The lovely people at Shout Factory sent this two disc set to me. It was a little odd. I’ve never professed a love of Folk Music in my posts. Yet, there it was in my mailbox. However, since they took the time to send it, I told them I would take the time to listen.
And I did.
And then I realized I’m not really a guy who knows enough about Folk Music to give some useful criticism on whether this is a good collection or not. So I deferred to my good friend and TV producer Douglas M. Wilson. He’s a fairly knowledgeable music person. He gave it a listen. Overall, he thought it WAS a good folk collection. Just maybe not the last one you’ll ever need. Here are his thoughts.
So, if you call a two CD package the “only collection you’ll ever need,” I suppose you have to include all of the classics, don’t you? In order to attempt to do that, this package has a wide range of styles and this made the collection a little disjointed.
At the one extreme, you have the Kingston Trio’s horrible but somehow classic rendering of “Tom Dooley.” At the other end, there’s Odetta singing “Ain’t No Grave Gonna Hold Me Down.” The Kingston Trio’s rendering is sickly sweet regardless of the macabre subject matter. I’ve always loved this song and hated this version. It really belongs in a Christopher Guest movie. It’s almost comical. Odetta, on the other hand, always sounds powerful. The real deal. Hearing both sounds in one collection, no matter how much they’re considered part of the same genre, is tough. I found myself really enjoying one song, and then cringing at the next. Also, I was surprised to see something as countrified as the Stanley Brothers’ “Man of Constant Sorrow” and someone as bluesy as Odetta in the same collection. Ultimately, I think a more coherent collection of bluesy folk OR singer/songwriter folk would have been more successful.
All that said, it’s interesting to find how well some songs and performances hold up after fifty or more years, and how others definitely don’t. What holds up? Plenty. Dylan, of course, but also one of his contemporaries Dave Von Ronk, still sounds very relevant and powerful. What doesn’t – anything that sounds like Peter, Paul, and Mary. I get how important they were in the movement. I get their commitment. I’m fine grazing past them during PBS fundraising campaigns. I just don’t want to actually have to listen to their treacle.
One more thing. I dearly wish that really important figures like Peter Seeger, and especially Woody Guthrie would be treated as fascinating songwriters rather than museum pieces. You must include Woody’s “This Land Is Your Land” the same way you must see the Mona Lisa when you visit the Louvre. I’ve never really cared for Pete Seeger, but I know that his body of work includes more than “If I Had A Hammer.” It’s all sort of the same, but his importance is significant. Woody Guthrie, though, has an amazing, rich, and large body of work, and I’ve often wondered how many more spins he would get if people could hear more than his most famous song.
Overall, disc 1 gets off to a slow start, but the music really picks up the pace by disc 2 and I enjoyed it much more. Some note worthy performers are Phil Ochs, Mississippi John Hurt and John Prine.
There you have it. I listened to the CDs and I really enjoyed most of the tracks. I too love Dave Von Ronk and think his music totally holds up. I would say that if you are a folk lover or music lover who enjoys having collections, this is worth it even if the genre’s get a little mixed up. The sound quality is great, although that’s no surprise for Shout Factory. Wether it’s on your own or as background for your party, if you like folk music, check this release out.