TOM RUSSELL – The Rose Of Roscrae (Proper Records PRPCD130)

RofRThe term “ballad opera” isn’t heard much these days but that is exactly what we have here. There are fifty-two tracks divided into two acts on two discs; some are song length, others are mere vignettes linking them. There are guest appearances from Johnny Cash, Joe Ely, Eliza Gilkyson, Getchen Peters, Ian Tyson. Jimmy LaFave, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and even Bert Lloyd among many others. Some are playing roles, others providing background colour and some are old recordings co-opted for the show.

The basic package doesn’t offer much in the way of clues except for a quote taken from the narration which is spoken over the overture in which Russell explains that it begins with a hanging – which actually occurs in the middle of the story. Actually, there is a sixty page booklet with annotated lyrics but that’s not for the likes of humble reviewers. The story elements are not necessarily arranged chronologically so it can be confusing but we can say with some certainty that Russell plays an Irish kid called John Sutton who left Tipperary in the 1880s but he has several aliases and as many adventures.

Russell’s original songs tend towards solid country rock, a solid framework on which to hang the story. Except for the narrative pieces like ‘The Last Running’, of course. Other artists do their own thing, so there’s a gorgeous version of ‘Ain’t No More Cane On The Brazos’ by LaFave and Peters and a rocking take on ‘Jesus Met The Woman At The Well’ with Gilkyson joining Russell. Some songs appear more than once in very different guises. Augie Myers, aka Augie Blood, does strange things to ‘A Closer Walk With Thee’ and ‘He’ll Be Dead Before He Hits The Ground’ and the concept of the last frontier are recurring threads.

The second act finds our hero in the guise of Spanish Johnny somewhere around the Mexican border but it begins briefly in Ireland and frequently takes the point of view of the women in John’s life. Some of this section is rather puzzling. ‘Damien’ mentions Belgium and Bergen for reasons which aren’t quite clear but ‘Gallo Del Cielo’, the story of a stolen fighting cock, leads neatly on to memories of Pancho Villa before one of our heroes is ‘Doin’ Hard Time In Texas’ – an excuse to include a Lead Belly song.

The Rose Of Roscrae is a wide-ranging, one might almost say sprawling, story – a collage of music and lives. At first sight it looks like a folly but it’s a glorious one.

Dai Jeffries

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Tom Russell – The Rose Of Roscrae

RofR

Double CD album out 13th April 2015 on Proper Records

Tom Russell’s ambitious new double-album The Rose of Roscrae takes a fascinating look at the history of the American West and traditional cowboy and folk music, through the story of an Irish kid who travels to the United States in the late 1880s to become a cowboy.

Produced by Tom Russell and Barry Walsh, The Rose of Roscrae features a who’s who of legendary Americana icons including: Jimmie Dale Gilmore, David Olney, Johnny Cash, Joe Ely, Augie Meyers, Fats Kaplin, Barry Walsh, Jimmy LaFave, Gretchen Peters, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Walt Whitman, Moses “Clear Rock” Platt, Jack Hardy, David Massengill, A.L. “Bert” Lloyd, Finbar Furey, Sourdough Slim, Blackie Farrell, Tex Ritter, Glen Orhlin, Pat Russell, John Trudell, Henry Real Bird, Thad Beckman, Maura O’Connell, Eliza Gilkyson, The McCrary Sisters, Ian Tyson, Bonnie Dobson, Lead Belly, Guy Clark, Dan Penn, Gurf Morlix, and Pat Manske. The album’s overture is performed by the Norwegian Wind Ensemble, arranged by Mats Hålling, composed by Tom Russell.

For over four decades and 28 album releases Tom Russell has continued to live up to his status as “one of the best singer-songwriters of our time” (Washington Post). His previous two  studio releases, Blood and Candle Smoke (2009) and Mesabi (2011), are considered his strongest composed works yet and were, in part, recorded with the groundbreaking roots band Calexico. In the 1990s, Russell and Dave Alvin were hailed as the architects of what came to be known as “Americana” music after their Merle Haggard tribute, Tulare Dust, initiated the Americana charts in the U.S. and remained number one for a year. Russell’s previous release, Aztec Jazz (2013), moved Americana into a new realm and his acclaimed song catalogue into uncharted territory.

Tom Russell’s songs have been recorded by Johnny Cash, Doug Sahm, Nanci Griffith, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Dave Alvin, Joe Ely, and others. The Rose of Roscrae is his third in a series of acclaimed folk operas, following The Man From God Knows Where (1999) and Hotwalker (2005). Russell has also composed movie scores, including songs for the Monte Hellman movie The Road To Nowhere and published five books, most recently 120 Songs of Tom Russell. An accomplished fine artist, Russell’s paintings are featured in: Blue Horse/Red Desert: The Art of Tom Russell.

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‘The Rose Of Roscrae’ trailer video:

Tim Grimm and the King of the Folksingers video

We are well folking hacked off as we missed this first time round and Tim Grimm was up up and away by the 4th of July having flown the UK before we got wind of the tour.

However, its worth telling the tale about Tim’s 2013 album Turning Point in case you missed it first time around together with and the brilliant video “King of the Folksingers“.

Tim Grimm walks the fine line between folk and country, while maintaining a strong footing in tradition.  We hear the rural rumblings that have shaped his life, but we are also invited in to a bigger picture, as evident in so much of his work. Critics searching for comparisons most often cite Johnny Cash, Woody Guthrie and (Nebraska-era) Bruce Springsteen.

After living and working several years in Los Angeles as an actor in TV series like Reasonable Doubts, and in a number of films including Clear and Present Danger with Harrison Ford, Tim returned home to the small town settings of Indiana. It was a conscious choice to live a life of significance rather than one of “success”.

He now lives with his wife and sons on an 80 acre farm close to where he grew up. Tim’s songs are full of the rural rumblings that have shaped his life – rich with descriptive details, and sung with warmth and intimacy – recognizing the inextinguishable national romance with the idea of the family farm and the vanishing landscape of rural America.

Grimm is also the man behind the award-winning theatre show Wilderness Plots, from which several songs were included on his critically acclaimed 2011 album Wilderness Songs and Bad Man Ballads. That same year Tim also recorded Thank You Tom Paxton, a tribute to his long-time hero.

His latest album The Turning Point features a bunch of wonderful songs and guests, including Harpeth Rising, Cindy Kallet, Beth Lodge-Rigal, Jason Wilber (John Prine’s sidekick for many years), Jan Lucas, Connor Grimm and newgrass band, The Underhills. Amongst many highlights on the album are ‘Anne In Amsterdam’, in which Tim describes his thoughts and emotions following a visit to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, and the title song, a ballad about a 17th century murder in the Dutch village of Spijkerboor near the German border.

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Tompkins Square Release ‘Live At Caffè Lena : Music From America’s Legendary Coffeehouse, 1967-2013,’ 3CD Box Set

TSQ2967_LiveAtCaffeLena150047 PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED TRACKS from DAVE VAN RONK, SLEEPY JOHN ESTES, KATE McGARRIGLE, RICK DANKO, RAMBLIN’ JACK ELLIOTT, TIFT MERRITT . . .

Nestled in the quaint upstate town of Saratoga Springs, New York is Caffè Lena, the oldest continuously operating folk music coffeehouse in the US. Opened by Lena Spencer in 1960, this tiny room has played host to influential artists across diverse genres of music; traditional folk, blues, singer-songwriters, jazz and bluegrass. Luckily, many performances were caught on tape through the years, offering the listener a thrilling seat inside this hallowed venue. ‘Live At Caffè Lena’, a 3-CD box set, the result of years of investigative research, contains 47 tracks, all released for the very first time, alongside previously unpublished photographs. Images include selections from the archive of esteemed photographer Joe Alper, who captured many iconic, intimate portraits from the folk era of the 1960s.

Live At Caffè Lena documents an important folk universe that was and is still happening in upstate New York, a story heretofore largely untold. The release of this collection comes at an auspicious time in light of renewed interest in the New York folk scene of the 60s as depicted in the forthcoming Coen Brothers film, ‘Inside Llewyn Davis.’ The film is loosely based on Dave Van Ronk’s 2005 memoir ‘The Mayor of Macdougal Street.’ Van Ronk, a Caffè Lena regular, served as a mentor to many artists, some who would go on to eclipse his fame. His 1974 recording of “Gaslight Rag” featured on the box set references the Gaslight Café, a famed Greenwich Village venue that along with Caffè Lena was a catalyst for the folk music revival.

Caffè Lena embodied the spirit of the folk boom, the era and its artistry, building a reputation as a hotbed of creativity and connection. It was also a safe haven and nurturing space for artists, its atmosphere cultivated personally by Lena Spencer herself. She would graciously house wayward artists, sometimes for months at a time. But she was not merely a host. She championed artists, from Bob Dylan as early as 1961 all the way through the 80s until her passing. Her passion for identifying and promoting talent is evident throughout this 3-CD set. That Caffè Lena is still open for business tonight is a testament to her legacy.

The producers are Steve Rosenthal (Three-time GRAMMY Award-winner, owner of The Magic Shop and The Living Room Music Club in NYC), Jocelyn Arem (Director of the CaffèLena History Project). Liner notes: Holly George-Warren & Robert Burke Warren, Scott Goldman, Michael Eck

Live At Caffè Lena: Music From America’s Legendary Coffeehouse, 1967-2013 is available Worldwide on Tompkins Square TSQ 2967 Distributed by INgrooves in North America, Cargo UK for Europe, FUSE for Australia.

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 Bob Dylan at Caffè Lena, 1962 (photo by Joe Alper)

Caffe Lena

Track list for Live At Caffè Lena: Music From America’s Legendary Coffeehouse, 1967-2013

DISC ONE
01 Intro by Lena Spencer / Guy Carawan Cripple Creek 1970
02 Hedy West Shady Grove 1968
03 Intro by Lena Spencer / Sleepy John Estes Holy Spirit 1974
04 Frank Wakefield and Friends Will The Circle Be Unbroken 1971
05 Jean Ritchie West Virginia Mine Disaster 1969
06 Billy Faier Hunt The Wren 1967
07 Greenbriar Boys Hit Parade of Love 1968
08 Mike Seeger O Death 1971
09 Jacqui and Bridie Hello Friend 1974
10 Tom Paxton Morning Again 1968
11 David Amram Little Mama 1974
12 Patrick Sky Reality Is Bad Enough 1971
13 Rosalie Sorrels Travelin’ Lady 1974
14 Smoke Dawson Devil’s Dream 1968
15 Utah Phillips The Green Rolling Hills of West Virginia 1974
16 Michael Cooney Thyme It Is A Precious Thing 1974
17 Kate McGarrigle and Roma Baran Caffè Lena 1972

DISC TWO
01 Intro by Lena Spencer / Dave Van Ronk Gaslight Rag 1974
02 Jerry Jeff Walker Mr. Bojangles 1968
03 Barbara Dane Mama Yancey’s Advice / Love With a Feeling 1968
04 Roy Book Binder Ain’t Nobody Home But Me 1974
05 Intro by Lena Spencer / David Bromberg The Holdup 1972
06 Ramblin’ Jack Elliott Pretty Boy Floyd 1992
07 Arlo Guthrie City of New Orleans 2010
08 Aztec Two Step The Persecution and Restoration of Dean Moriarty 1989
09 Happy And Artie Traum Trials Of Jonathan 1974
10 Rick Danko It Makes No Difference 1988
11 Paul Geremia Something’s Gotta Be Arranged 1989
12 Robin and Linda Williams S-A-V-E-D 1987
13 John Herald Ramblin’ Jack Elliott 1991
14 Pete Seeger Somos El Barco (We Are the Boat) 1985

DISC THREE
01 Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion Folksong 2013
02 Anais Mitchell Wedding Song 2013
03 Bill Morrissey The Last Day Of The Furlough 1990
04 Patty Larkin Island Of Time 1992
05 Greg Brown Flat Stuff 1989
06 Mary Gauthier I Drink 2013
07 Sean Rowe Old Black Dodge 2013
08 Tom Chapin Cat’s In The Cradle 1987
09 Intro by Lena Spencer / Christine Lavin Good Thing He Can’t Read My Mind 1987
10 Bill Staines Sweet Wyoming Home 1990
11 Bucky and John Pizzarelli I Like Jersey Best 1989
12 Rory Block That’s No Way To Get Along 1989
13 Chris Smither Killing The Blues 1989
14 Tift Merritt Traveling Alone 2013
15 John Gorka Down In The Milltown 1990
16 Lena Spencer Dear Little Cafe 1972

Older Than My Old Man Now – Loudon Wainwright III

As his new album’s title relates, Loudon Wainwright III is Older Than My Old Man Now — his old man, of course, being the late Loudon Wainwright, Jr., the esteemed Life Magazine columnist and senior editor.

“Singer-songwriter contemporaries of mine have recently taken to writing memoirs and autobiographies,” notes Wainwright. “I decided I would try to tell the story of my swinging life in a three and one-half minute song.”

He’s speaking specifically of the album’s lead track “The Here & the Now,” which features jazz guitar great John Scofield and backing vocals from all four of Wainwright’s children — Rufus and Martha Wainwright, Lucy Wainwright Roche and Lexie Kelly Wainwright — as well as two of the three moms, Suzzy Roche and Ritamarie Kelly. But the album as a whole reflects the stage he’s reached in his life, and as he so wryly puts it, the “death ‘n’ decay” that inevitably accompanies it.

One track which cuts directly to the issue, “The Days That We Die,” remarkably brings together three generations of Wainwright males.

“My Dad wrote the recitation, and I’m singing with No. 1 son Rufus,” says Wainwright. “That’s my grandson Arcangelo Albetta — Martha’s kid — I’m walking with on the beach photo that’s part of the CD artwork. Not only that, but Loudon Wainwright I is referenced in the title track, so in fact there are five generations represented on the album!”

Wainwright’s father, who died in 1988, also wrote the recitation that introduces the album’s title track. “Please believe me when I say that collaborating with my long gone progenitor at this late date felt pretty damn big,” says his son, who also lifted the opening line of “Double Lifetime” from one of the notebooks that his father used to carry around with him to write in.

Another key family member who is no longer living, Wainwright’s ex-wife Kate McGarrigle (the mother of Rufus and Martha), is represented by “Over The Hill” — “the one song we wrote together, way back in 1975.” Martha Wainwright accompanies her father vocally on the track, as does multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Chaim Tannenbaum, his “musical sidekick and sounding board” for over 40 years. Suzzy Roche returns to sing on “10,” and even Wainwright’s lab/pit/chow mix Harry, who’s been featured (in the lyrics) in a number of his songs in the last few years, appears on “Ghost Blues” and the bonus download track for the album “No Tomorrow.”

But Older Than My Old Man Now, which was produced by Dick Connette (producer of Wainwright’s 2009 Grammy-winning High Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project), boasts stellar participants other than family.

“One voice singing a lot about death ‘n’ decay can be a bit wearing so Dick and I brought in other singers to help with the heavy lifting,” says Wainwright. “The venerable Chris Smither testifies with me on ‘Somebody Else,’ for which High Wide & Handsome alum Rob Moose wrote the string arrangement. Barry Humphries, a.k.a. Dame Edna Everage, does a duet with me on ‘I Remember Sex.’ He and I were romantically linked in two episodes of Ally McBeal a few years back, and I’ve been besotted ever since. There is no greater living and performing legend than Barry Humphries, for my money. And he’s even older than I am!”

Older than Wainwright, too, was another personal hero who guests on Older Than My Old Man Now — folk music legend and 2 time Grammy winner Ramblin’ Jack Elliott.

“After making pilgrimages to Jack’s shows for half a century now, for me to sing and play with him on an album was nothing short of a dream come true,” he says, referring to “Double Lifetime.” “Recording this song with him — perhaps my foremost musical father figure — was a gas.”

One other old friend is noteworthy: Robin Morton, a founding member of legendary Celtic group the Boys of the Lough.

“We’ve known each other since the early 1970s when we were young hell raising/up-chucking Turks on the folk music scene together,” recalls Wainwright. “It was great fun to begin recording Older Than back in May at Robin’s studio in the tiny Scottish village of Temple — just a wee bit south of Edinburgh.”

And from High Wide & Handsome also came the likes of guitar and banjo player Matt Munisteri, cellist Erik Friedlander, pianist Paul Asaro and bassist Tim Luntzel. Together, the new album’s personnel create song treatments ranging from basic guitar-and-vocal to sophisticated string settings — together with some swinging funk provided by Scofield.

Loudon Wainwright III came to fame when “Dead Skunk” became a Top 20 hit in 1972. Born in Chapel Hill, N.C. in 1946, he had studied acting at Carnegie-Mellon University, but dropped out to partake in the Summer of Love in San Francisco.

He wrote his first song in 1968, “Edgar” (about a lobsterman in Rhode Island) and was soon signed to Atlantic Records by Nesuhi Ertegun. Clive Davis lured him to Columbia Records — which released “Dead Skunk.” His recording career now consists of 25 albums, also including last year’s five-disc retrospective 40 Odd Years and his most recent studio album 10 Songs For The New Depression (2010).

Wainwright’s songs have been recorded by Johnny Cash, Earl Scruggs, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Rufus Wainwright, and Mose Allison, among others. He has collaborated with songwriter/producer Joe Henry on the music for Judd Apatow’s hit movie Knocked Up, written music for the British theatrical adaptation of the Carl Hiaasen novel Lucky You, and composed topical songs for NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered and ABC’s Nightline.

Also an accomplished actor, Wainwright has appeared in films directed by Martin Scorsese, Hal Ashby, Christopher Guest, Tim Burton, Cameron Crowe, and Judd Apatow. He has also starred on TV in M.A.S.H. and Undeclared, and on Broadway in Pump Boys and Dinettes.

Made me howl with laughter one minute and then emotionally take me to places were other CD’s fear to tread…

Darren Beech folking.com

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