brother, Ollman met and became friends with Graham Nash, one of his longtime heroes. Fast forward to the present and this, Barry’s debut recording, the opening track of which, the waltzing ‘Imogen’s Lament’, features Nash on harmonies. It’s a song inspired by Imogen Cunningham, one of the great photographers of the 20th century and serves as a tribute to and lament for the passing of old school photography with the arrival of the digital age. Being something of a well-regarded snapper himself, Nash also provides the album’s back cover photo.

Nash isn’t the only familiar name here. Another of Ollman’s mates happens to be E Street band bassist Garry Tallent, who duly turns up on four tracks here, providing both bass and guitar on the strutting ‘Banker’s Holiday’, which takes a swipe at the profession behind the economic collapse.

Musically, Ollman slots into the rock/folk tradition of Laurel Canyon, evoking thoughts of Jackson Browne as well as, inevitably, CS&N, but there’s also shades of Paul Simon, Rick Nelson, Steve Goodman and Tom Paxton on things like ‘Painting The West’, a song inspired by a trip to Arizona and Guthrie’s own love of painting, ‘See Ya’ In Okemah’, a nod to the annual festival in Woody’s hometown that features renowned classical and film score composer David Amram on penny whistle, and ‘Something To Say’, a celebration of writers and the power of words.

Although completed prior to him suffering a heart attack, there’s a strong air of reflection running through the songs, particularly so on ‘The Old Country’’s reminiscences of youth and the ringing anthemic ‘The Other Half’, and, while he may not have the strongest of voices, he knows how to match an engaging lyric with a strong melody and deliver it with an appealing warmth and honesty.

Mike Davies

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