Various Artists

Ain't No Grave: A Tribute to Traditional & Public Domain Songs

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Traditional songs (and their close cousins, songs that have entered the public domain) have a life of their own as musicians add or subtract words, rearrange melody lines, change tones and tempo, and in general adapt and re-invent these venerable songs to new purposes. Ain't No Grave features several experiments in dressing old songs in new clothes. The Plaster Saints kick this collection off with an electric bar room take on "John the Revelator," a song probably best known in a version recorded by gospel blues legend Blind Willie Johnson in 1930. Tim Eriksen (of Cordelia's Dad) delivers a stately interpretation of "Southern Girl's Reply." Mark McKay turns the blues standard "I Know You Rider" into a long, atmospheric guitar workout. "Corine, Corinna" swings lightly and confidently in a version here by Midnight Cowboys. Magnet's brooding modal "McPherson's Lament" is particularly striking, as is the Scrimshanders' take on "Sinful to Flirt," which sounds like Neil Young hooked up with Son Volt. Sometimes a song has such a strong association with a particular artist that all subsequent versions suffer in comparison, however. Such is the case with "Last Kind Word Blues," sung here by Philip Stevenson and Mary Rattiata as a duet. It is a powerful song and their version is fine, but the original by Geeshie Wiley is, and has always been, a thing apart.

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