Jean Ritchie

Mountain Born

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Jean Ritchie celebrated her 50th year as a performer of her beloved Appalachian songs in 1995, and Mountain Born, which features Ritchie with her two sons, Peter and Jonathan Pickow, was sort of a commemorative release to mark the occasion. A charming and low-key affair, Mountain Born has the usual traditional pieces drawn from the Ritchie family songbook, but it also has a higher than normal number of original compositions, including Ritchie's moving tribute to her mother, "Abigail," and the title track, "Mountain Born," a sort of autobiographical summing up of Ritchie's life which was written for the stage play Hillbilly Women. The most striking track here, though, is one of the oldest, the ancient British ballad of false-hearted love called "Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies." As a tune popular during the folk revival of the 1960s, "Tender Ladies" has been done countless times by singers like Judy Collins and Joan Baez, but what makes the version here so powerful is the yearning resignation and wisdom that Ritchie brings to it. Her voice, never a powerful one, has worn with the years, and it cracks and wavers slightly off pitch on occasion, but it is those exact qualities that bring a very special intimacy to her rendition of the song. "Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies" is a very different song, and much more powerful, when it is sung from the perspective of the autumn years, when regret and sorrow become ingredients for the hard-earned wisdom a long life brings. This release is probably not a good place to start to get a sense of Ritchie's career, since she sang better and had a little bit more sparkle and energy in her earlier albums, but as a kind of capstone to a life devoted to the musical heritage of her Kentucky hill family, Mountain Born will certainly please her many admirers.

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