Friday, March 25, 2016

Noel Paul Stookey – At Home: The Maine Tour

At Home: The Maine Tour

As I’ve noted before, I was too young to have been caught up in the wave of commercial folk groups – like the Kingston Trio and Limeliters – that became hugely popular in the late-1950s. But several groups that came along just a little bit later – in particular Ian & Sylvia and Peter, Paul & Mary – did have a huge impact on me as my interest in music, and especially folk music, developed in the ‘60s. Years later, I got to know Noel Paul Stookey a little and, through him, met Peter Yarrow and Mary Travers, when Peter, Paul & Mary performed in Montreal in the ‘80s.

Along with the many Peter, Paul & Mary albums, Noel has also recorded many solo albums and his latest, At Home: The Maine Tour, is a warm and intimate, extended live set – 24 songs running 79 minutes – recorded during a tour of Maine, his home state for the past four decades. It’s an entirely solo affair – no back-up musicians or singers – with the spotlight all on his voice and very accomplished guitar arrangements.

The set is a CD/DVD combo with the songs on the CD and videos of them recorded at the concerts on the DVD. Some of the songs are numbers I’ve never heard before while others are new versions of songs from Peter, Paul & Mary or earlier solo albums. (I think one of the songs, the then-unreleased “Facets of the Jewel,” may have had its world premiere when Noel was my guest on the Folk Roots/Folk Branches radio program in 1999.)

The most moving pieces on At Home, are “Jean Claude,” a reflection on the Holocaust from the perspective of an old French man who, as a boy, witnessed his friend, a Jewish boy named Michel, shipped off to a Nazi death camp; “Familia Del Corazon,” an inspiring song I’d never heard before that’s an important reminder of what countries like the United States and Canada truly represent to ourselves and to the rest of the world (and an important message in these Trumpian times); and “Not That Kind of Music,” a tribute to Pete Seeger written a couple of years before Pete passed away.

Among my other favorites in this set are such classics as “Wedding Song (There is Love),” a beautiful piece he wrote to sing at Peter Yarrow’s wedding; “Whatshername,” a jazzy reminiscence, many years later, of one who got away (I’m sure most everyone has a whatshername to recall); “Virtual Party,” a witty, delightful spoof of anonymity in the digital age; and “Glory Train,” Noel’s adaptation of the traditional “This Train,” which brings the set back to the first Peter, Paul & Mary LP 54 or so years ago.

Near the end of the album, Noel sings “In These Times,” and it strikes me that At Home: The Maine Tour is a timeless collection from an artist with a deep understanding of his times.

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--Mike Regenstreif

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