Roger McGuinn's album Treasures from the Folk Den has been growing on me. It's even more of a nostalgia trip than is usual with folk music. McGuinn (best known as the leader of the Byrds) cut his teeth in the folk/protest era of the late 50s and early 60s. He's been putting out new versions of the era's songs online for some years. Now he's done a compilation album, re-recording these songs in the company of the artist associated with them back when. These include some real old-timers, like Pete Seeger and Jean Ritchie, as well as 60s staples like Judy Collins and Odetta. They no longer have the great voices of their youth, but most have gained an easy virtuosity over the years. Their art belies the simplicity of the performances, which seem more than ever modeled on the "authentic", unschooled style of rural singers, as exemplified by the Harry Smith Anthology. Thirty years ago these folks were showy singers, trying too hard; today they've almost become the real thing.

Most of the songs are chestnuts, but they are durable, and a few may have escaped your ear. I particularly like Dink's Song, which I've never owned a recording of. As told by Lomax, the story of the song and its singer is sad, and the achy duet by McGuinn and Josh White Jr. does them justice (even in a bowdlerized version). I wondered whether the reference to "Norah's dove" was a corruption of Noah's dove, but haven't found a clear statement on the point. Such "obvious" assumptions about traditional material often turn out to be wrong. Dylan sang it as "Noah's", which doesn't prove much, but this over-worshipful account does present a funny picture of the young singer working on his own myth.

- alex 2-05-2002 6:33 pm

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