Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Robin Greenstein -- Images of Women Vol. 2

Images of Women Vol. 2

Back in 2003, Robin Greenstein, who is best known as a contemporary singer-songwriter, released an impressive album of traditional folksongs whose protagonists or narrators were all women. I assumed from the album title – Images of Women Vol. 1 – that it would not be Robin’s only Images of Women album which, I recall, she verified to me in an e-mail. I then mentioned in my Sing Out! Magazine review of Vol. 1 that I was eagerly awaiting the second volume.

Finally, seven years later, Images of Women Vol. 2 has been released and it’s another collection of mostly-traditional songs centred on women. But while the songs are mostly from the traditional canon, Robin arranges them in a contemporary vein with a respect for the tradition. Rather than trying to sound authentic to the time and place of the songs’ origins, Robin makes them her own. She plays guitar, banjo and synths and gets able support from the likes of bassist Barry Wiesenfeld on bass, fiddler Dan Collins, Adam Carper on harmonica, Lisa McDivitt on recorder and harp, and percussionist Cheryl Prashker (who is one of the rare drummers who really understands how to play with folk-rooted acoustic musicians).

Some of my favourite tracks on Vol. 2 are “The Whore’s Lament,” a gritty variant of “The Unfortunate Rake” family of songs that I used to hear Hedy West sing, and that’s very close to a variant called “The Bad Girl’s Lament,” that Rosalie Sorrels sings; “Born in the Country,” Judy Roderick’s adaptation of Rabbit Brown’s “James Alley Blues; “Frankie and Johnny,” a traditional blues-ballad about a scorned woman who kills her philandering lover; and the classic warning song, “Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies,” which features some nice harmonies from Janice Hubbard.

Along with the traditional material, Robin includes several composed songs including Woody Guthrie’s “Union Maid,” which includes an added verse I didn’t recognize about Sarah Ogan Gunning, the singer of traditional ballads and labour songs (who I met and worked with as a folk festival volunteer in the mid-1970s); “I’m Gonna Be an Engineer,” Peggy Seeger’s feminist anthem; and “Good Thing He Can’t Read My Mind,” Christine Lavin’s hilarious song sung by a woman who lets us know what she really thinks about some of the stuff she’s doing or eating for the sake of love.

Something that I really like about albums like this is that they’re a reminder that folk music has a rich history and that today’s contemporary artists are, as the Weavers sang, “travelling in the footsteps of those who came before,” and that it’s always a good time to go back and listen to the sources.

--Mike Regenstreif

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