Carolyn Hester

At Town Hall

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There are few vintage concert recordings that capture the spirit of an artist and the audience as aptly as Carolyn Hester at the Town Hall. Although the infusion of rock & roll would take Hester's chosen brand of traditional folk to the proverbial next level. Unlike many around her, she remains faithful to the core-governing principles of the genre. She never complicated the already involved tales with unnecessary instrumentation or oblique lyrical references, à la the direction that Bob Dylan moved the genre. Along with George Tomsco (acoustic guitar), Hester also accompanies herself with her own intimately lyrical acoustic six-string fretwork. The repertoire is packed with traditional renderings of folk standards such as "Water Is Wide," "Buckeye Jim," and the Scottish "Jute Mill Song." There are also a fair number of modernized classics, including "Come on In," "High Flying Bird," and a languidly picked reading of the Gershwin pop standard "Summertime." Perhaps the most noteworthy cover is an adaptation of Walt Whitman's "Captain, My Captain," which conjures the memories of Jawaharlal Nehru, John F. Kennedy, and Winston Churchill. Her slight Texan drawl contrasts her clear, chiming vocals. Undoubtedly the simple recording procedures and productions of Norman Petty likewise have a great deal to do with the enveloping atmosphere that not only accurately reproduces the stage performers, but also captures the enthusiastic audience. The audience is particularly vocal and participatory on "Sing Hallelujah" as the hosannas ring with overwhelming, if not slightly intimidating solidarity. When this title was issued on CD in 1990 by the German Bear Family label, the contents of her two volumes of Town Hall material were augmented with an additional four sides from a different performance from the mid-'60s with Stanley Lark on acoustic upright bass.

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