Dave Van Ronk

Dave Van Ronk, Folksinger

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Many die-hard folkies consider Dave Van Ronk in a class apart from his contemporaries -- such as Bob Dylan, Eric Von Schmidt, or Jean Ritchie. Likewise, when asked to pick their favorite of his recordings, Dave Van Ronk, Folksinger is likely among the first mentioned. The original LP features a baker's dozen of Van Ronk's most memorable performances, presented in the intimate context of his own solo guitar accompaniment. This unadorned musical approach seemingly raised the bar for many Washington Square folk devotees. His deceptively simplistic delivery acts as both a gateway to, as well as an archetypal interpreter of, a roots-based folk music that is steeped in the American experience. Dave Van Ronk, Folksinger is the first in a series of sides that Van Ronk would cut for Prestige and features a selection of traditional material, most of which hadn't been included on his earlier Folkways albums. What is most immediately striking about Van Ronk's approach is the overwhelming solitude inherent within his delivery. The unadorned humanity is expressed practically by default. Examples can be found throughout the disc, be it in the soul-rendering visage of a junkie in "Cocaine Blues" or the lamentations of "Hang Me, Oh Hang Me." As well as forging a unique style, Van Ronk also reflects the enormous inspiration of his varied influences. The rambunctious "Samson and Delilah" certainly takes a page from the talkin' blues delivery of Rev. Gary Davis. The mournful and despondent "He Was a Friend of Mine" comes from the same mold that forged Bob Dylan's original. Van Ronk was a vocal supporter of Dylan in that he was one of, if not the first artist to have covered one of his tunes. The version heard here can be likened to Dylan's paternal twin, as the song's essence remains true to form. However, not all of Van Ronk's material is so somber. John Henry's bawdy blues "You've Been a Good Old Wagon" and the traditional "Chicken Is Nice" are charming in their unaffected, almost accidental whimsy. As there is nothing new about the material, once again the impassive delivery and subtle intonations are at the core of making these readings so amusing. In the case of the former, Van Ronk's assertion to keep the narrative voice either feminine -- or possibly gay -- allows tremendous insight into the type of humor Van Ronk successfully asserts. The April 1962 sessions that yielded Folksinger would also produce enough material for his follow-up LP, Inside Dave Van Ronk, for Prestige's spin-off label, Folklore.

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