Sunday, December 7, 2014

Various Artists – The Only Folk Collection You’ll Ever Need

The Only Folk Collection You’ll Ever Need
Shout! Factory

Well, honestly, I’ve got some very mixed feelings about The Only Folk Collection You’ll Ever Need, the latest entry in Shout! Factory’s The Only – insert genre here – Collection You’ll Ever Need series.

The best thing about this 2-CD set is the music. Without exception, every one of these 30 tracks can be found on my CD shelves and I absolutely love most of them and quite like most of the rest. There are tracks representing pioneering artists, traditional folk songs, blues, bluegrass, gospel, commercial folk-era groups, the explosion of contemporary folk-rooted singer-songwriters that happened in the 1960s, and folk-rock.

The vast majority of these tracks are essential components to any good folk music collection. Presented chronologically, it begins with the Carter Family’s 1935 recording of “Can the Circle Be Unbroken” – the “Can” became “Will” some years later – and moves on to classic 1940s recordings by Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie, ‘50s recordings by the Stanley Brothers, the Weavers, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, and the Kingston Trio, then 22 tracks from the ‘60s before finishing in 1971 with “Angel from Montgomery” from John Prine’s first LP. (The final track, Odetta’s fabulous version of “Ain’t No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down,” labelled as a 1973 release, is actually from 1963 and misplaced in the chronological order.)

Among the other 1960s recordings are tracks by Dave Van Ronk, Peter, Paul & Mary, Ian & Sylvia, Tom Paxton, Bob Dylan, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Doc Watson, Phil Ochs, the Byrds, Pete Seeger, Fred Neil, Donovan, Joan Baez, Gordon Lightfoot, Mississippi John Hurt, Eric Andersen, Tim Hardin, Tom Rush, Judy Collins, and Fairport Convention.

About the only group from the ‘60s I would have dropped is the Springfields, a mediocre folk-pop group whose minor hit, a remake of the country song, “Silver Threads and Golden Needles,” is included (British pop singer Dusty Springfield was a member of this family band). If it were me assembling the set, I would dropped this track in favor of something from the New Lost City Ramblers, Jim Kweskin & the Jug Band, the Greenbriar Boys, or one of dozens and dozens of more significant artists from the period I could have easily thought of.

So while this is hardly the only folk collection any serious music aficionado will ever need, it is a solid collection that would a nice introduction or starting point to someone becoming interested in the music and is an enjoyable listen even for folks like me who know how superficially the set just scratches the surface.

And let’s not forget that folk music did not end with the 1960s. There continues to be vital and vitally important folk-rooted music being made today.

But, as someone to whom music history is important, I would be remiss in not pointing out several serious errors in the annotation and chronological sequencing.

“Rock Island Line,” the track by Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter is magnificent and is one of my very favorite versions of the song. However, it is actually a collaboration of Lead Belly and the Golden Gate Quartet. The Golden Gate Quartet was one of the greatest African American gospel groups of that period and the recording is a true collaboration. They should have been recognized in the track listing.

The version of “This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie is identified as having been originally released in 1944. While it was recorded in 1944, this particular version of Woody’s best known song was first released in 1997. Furthermore, the first of Woody’s recordings of the song, while recorded in the early-‘40s, was only released in 1951.

The version of “Turn, Turn, Turn (To Everything There is a Season)” by Judy Collins is identified as being originally released in 1969 and is sequenced as such. In actual fact it is from Judy Collins #3, released in 1963.

And, as I’ve already mentioned, the version of “Ain’t No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down,” labelled as a 1973 release, was actually from a decade earlier. This track was on Odetta’s 1963 album, One Grain of Sand.

So, truth be told, while I enjoyed listening to the album, and will continue to, the album title is too pretentious for my liking and there were just too many annotation and sequencing mistakes that could have been avoided by a little fact-checking.

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--Mike Regenstreif

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