Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Sharon Goldman – Kol Isha (A Woman’s Voice)

Kol Isha (A Woman’s Voice)

(A version of this review was published in the April 3, 2017 issue of the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin.)

Sharon Goldman, a New Jersey-based singer-songwriter, who was raised in an Orthodox Jewish home, has created in Kol Isha (A Woman’s Voice), a remarkable song-cycle in which she writes eloquently and sings beautifully, from a liberal and feminist perspective, about being a questioning Jewish woman.

Sharon’s role as a questioning is established in “The Tribe,” the album’s opening song, in which she explains who she is, the traditions she was born to and feels bound to, and the lines and limits “I knew which I could not cross/For the survival of a people,” until she meets the man who would become her second husband – and asks, “Could I meet him as a woman/Not as a member of the tribe?”

Later, in “Kol Isha (A Woman’s Voice),” the album’s title song, she reveals that her questioning began to formulate as a 12-year-old girl, seated silently in the women’s section in her synagogue, because only men’s voices were allowed to be heard there. As someone who wanted to sing, and who knew the melodies, she longed, in vain, to lift her voice during the service.

One of the most telling songs is “The Sabbath Queen” in which the perfect image of the Sabbath queen hides the reality of the hard life experienced by an Orthodox Jewish wife and mother in a rigidly traditional household.

Sharon draws on biblical imagery in a couple of songs, most notably “Pillar of Salt,” which is based on the story of Lot’s wife. Sharon notes, with more than a hint of resignation, that Lot’s wife was “a nameless wife and mother” in the Bible legend, “that no one hears her voice.”

And in two songs, “Jerusalem (Yerushalayim)” and “Land of Milk and Honey,” Sharon sings of her complicated relationship with Israel – a loving relationship rooted in ideals but tarnished by contemporary realities.

Sharon’s songs – with their lovely melodies – are arranged in traditional folk styles. A couple of songs have a distinctly Middle Eastern feel in the arrangements thanks to oud player Brian Punka and percussionist Cheryl Prashker.

Kol Isha (A Woman’s Voice) is a very special collection.

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--Mike Regenstreif

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Guy Davis & Fabrizio Poggi – Sonny & Brownie’s Last Train

Sonny & Brownie’s Last Train
M.C. Records

The magnificent blues duo of singer/harmonica master Sonny Terry and singer/guitarist Brownie McGhee were the first really old musicians I ever got to know. 

Let me qualify what I mean by “really old.” They were 10 to 15 years older than my parents and 10 to 15 years younger than my grandparents. But most of the artists I was encountering in coffeehouses when I was 15 or 16 were in their 20s and 30s and Sonny and Brownie were in their 50s (younger than I am now) – so they seemed “really old.”

Sonny and Brownie started working as duo in the early-1940s and had been playing together for nearly three decades by the time I met them sometime in 1969 or ’70. Sonny and Brownie were playing a five-night gig at the Back Door – a great, but short-lived folk club in Montreal – and I think I went at least three or four of those nights. I remember their sets as being fantastic. I particularly loved songs like “Rock Island Line” that they would sing together. And I remember being fascinated watching the muscles in Brownie’s arms move as he played guitar.

On one of those nights, I screwed up my courage and asked if I could talk to them about Woody Guthrie. I had become fascinated with Woody and had been listening to his records and reading everything I could about him. I had seen their names associated with Woody and I recognized that the amazing and distinctive harmonica player I was listening to at the Back Door was the same harmonica player I heard on some of the Woody Guthrie records I had. Sonny and Brownie were both most gracious in talking with the curious kid that I was. Speakiing with them was an incredible experience that taught me so much more than I realized at the time.

By the mid-1970s, I was producing concerts in Montreal and was honored to present a couple of shows with Sonny and Brownie.

On Sonny & Brownie’s Last Train, Guy Davis, one of the finest blues artists of my generation, combines with the excellent Italian harmonica player Fabrizio Poggi for what Guy describes as “a love letter to Sonny and Brownie.”

Indeed, the entire album is a loving homage to the inspiring folk-blues masters. Guy and Fabrizio include several of Sonny and Brownie’s original songs and a bunch of other songs drawn from their extensive repertoire. Of special note, though, is the opening title track. Guy says he improvised Sonny and Brownie’s Last Trainduring the recording session. The song lets us know how he feels about Sonny and Brownie and about how unique and special they were.
Brownie McGhee (left) and Sonny Terry
While I enjoyed the entire 12-song set from start to finish, some of my favorite numbers included Brownie’s “Walk On,” which, as much as any song, could be called his signature song (I remember driving with him once in Montreal and his car’s California license plate read “Walk On”); “Take This Hammer” and “Midnight Special,” two songs Sonny and Brownie got from their friend Lead Belly; “Step It Up and Go,” a bouncy tune favored by a lot of the Piedmont style bluesmen of their generation; and a sweet version of “Freight Train” that hues closer to Elizabeth Cotton’s original than to Sonny and Brownie’s variant.

As the guitarist, Guy recalls Brownie while Fabrizio on harmonica recalls Sonny for those of us who were lucky enough to have seen Sonny and Brownie on stage (see the drawing on the CD cover). Ill note, though, that Guy is the only singer tackling songs on which both Brownie and Sonny variously took the lead vocals. Ill also note that Guy is playing both harmonica and guitar on “Shortnin Bread” (while Fabrizio plays kick drum) while on the title track, both Guy (right channel) and Fabrizio (left channel) are playing harmonica.

Guy and Fabrizio’s Sonny & Brownie’s Last Train sent me back to the subjects of the homage. Over the past week as I’ve listened to and enjoyed Guy Davis and Fabrizio Poggi doing these songs, I’ve also been listening to and enjoying albums by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.

Sonny & Brownie’s Last Train was released in the U.S. on March 24. It will be released here in Canada on March 31.

Find me on Twitter.

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--Mike Regenstreif

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Canadian Spaces – CKCU – Saturday March 25, 2017

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

This particular show is now available for on-demand listening.

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: Sneezy Waters; Brooklyn Doran and Gillian Nicola; Ray Montford; Hannah Shira Naiman and Arnie Naiman; Lynne Hanson

Sneezy Waters- I Threw It All Away
Sneezy Waters Live (Sneezy Waters)

David Clayton-Thomas- Sonny’s Dream
Canadiana (Antoinette/ILS)

Jayme Stone, Moira Smiley, Sumaia Jackson, Joe Phillips, Felicity Williams, & Denzal Sinclaire- Candy Gal
Jayme Stone’s Folklife (Borealis)

April Verch- Light in the Window
The April Verch Anthology (Slab Town)

Murray McLauchlan- When You’re at the Top

Amanda Rheaume w/Chantal Kreviazuk- Red Dress
Holding Patterns (Amanda Rheaume)

Eric Bibb & Michael Jerome Browne- Blacktop
Migration Blues (Stony Plain)

The Wailin Jennys- Bring Me Little Water, Sylvie
The Wailin’ Jennys (The Wailin’ Jennys)

Jenny Whiteley w/Chris & Ken Whiteley- Things are Coming My Way

Maria Dunn- When I was Young
Gathering (Distant Whisper)

James Keelaghan & Oscar Lopez- Gathering Storm
History: The First 25 Years (Borealis)

Wyatt Easterling- Pacing the Cage
Divining Rod (Phoenix Rising)

Doug McArthur- Stumble From Vesuvio
Tears Like Rain (Doug McArthur)

Brooklyn Doran & Gillian Nicola- I Found a Home
Live in the studio

Gillian Nicola & Brooklyn Doran- Oh Marie
Live in the studio

Claire Lynch- Black Flowers
North By South (Compass)

Ray Montford- Let Your River Flow
Live in the studio

Ray Montford- An untitled (so far) tune
Live in the studio

Hannah Shira Naiman & ARNIE NAIMAN- Know the Mountain
Live in the studio

Arnie Naiman & Hannah Shira Naiman- Playing Jane
Live in the studio

Lynne Hanson- Carry Me Home
Uneven Ground (Song Shop)

Lynne Hanson- Just for Now
Live in the Studio

I’ll be co-hosting Canadian Spaces again on May 27.

In the meantime, I’ll be hosting Saturday Morning (7-10 am) on April 1, April 29 and May 27.

Find me on Twitter. @MikeRegenstreif

--Mike Regenstreif