FolkFire March/April 1996 Issue Reviews
The Roches — "Can We Go Home Now?" from Rykodisc
by Rich Simmons
Since their debut in 1979, the Roches have consistently offered a unique blend of exceptional songwriting and beautiful harmonies, all supported by superb musicianship. Their latest effort continues this satisfying trend and is perhaps their best recording since 1985’s “Another World”. Certainly, it offers some of the best songwriting of their careers.
Home is a recurring theme throughout this collection. Suzzy Roche recalls, “That word ‘home’ kept coming up in the songs we were writing.” Two of the outstanding songs in this collection, in fact, have “home” in the title. In Maggie’s cryptic “Can We Go Home Now?”, she sings a song of longing. The listener can’t be sure if she’s longing for a place to call her own or perhaps lost innocence, but the longing is plaintive and undeniable. Suzzy’s beautiful “Home Away from Home” speaks volumes to anyone who’s lived in an unhappy home. In it, she gives thanks to a childhood neighbor who touched her life in a defining way.
Still, there are other matters that draw their attention. Living alone has its merits, but Suzzy lists a few of the drawbacks in “Holidays”. Jealousy, passion, and Jesus get all mixed up in Terre’s “Christlike”.
“He wants to be Christlike and never be jealous
So he lets her go on about all the other fellas”
Maggie’s “Winter Coat” is really about a coat and is filled with the tongue-in-cheek humor the Roches have shown throughout their career.
Recorded and engineered by their friend, Stewart Lerman, this collection of songs bears the mark of working in a home studio. Of course, the Roches harmonies are impeccable, as always, but the ease of working in a home studio allowed them the time to create inventive arrangements that are a joy to listen to. The vocal harmonies on “Christlike” or the counterpoint synthesized double bass on “When You’re Ready” is evidence of the care given to the production of this project. As a whole, it shines as unique and fresh.
The accompaniment on these songs is, for the most part, a return to their more traditional folk influences, however, these are not 3-chord songs. Rather, there is a subtle sophistication that pervades. Vocal harmonies take unexpected jumps. Pedal steel and fiddles add a folk feel that is only supplemented by the tasteful use of accordion and drums. Even the programmed rhythm track, which is used on several cuts, is carefully left in the background.
Maggie, Suzzy, and Terre Roche have given us some of the most personal and finely crafted songs of their career. Their voices continue to resound with the confidence and depth that tells us their prime has not yet ended. If this is an example of folk music in the ’90s, then I’m ready for another dose. I hope you are too.
Kevin McCluskey: "This Distant Light"
by Andrew Limanni
Here’s a nice new CD in the folk/soft Jazz-Rock/easier listening vein. A natural for all of us aging baby boomers that aren’t into Jimmy Hendrick as much as we were in 1968. This effort, by a Boston musician - he does the guitars, piano and vocals and is helped by lots of local talent on other instruments - virtually defines the genre of new-sort of old sounding folk music by primarily one performer with more production values than just a guy and a mike, and a guitar but less fullforce than say, typical rock-n-roll, where any newcomer who has half a chance at commercial success is given zillions in support to create whatever sound they want in that expensive, virtual, electronic, universe. More on this later.
There are lot of CDs out now like this. I’ve reviewed several others for this magazine and most of them do a pretty good job, and this is no exception. There are twelve songs - the first, True Believers and the last, Gonna Take a Miracle are real rockers, lots of drive and very listenable. Some of the earlier songs slip into that early 70s folk troubadour sound (remember Jackson Brown and James Taylor - we forget that even Elton John sounded this way when he first started out) that so many “folk singers” these days like to imitate. (More on this later, too) There is even a great love song, Roll Away the Stone, which all of us who have recently fallen in love will more than appreciate. All in all, a fine effort, worth listening to and enjoying. Try it. You can reach Kevin at 1-800-354-MUSIC to order it.
The only concerns all this brought up in me were somewhat more cosmic in regards to the direction of “Folk Music” today, How come folk music is no longer cutting edge or truly interesting or really revolutionary in sound or structure? There was a time, as late as the early 60s, when it was. These days, the efforts are limited to either Museum pieces, keeping alive the Folk Tradition (whatever that is) note by note, and risking getting into the same boat as classical music, merely recreating the past, soullessly. But, alas without all the huge subsidies of government money to keep it alive.
Or we get the guy and his mike, rocking it up a little, Woody Guthrieing it a little, the obligatory politically correct song, the necessary troubadour 70s songs. Where is the snap, crackle, and pop of creativity that the best innovators is rock-n-roll still alive? I care about this because I dearly love folk music, listen to a lot of it and wonder what it can contribute to our culture in the future.
Where is the next sound? I’m hoping for a breakthrough. Write with comments, I’d like to hear.
Crazy Rhythm, a Review
by Lin D. Hopper
Crazy Rhythm played a nice variety of swing and blues tunes at the Tuesday night Childgrove swing dance party on January 23rd at Focal Point. The band consists of Thayne Bradford on violin, Jon Ferber on guitar and vocals, and Vince Corkery on stand-up bass. They played mostly standards from the 30s and 40s, including Route 66, Summertime, After You’ve Gone, St. James Infirmary, and Nagasaki. The group displayed a consistently high level of musicianship, with their considerable experience and taste strongly in evidence. Bradford played violin skillfully in the classic swing style of Stephan Grapelli. Ferber played strong rhythm guitar and provided excellent solo guitar work. The bass work by Corkery provided a strong rhythmic base. The vocals by Ferber were particularly pleasing and tasteful, his voice is well suited to the easy going swing and blues styles they played.
The arrangements were well crafted and interesting rhythmically, enhancing the pleasure of dancing. The band did a particularly good job as a dance band considering they play without a drummer. Only rarely was the rhythm less than strongly swinging. The variety of tempos allowed for a mix of dance styles, including East Coast and Imperial style swing, Lindy Hop, St. Louis Shag, and slow and blues dancing, with enough variety to keep things interesting. As a special treat, Thayne Bradford displayed his considerable old-time fiddling skills on one tune, which drew people out on the dance floor for clogging, polkas, and vintage two-steps.
The dance floor was full but not crowded for most of the evening, and fun was had by all. If this sounds like your kind of thing, come on out to the swing dance workshops on Tuesdays so you’re ready to join the fun for the next Swing Dance Party on March 26th.
Geoff Seitz: The Good Old Days Are Here
by Andrew Limanni
The Ill-Mo Boys. The Sins of the Pioneers. Geoff Seitz and Friends. Count Geoff and the Vultures. The Leroy Pierson Band. Uncle Geoff. Cousin Curtis and the Cash Rebates. The Gods of Kimmswick. These are just a few of the names of the bands Geoff Seitz has fronted or played in, names that those of us in the contra-square-blues-reggae-etc. community have known him by. We all know that when one of these names appears on a flyer or in a newspaper or at a party (or in FolkFire) that the music and dancing will be good and hot, that the fun crowd and dancin’ crowd will be there and a good time will be had by all. New dancers invariably learn this within 60 days of starting on that long curve upward to Dance Heaven.
Geoff Seitz, arguably the hottest old time fiddler in the area (if not the whole region, if not the whole country) has certainly recorded before, for example in various efforts with The Leroy Pierson and the Ill-Mo Boys, but here’s your chance to get the pure, unadulterated Old Time Fiddlin’ sound of Geoff himself with a few of his friends - the sound you’ve come to know and love at dances and dance weekends. And what a backup (and what a chance to play the How Many Of These Guys Do You Know Game) - Rich Hibbs on banjo, Jim Nelson on guitar, Emily Buckhannon on piano, Forrest Rose on bass, Jeff Miller on banjo, Tom ( Billy Jack) Mittelbronn on guitar, Dave Landreth on banjo, Cousin Curtis Buckhannon on mandolin, Kevin McKeever on piano, Larry McNally on accordion, Dennis Buckhannon on guitar, Michelle Belanger on dancing feet.
There are 66 minutes of fun on this CD, with 20 selections, including lots of straight fiddle tunes, 2 waltzes and some Irish music. Geoff has 3 of his own compositions on this record (including the beautiful Rose of Sharon Waltz) and there are 2 of Dave Landreth’s originals also, including the notorious sing along contra One Eyed Cat. Some of my favorites were the super hot Seneca Square Dance, The Cherokee Shuffle and The Unnamed Breakdown - as well as one of the greatest fiddle tunes of all times, Marmaduke’s Hornpipe - the tune Geoff won two National fiddle contests with.
There are some intelligent liner notes by Geoff and an introduction by Jim Nelson, as well as beautiful cover art by Curtis Buckhannon. The violins used were classic 1740 Italian and classic 1991 and 1993 Geoff Seitz, another hat he wears as one of the area’s best fiddle makers. This recording is a fun and happy effort which will certainly set your feet to dancing. The only flaw I can detect is a little too much bass in the engineering - turn your knob down a notch or so and you’ll be OK. Otherwise, it is brilliantly recorded and very exciting.
If I were you, I would run out and get a copy of this now. You can probably get it anywhere but, if in doubt, just contact Geoff at any of the local dances. Enjoy.