TITLE: 26 SONGS in 30 DAYS
WOODY GUTHRIE'S Columbia River Songs
and the Planned Promised Land in the Pacific Northwest
AUTHORS: GREG VANDY WITH DANIEL PERSON
PUBLICATION DATE: APRIL 12, 2016
There are no shortage of writings about and by Woody Guthrie but 26 Songs in 30 Days is a great contribution because it is a work focused on the relationship between the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) and Woody and what this massive public works project meant to him as the country was coming out of the Great Depression and preparing for World War II.
TITLE: WOODY GUTHRIE L.A.—1937-1941
AUTHORS: DARRYL HOLTER AND WILLIAM DEVERELL
FOREWORD BY ED CRAY
PUBLISHER: ANGEL CITY PRESS (SANTA MONICA, CA)
PUBLICATION DATE: January 15, 2016
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
This account of Woody Guthrie’s pivotal four years in Los Angeles from 1937 to 1941—during which he became the political songwriter who influenced four generations of American folk singers—from Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen—will send a seismic shockwave through the standard narrative of the folk revival of the1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s. Measured on the Richter Scale, I would put it at a 6.7—in the same territory as the 1994 Northridge earthquake.
THE RHYMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN’
TITLE: THE LYRICS: SINCE 1962
AUTHOR: BOB DYLAN
EDITOR: CHRISTOPHER RICKS, LISA NEMROW, JULIE NEMROW
PUBLISHER: SIMON AND SCHUSTER
RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 28, 2014 (NYC)
The most complete collection of Bob Dylan’s lyrics we are likely to see in our lifetime has just been published, and the most notable thing about it is the juxtaposition of Dylan’s lyrical changes in many songs from their original recorded versions to the printed versions to the various live recorded versions, yielding in some cases three rather different texts. Each section is framed by a full-size replica of the original album cover, in full color front and back. The dimensions of the LP determined the size of the book.
As my rabbi pointed out after seeing Dylan’s third concert at the Dolby Theatre (I reviewed the first in these pages) Bob seemed to have altered the lyrics my rabbi knew in both Tangled Up in Blue and Simple Twist of Fate. What gives? He wondered; we are accustomed to hearing different tempos, arrangements, instrumentation, even melodies for many of Dylan’s classic songs in live performance; now must we also get used to different lyrics? At what point do we find it difficult to think we heard the same song?
So I decided to order the $200, 961 page, 13 pound book and find out for myself. It just arrived from Barnes & Noble in NYC and what can I say? Rabbi, Things Have Changed.
TITLE: REVIVAL - A FOLK MUSIC NOVEL
AUTHOR: SCOTT ALARIK
Scott Alarik's folk music novel, Revival, is a love story, folk singer how-to guide and ideological manifesto wrapped up in one. This is not a testament to the book's thickness but rather to Alarik's fluidity as a writer. A folk musician and former folk critic for the Boston Globe, Alarik uses an informed and sensitive style to capture the perspective of Nathan Warren, a folk music hero with a tragic past. Through the thoughts of the fictional protagonist, the author offers his own revelations concerning the philosophical and practical elements of folk music culture.
The story centers around two musicians in the modern-day, Boston folk community. Nathan is a recovering alcoholic and washed up folk superstar who runs an open mic night at a Cambridge bar. Kit, a blossoming songwriter with severe bouts of stage fright, appears as the catalyst for his "Revival."
The book trumpets codependency between the older generations and the newer. As symbols for their self-sustaining community, Nathan and Kit help each other realize their hidden potential. Seeing Nathan and Kit as allegories for their respective generations avoids the more fantastical read of the book - a older, bedraggled folk singer acquires a young, attractive lover, who fawns over his worldly wisdom. The details of their intimacy and personal growth serve to disguise the perennial truths beneath. When the two are abruptly torn apart by unforeseen circumstances, the author shatters the illusion of the surface story and lifts the disguises to reveal a greater fundamental truth.
TITLE: THE BACH UKE BOOK
AUTHOR: ROB MACKILLOP
PUBLISHER: MEL BAY
RELEASE DATE: 2012
The Bach Uke Book is a surprisingly pleasing book for aficionados of classical music who also play the ukulele. The clean sounds of the Bach pieces arranged in fingerpicking style with some two, three, and four note chords mixed into the melody are at times reminiscent of the sounds of a harpsichord.
While the ukulele is mostly known for its origins as a Hawaiian folk instrument, and prior to that, as a Portuguese folk instrument, the classical pieces in this book will help any musician to become familiar with the whole instrument and to work on tempos and variations within the music.
The pieces range from easy to challenging but are not placed in the book in the order of difficulty nor is their any notation on the piece to indicate the level of difficulty of the piece. It is up to the musician to determine the level of difficulty for themselves. The more challenging pieces, such as “Minuet in F”, “Polonaise in Gm”, and “Sheep May Safely Graze”, include triplets, sixteenth and thirty-second notes and intricate phrasing.
AUTHOR: DONALD COHEN
PUBLISHER: MUSIC SALES AMERICA
RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 2013
My friend Donald Cohen has written a new book about Gypsy Music called Gypsy Voices: Songs from the Romani Soul. It is his third book about music; his earlier books include Fado Português: Songs from the Soul of Portugal and Tango Voices: Songs from the Soul of Buenos Aires and Beyond.
Like the earlier volumes, Gypsy Voices is filled with wonderful photographs, commentary on all 21 songs on the cd that comes with it, lyrics translations, and even sheet music. It’s everything that a music fan could want. It also was a labor of love, involving many difficult choices among the thousands of songs in the Roma diaspora (Macedonia, Russia, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Serbia).
The Roma people have been misunderstood and maligned for centuries, experiencing repression and rejection wherever they went. Yet they have endured. Originally from Northwestern India, they were called “gypsies” because of their dark skin: people thought they came from Egypt. The word “gyped” as in “The salesperson gyped me…” (meaning ripped off) is an example of the negative attitude.
TITLE: 150 GEMS OF IRISH MUSIC FOR TIN WHISTLE:
WITH SUGGESTED ORNAMENTATION AND PHRASING
AUTHOR: GREY LARSEN
PUBLISHER: MEL BAY PUBLICATIONS
RELEASE DATE: 2013
Grey Larsen’s third instructional book and tune collection for the tin whistle (also known as the pennywhistle) presents a comprehensive explanation of pennywhistle performance in addition to a notated selection of 150 Irish dance tunes with suggested ornamentation. Following a similar organizational structure as his first two books, the first section of 150 Gems of Irish Music for Tin Whistle offers a concise explanation of pennywhistle technique as well as more detailed discussions of ornamentation, phrasing, and tune structure. It is assumes that the reader already has a familiarity with the basics of Western staff notation.
The 150 tunes included within Larsen’s book are divided into three groups based upon whether they are a) perfectly amenable to performance on whistle, b) non-wind in origin, or c) suitable for performance on whistles in keys other than “D,” the most common key for pennywhistles. This is a departure from the majority of tune collections, which are more typically organized by difficulty or tune type. Larsen’s choice to organize tunes in this manner, however, illustrates his commitment to developing a guide specifically for pennywhistle rather than another generic tune collection.
Conveniently included with Larsen’s book are two audio CDs consisting of recordings of all 150 tunes notated in the collection.
AUTHOR: FRANK M. YOUNG AND DAVID LASKY
PUBLISHER: ABRAMS COMICARTS
RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 2012
This book is a family biography of the Carter Family, told in graphic novel form. While David Lasky’s art may be a bit cartoony for some, the story itself is fascinating. Each chapter title is taken from the title of a Carter Family song. Like Carter Family songs, the chapters are very short, with over 40 chapters in this book of less than 200 pages. Each chapter, though, gives the reader an insight into some aspect of the lives of the Carters, from patriarch A.P. on down. A.P. Carter was both a performer and a songcatcher. Unlike the more scholarly collectors of songs, he gathered them in order to perform them himself, with the result that the Carter Family sang and recorded a wide variety of short songs gathered from the oral tradition. We will never know how many he heard that he never got around to recording.
A.P. Carter is shown in a light that is not always flattering, but which lets the reader see him as human and very interesting. His strict path of life, even at the cost of alienating his own wife and children, was like watching a train wreck in slow motion. His focus on music and on the survival of his family was so narrow that he missed much of what went on around him. The emotional disconnect between his fierce love of music and his failure to notice the same in his own daughter was heartbreaking.
AUTHOR: JOHN LABARBERA
PUBLISHER: MEL BAY PUBLICATIONS, INC.
RELEASE DATE: 6/6/2012
Italian Folk Music for Mandolin is a fun and flavorful book, with lots of music carefully presented on the written page and on audio CD. Its forty tunes span a variety of Italian folk music from North to South, Sicily to Sardinia, and also from the thirteenth century to more recent time. Some of the pieces are instrumentals, and some are songs with lyrics. All of the arrangements are for mandolin and guitar and are shown in staff notation and tablature. Many of the pieces have duet mandolin or guitar parts written out, and all have suggestions for accompaniment and short descriptions of their origin and significance. The full forty tunes don’t fit on the one CD, so ten are offered as a free download at the publisher’s website. Oddly, the book doesn’t explain how to do this, but it’s easily done. The page for the book includes a Download Tab with a big red button “Download Extras.” It contains a .zip file so you will need a way to unzip it. It’s a great way to preview the book’s content. The author plays all of the instruments on the included CD, overdubbing the tracks but avoiding for the most part the “canned” feeling one-man bands can generate. The CD makes for good listening, with the playing accurate and clear but still lively and exciting.
TITLE: THE BALLAD OF TOM DOOLEY
AUTHOR: SHARYN MCCRUMB
PUBLISHER: THOMAS DUNNE BOOKS
RELEASE DATE: 2011
Anyone who listened to folk music during the “Folk Music Scare” of the 1950s and ‘60s probably heard the Kingston Trio version of this song, a bouncy little murder ballad about killing a woman and ending up “hanging from a white oak tree.”
Sharyn McCrumb, longtime mystery writer, has turned her gaze on this murder ballad, taking it back to its historical roots. While many historians and folklorists have examined this case in the past, her perspective as a mystery writer has given her different insights, much like those of the mystery writer in the Castle television show. Thus, a three-minute song becomes a 300-page historical novel. It’s hard to call it a mystery when everyone knows who was executed for the killing, but a mystery it is.
For those of you who only know it from the Kingston Trio version, sanitized and oddly altered in places, the “real” story was that of a young ex-Confederate soldier [Tom Dula, which is pronounced “Dooley,” for the same reason that Pauline is pronounced “Pearlene” in that region]. Tom was accused of murdering a young woman named Laura who was supposedly eloping with him. He and one of his other lovers [a married woman named Ann Melton] were eventually arrested and tried for the murder. He denied the murder, but once he was convicted and sentenced, he wrote a statement to clear the name of Ann Melton. His defense attorney was a famous politician and former soldier as well, a man named Zebulon Vance. After a long trial and longer appeals, Tom was hanged from a fresh built gallows, not a tree. Most of the other details in the song were added for rhyming purposes more than for historical accuracy.
TITLE: THIS COULD BE BIG
AUTHOR: DON MORRISON
PUBLISHER: DONMO GLOBAL ENTERPRISES
RELEASE DATE: 2010
Is there a reason for a folk music fan from the United States to read Don Morrison’s book about the nitty gritty of the Australian music scene? Yes. Because it’s a good read, although few of us outside of Texans ever had to drive so far to a gig.
Don Morrison has over thirty years of experience in the music business. Although his “day job” is constructing world class resophonic guitars, he’s always been a performer, and as such he’s driven the crappy vans that break down on a regular basis. He’s been lied to and cheated by promoters and club owners. He’s seen talented band members give up and float away. He’s seen success, and he’s seen failure. And through all of this, he’s been able to balance his odd profession with a keen sense of humor, and the ability to turn a good phrase.
In the 1980s, Don ran towards the stardom light in a band called the Bodgies. After conquering their hometown of Adelaide, the boys took to the road, which is Australia can be a long road. Anecdotes about their ancient PA system or dodgy guitars will sound familiar to anyone who had tread on the band road. The burning van may not have happened to all of us, though. After Adelaide, the boys move to the big city of Melbourne. More stories, more touring, more grabbing for the brass ring. The Bodgies worked tremendously hard, played tons of gigs and yet kept having that elusive stardom just out of grasp. They rubbed elbows with the stars, and formulated a “people’s band” devoid of the trappings that most bands demanded. Rather than an exclusive dressing room, they posted a sign allowing full access to anyone.
TITLE: ODETTA, THE QUEEN OF FOLK
AUTHORS: STEPHEN ALCORN
(Conceived and Illustrated by)
POEM BY SAMANTHA THORNHILL
PUBLISHER: SCHOLASTIC PRESS
RELEASE DATE: 2010
Told in the form of a long poem, this is the life of Odetta, and especially her childhood, which greatly shaped her music. It is aimed at children, although adults can easily appreciate the beauty of the work and the life it describes. Artist Stephen Alcorn, who had previously worked on books about Langston Hughes and other African American poetry and poets, has included pieces portraying Odetta in various ways, ranging from the mischievous to the angelic.
So, who was Odetta, and why should kids care? Odetta Holmes learned about some of the “facts” of American life while a child in Birmingham, Alabama in the 1930s. Jim Crow laws controlled who could drink from what water fountain, or what train car you could ride. By the time her family moved to California, her family had faced the shame and degradation that was an everyday part of being “colored” in the South. In California, she noticed a remarkable thing. Discrimination still existed, but it was not the same, and not part of the law.
The NY Times Book Review two weeks ago wrote about a new book called Faking It-The Quest For Authenticity in Popular Music (Hugh Barker and Yuval Taylor). I am about halfway through, and want to suggest it as a must read because it has a fascinating focus on the roots of folk music in the South (using John Hurt as an example) and the difficulty in defining folk music, etc. It is a fairly easy read and I think you will be very happy that you purchased or borrowed this book.
Newman, DeCoster & Co.
Bruce S. Newman, Attorney at Law, CPA; Peter J. DeCoster, FCA