Dave Van Ronk

Two Sides of Dave Van Ronk

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This two-on-one single-CD pairing of sessions from 1963 and 1981 isn't the most logical chronological mating, but Van Ronk's style was consistent enough throughout his career that it's not jarring, though neither album is among his very best. The first half of the disc is devoted to the whole of the 1963 In the Tradition album, which was evenly split between tracks on which the singer is backed by the Dixieland jazz-style combo the Red Onions and by more customary acoustic folk-blues solo guitar. That 1963 session isn't too much different from much of the rest of his catalog, other than in the balanced mixture between jazz and folk approaches. Of the trad jazz cuts, the item that might attract the most collector interest is the jaunty "All Over You," which is certainly one of the most obscure (and atypical) early Bob Dylan covers; Dylan would never release his own version, though a demo he did of the tune in 1963 has appeared on bootlegs. It's not much of a song, but its basic joie de vivre fits in well with the jazz segment of this program, on which Van Ronk's gravelly vocals credibly echo (especially for a white singer) the spirit of early New Orleans jazz vocalists like Louis Armstrong. Among the acoustic numbers are "Green, Green Rocky Road" and "Rocks and Gravel," both of which would be recorded by several other major talents of the '60s folk scene. The CD also contains all but two songs ("In the Midnight Hour" and "Stagolee") from a solo acoustic album he recorded in a single-night session in London in 1981, Your Basic Dave Van Ronk. If you'd been following Van Ronk up to that point, it wouldn't have contained anything in its approach that you hadn't heard before; indeed, some of the songs ("God Bless the Child," "Cocaine," "St. James Infirmary," "Candy Man") had been included on Van Ronk albums released many years prior to 1981. Still, Van Ronk's powers as an excellent folk-blues interpreter were fully intact, and it did include two original Van Ronk compositions in "Sunday Street" and "Gaslight Rag," the latter an homage to the famed Gaslight club in Greenwich Village.

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