Saturday, May 28, 2016

Canadian Spaces – CKCU – Saturday May 28, 2016

CKCU can be heard at 93.1 FM in Ottawa and on the web.

Canadian Spaces on CKCU in Ottawa is Canada’s longest-running folk music radio program. It is heard Saturday mornings from 10:00 am until noon (Eastern time).

It was hosted for more than 33 years by the late Chopper McKinnon and is now hosted by Chris White and a rotating cast of co-hosts.

This week’s show was co-hosted by Mike Regenstreif and Chris White.

Guests: Greg Kelly; Sheila White; Chaim Tannenbaum; Scott Richardson and Ciaran MacGillivray

Notre Dame de Grass- Saturday Night
New Canada Road (Notre Dame de Grass)

Wanda Fischer- Friends of Mine
Singing Along with the Radio (Wanda Fischer)

Bob Dylan- Bob Dylan’s Dream
The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (Columbia)

David Essig- Quiet Money
A Stone in My Pocket (Peregrin Songs)

Maria Dunn- Flora
Gathering (Distant Whisper)

Arnie Naiman- Reminiscence
My Lucky Stars (Merriweather)

Lucy Wainwright Roche & Suzzy Roche- Both Sides Now
Mud & Apples (Lucy Wainwright Roche & Suzzy Roche)

Reid Jamieson- Dance Me to the End of Love

Chaim Tannenbaum- London, Longing for Home 
Chaim Tannenbaum (StorySound)

Missy Burgess- Make Me a Pallett On Your Floor
Lemon Pie (Missy Burgess)

Sheila White- Indeed
Unreleased demo 

Chaim Tannenbaum- Coal Man Blues
Chaim Tannenbaum (StorySound)
Chaim Tannenbaum- Brooklyn 1955 *
Chaim Tannenbaum (StorySound)
*Due to a cueing error, a fragment from “London, Longing for Home” preceded “Brooklyn 1955.”

Ciaran MacGillivray- Kitty Bawn O’Brien
Live in the studio

The show is now available for online listening.

I’ll be co-hosting Canadian Spaces again on July 16.

Find me on Twitter. @MikeRegenstreif

--Mike Regenstreif

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Bob Dylan at 75

Photo: John Shearer (for Columbia Records)

Bob Dylan turns 75 today (May 24) – 55 years and a few months after he first arrived in New York City with a repertoire of folksongs learned from Odetta and Woody Guthrie records.

Within a relatively short time, Dylan was one of the premier folk artists in Greenwich Village and was well on his way to becoming, arguably, but certainly in my opinion, the most important and influential songwriter ever.

I’m reminded now of something the young Dylan said.

In 1963, talking to Nat Hentoff for the liner notes to The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan about his ability to pull off a song as difficult as “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” Dylan said, “It's a hard song to sing. I can sing it sometimes, but I ain't that good yet. I don't carry myself yet the way that Big Joe Williams, Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly and Lightnin' Hopkins have carried themselves. I hope to be able to someday, but they're older people.”

Dylan was all of 21 years old when he made that statement. Woody Guthrie – hospitalized with the Huntington’s disease that would kill him in 1967 – and Lightnin’ Hopkins were both then around 50. Big Joe Williams was about 60 and Lead Belly had died in 1949 at 61.

Dylan now is significantly older than Williams, Guthrie and Hopkins were then – and older than Lead Belly was when he died. The young Dylan was highly influenced by those legendary artists who had come along decades earlier – his own influence would soon surpass all others. He changed what was possible to do in the context of a song.

And, yes, he does carry himself with all of the musical gravitas that Williams, Guthrie, Lead Belly and Hopkins had then.

Dylan’s music has been part of my life for most of my life. I bought Dylan’s first few LPs in 1967 when I was 13 and have listened intently to everything he’s released over the past 50 years (and a fair bit of what’s never been released). I’ve seen him in concert a bunch of times and I’ve read most of the good books (including his own Chronicles Volume One), and maybe a few too many of the bad books, that have been written about Dylan over the years.

I was even introduced to him once – in 1975 – for about half a second. “Pleased to meet ya,” he said. I was 21, he was 34, ages that now seem so young.

I’ve written about a bunch of Dylan albums and books over the years in newspapers and magazines (and here on the Folk Roots/Folk Branches blog), I’ve produced and hosted a bunch of radio specials on him and his songs, but I don’t know Dylan. He is easily the most enigmatic, the most unknowable, person I’ve ever encountered.

As I noted in my book review of Bob Dylan in America by Sean Wilentz in a 2011 issue of Sing Out! magazine, I’ve long thought that one of the reasons I so appreciate so much of Bob Dylan’s oeuvre is that (I think) we’ve listened to so much of the same music. To the traditional folk and blues songs, and to so many of the musicians who played them. When Dylan sang, “no one can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell,” I knew what he was talking about because I’ve listened to all those old Blind Willie McTell records. When he borrows lines or settings from Woody Guthrie or Lead Belly or others, I know where they come from. Dylan’s music is rooted ever so strongly in what Greil Marcus termed the “old weird America,” the folk music and the folk-rooted blues and country music that developed in particular regional locations and began to spread everywhere in the first half of the 20th century.

This leads me to the point I wanted to make when I started writing this little essay. Even before Dylan went electric at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, there have been commentators who’ve said that Dylan left folk music behind. I don’t think that’s at all true. To this day, Dylan’s songwriting continues to be rooted in the “old weird America.” Dylan didn’t leave folk music behind when he embraced rock ‘n’ roll, he changed what was possible in a folk music context; both in how it’s played and how it’s expressed. I hear folk music at the heart of so much of Dylan’s songwriting -- from his earliest work to his most recent.

And anyone who thinks that folk music is necessarily defined by acoustic guitars does not understand folk music.

Even Dylan’s two recent albums celebrating the Great American Songbook, in my opinion, are less a homage to Frank Sinatra, than they are a recognition that those classic songs somehow form part of that “old weird America.” It’s not so much the circumstances of how and when they were written as the context in which they are interpreted.

When jazz musicians like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie developed bebop, they weren’t leaving jazz behind, they were changing it; even though some of the traditional jazz greats like Louis Armstrong were slow to accept or understand what Parker and Gillespie were doing. Just like some in the folk establishment of 1965 were slow to accept and understand what Dylan was doing. Bob Dylan changed folk music in much the same way Charlie Parker changed jazz.

As far as I’m concerned, Dylan playing his folk-rooted songs with rock musicians in his time is not very different from the Weavers playing folksongs with the Gordon Jenkins Orchestra in theirs.

Anyway, real rock ‘n’ roll, is a folk-rooted form. Just listen to the Sun-era recordings of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash or Jerry Lee Lewis. Listen to Wanda Jackson’s 1950s records, listen to Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Bill Haley or Little Richard. The folk and blues roots are there in that music.

By the way, Louis Armstrong was a folksinger, too.

Happy Birthday, Bob!

(For folks in Montreal: there are Bob Dylan birthday celebrations  tonight at Club Soda and Cafe Mariposa.)

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And on Facebook.

---Mike Regenstreif

Friday, May 20, 2016

Chaim Tannenbaum – Chaim Tannenbaum

Chaim Tannenbaum
StorySound Records

Chaim Tanenbaum’s self-titled debut album is a recording I’ve been looking forward to hearing for – quite literally – more than 40 years.

Back in the 1970s and ‘80s, I produced concerts in Montreal and ran a folk club, the Golem, and there were a bunch of times that Chaim played at the Golem and at concerts I produced as a backup musician and singer (and occasional lead singer) with Kate and Anna McGarrigle or with a group put together by Mountain City Four veteran Peter Weldon or with an early version of the Stephen Barry Band. His voice – as beautiful as a male’s voice can be and as powerful as he wanted it to be when singing blues or gospel or old folksongs or ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll – was (and is) a joy to hear. Many was the time that I tried to get Chaim to do his own gig at the Golem. And there was at least a time or two or three that I suggested he record an album. But Chaim always said no.

Between 1977 and 1980, I also did some tour booking for Kate and Anna and Chaim was always in their band in those days. I still vividly remember one night after a concert somewhere, the audience gone, listening as Ken Pearson sat at the Hammond B3 playing some old gospel songs while Chaim sang them out so powerfully – his unamplified voice filling the hall on top of Kenny’s playing. There was nothing like it.

Over the years, Chaim continued to work, off and on, with Kate and Anna – and, also sometimes, with Loudon Wainwright III, Kate’s ex-husband, while continuing to shun the spotlight for himself. In 1998, Kate and Anna did an album called The McGarrigle Hour on which they collaborated with a bunch of musical friends and family members, including Chaim who sang lead on several songs – including an original composition. When Kate played the album for me at her house a few weeks before it came out I remember saying to her that Chaim really should make his own record and she said then that something might well be in the works. But, it didn’t happen.

Finally, though, at age 68 and in retirement from his career teaching philosophy at Dawson College in Montreal (where, by the way, I produced my first concerts as a student in 1972), Chaim has recorded that debut album I’ve been waiting more than 40 years for. Working with producer Dick Connette, whose work in Last Forever I’ve long admired, and some superb studio musicians, Chaim has created a masterwork.

While each of the songs stands on its own, there is a theme of exile that runs through many – perhaps all in some way or another – of the songs on Chaim Tannenbaum. And not just geographic exile from home (although that is very much in evidence). There is a spiritual exile articulated in the two gospel songs, there is exile from love, from society, and from the past.

Much of the album is drawn from traditional sources and performers and Chaim’s treatment of songs like “Ain’t No More Cane on the Brazos,” a Texas prisoners’ song collected by John Lomax, “Coal Man Blues,” recorded by Peg Leg Howell in 1926, and “Moonshiner,” whose sources are unclear, is masterful.

But the heart of the album lies in three extraordinary songs written by Chaim. The first one we hear is “London, Longing for Home,” perhaps the song in which the theme of exile is most obvious. The song’s narrator spends nearly 10 minutes describing the city, from its sites, to its rich history, to its dreary weather, and his life there all the while longing to be back at home. Chaim uses the refrain from the traditional song “Shenandoah” to represent the home he longs for.

The narrator in “Brooklyn 1955” is a hard-luck guy whose exile is from his own history, from the Brooklyn of his childhood cheering the Dodgers at Ebbets Field. His life then had promise, excitement and purpose and stands in contrast to the unfulfilled promises, emptiness and purposelessness he sees walking around that same Brooklyn neighborhood as an old man.

The third of Chaim’s songs, “Belfast Louis Falls in Love,” seems like it might be from the perspective of the same character in “Brooklyn 1955,” or, at least, someone similar. A hard-luck guy you might see drinking by himself in a bar in the afternoon who is anxious to catch your eye so he can tell you his story. As in the other two songs, Chaim’s superbly crafted lyrics and sweet melodies make the listener care about these characters. 

Every one of the other songs is compelling for one reason or another but I want to call special attention to Chaim’s lovely version of Kate McGarrigle’s “Talk to Me of Mendocino,” an emotional plea from a lover left behind and longing to be asked to come along (“Won’t you say, ‘Come with me’”). Ironically, in this version, Loudon Wainwright III, the man who inspired the song about 45 years ago, joins Chaim to sing the harmony vocal.

Each of the tracks on the album is superbly arranged whether its Chaim solo, with another musician or singer, or with a small ensemble. Among the MVPs are producer Dick Connette, multi-instrumentalist David Mansfield, and Loudon Wainwright III.

Chaim Tannenbaum is an essential recording. It will be released on May 27.

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--Mike Regenstreif