Hi and welcome back to my column. Some of you may have noticed, it’s been a while since I’ve written one. After the last one I promised editors Steve and Leda, who’ve been very patient, that I’d eventually get back to it. So here it is. I hope to become more frequent with it again.
A few things have happened since we last talked. I’ve gotten married, for one. I’ve been writing songs and playing lots of music, sometimes with my good pal Keith Wolf at the Unurban Coffee House in Santa Monica- come by and say hello sometime- and even doing an occasional gig with Craicmore, the Celtic band for which I was the bass player for ten years. Their new record, From Hill and Hoolie is, in my unbiased opinion, their best yet. I play on one track (the traditional song Cunla) so to say more might constitute a conflict of interest, but suffice to say they’ve done their usual job of putting together tune and song sets in a way that surprises and amazes, particularly on Rocky Road to Dublin, which merges seamlessly into two slip jigs. Catch up with them on www.craicmore.com.
But enough about what I’ve been doing, and back to what I’ve been thinking.
Those who know me know that I’m generally very open to many different kinds of music, and in fact probably like what is called folk music most when it juxtaposes (hopefully uncomfortably) with other kinds of music. Where it melds with rock music is an interesting case- how easily accepted it is seems to depend inordinately on the image of the artist performing it, and less so in the music itself.
Case in point, rock and roll singer/songwriter/guitarist Richard Thompson, whose career-spanning box set, Walking on a Wire, came out last year courtesy of the fine folks at Shout! Factory. It’s not really about rare tracks or covering all the bases, but it does make every attempt to span the years nicely, and take at least a track or two from all his releases, up to and including his most recent, Sweet Warrior, which made my year-end top ten list for 2007. The most striking thing about it, for me, is the fact that guitar playing gets better and better as the songwriting gets farther and farther from anything traditionally influenced. Disc 3 is actually a step over the line even for me, focusing on lengthy guitar solos and electric textures, which is not a problem per se, but here it’s often at the expense of the songs. Disc 4 contains a few good later numbers such as Dad’s Gonna Kill Me, which takes its title from those spoken by soldiers fighting overseas (“dad” being military slang for Baghdad). It’s a great song, and in its attempt to give voice to the common man, something of a folk song, but it’s hard to think of the Thompson of discs 3 and 4 as anything other than a rock artist. Again, not a bad thing, but would the same relevancy and interest that he continues to have on the folk scene be granted to a similar artist who hadn’t once been in Fairport Convention?
Local songwriter Anny Celsi, on the other hand, is very much part of the pop world- much of her backing band including producer Nelson Bragg have played with Brian Wilson‘s band- but it’s more than fair to say that her new Tangle-Free World has plenty to offer the, if you will, “roots-conscious.” For one, she’s perfectly comfortable with acoustic textures-certainly as much as later Thompson- and guests include the late Amy Farris on violin along with a virtual who’s who of local stars. While the hip cover versions like Lee Hazlewood‘s Some Velvet Morning (with Bragg) and Sally Go Round the Roses (with the legendary Evie Sands) will probably garner the most attention, it shouldn’t be at the expense of Celsi’s songs, which range from the poptastic title track to The Night She Learned to Drive, a gently rendered but deeply felt story song about a woman and her son starting a new life in Los Angeles. It’s that old cliché “singer/songwriter” that describes Celsi best, but the fact that her musical textures don’t fit the profile should not influence anyone to pay more attention to the image than the songs, which in the end are the point. Go to www.annycelsi.com to learn more, and leave your prejudices at home.
Dave Soyars is a guitarist, electric bass player, a singer/songwriter, and a print journalist with over fifteen years experience. His column features happenings on the folk and traditional music scene both locally and internationally, with commentary on recordings, as well as live shows, and occasionally films and books. Please feel free to e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org