Old Town School of Folk Music

Old Town School of Folk Music Song Book, Vols. 2 & 3

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After issuing the first disc in its four-part "songbook" series in 2006, Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music packages the second and third volumes together on this double-CD set, with a final single album to follow. The idea is to have established folk standards, most of them credited to "Traditional" as songwriter, performed by a variety of contemporary artists in their own styles. The scholarly liner notes by Paul Tyler heavily reference song collectors like Francis James Child, John A. Lomax, and Chicago's own Carl Sandburg, explaining the origins and variations of the selections. But the performers have been left to create their own interpretations, sometimes with surprising results. For example, Tyler's citation of the various '20s recordings of "Don't You Hear Jerusalem Moan" doesn't prepare the listener for former Lone Justice member Marvin Etzioni's harrowing piano-and-vocal rendition, in which he adds his own lyrics. Nor does the discussion of "John Henry" ("The song encapsulates the history of African-Americans...") set up the particular performance here, in which the Foghorn Stringband dispenses with most of the lyrics in favor of an old-timey country take on the song. This is not to say that such re-imaginings don't enliven the material; more often than not, they do. For example, Mary Peterson's "Sportin' Life" recalls Patsy Cline and thus implicitly references Willie Nelson's similar composition, "Night Life," and the Lost Bayou Ramblers contribute a wonderful Cajun arrangement of "When the Saints Go Marchin' In" to conclude volume two. Volume three in general proves less adventurous, with straightforward readings of standards such as "Greensleeves" and "Water Is Wide," although Katherine Hall's emotional Emmylou Harris-like version of "Hard and It's Hard" is notable as a different approach. Among all the traditional tunes, it is odd that there are a few songs of more recent vintage by known writers. These could have been dispensed with, particularly Kelly Hogan and Scott Ligon's version of Tom Paxton's "Last Thing on My Mind," a song that makes no sense as a duet. It is bound to be the case, however, on an album with 42 selections by almost as many performers, that some tracks will be better than others. That doesn't keep the overall series from being successful in its goal of bringing folk evergreens back to life.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1
feat: Tangleweed
2:20
2
3:07
3
feat: Ted Parrish
2:28
4
3:52
5
4:09
6
feat: The Zincs
3:38
7
3:12
8
feat: Sunnyside Up
2:38
9
3:10
10
feat: The Gloworms
5:32
11
2:20
12
feat: Farrell
2:50
13
feat: Lisa DeRosia
3:01
14
3:16
15
feat: Mark Dvorak
2:56
16
3:11
17
4:04
18
feat: Steve Doyle
4:54
19
4:12
20
3:20
21
3:16

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1
feat: Scott Besaw
1:44
2
3:47
3
4:16
4
feat: James Hand
1:21
5
feat: Jacob Sweet
4:18
6
feat: Eric Lugosch
2:43
7
2:42
8
feat: Amy Allison
2:29
9
feat: Emily Hurd
3:39
10
3:16
11
feat: Chris Winter
3:37
12
4:13
13
feat: Chris Walz
4:50
14
feat: Bill Simmons
2:46
15
feat: Folk Uke
2:53
16
1:50
17
feat: Cat Edgerton
3:13
18
4:08
19
3:29
20
2:44
21
feat: Steve Levitt
3:25
blue highlight denotes track pick