Sammy Walker

Broadside Ballads, Vol. 8: Song for Patty

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Among those searching for a "new Dylan" (a phrase seemingly applied to every male singer/songwriter who has come along since Bob Dylan arrived in Greenwich Village in 1961), the adherents to the topical songwriting movement of the early '60s must be the most fervent. Dylan -- then thought of as a sort of "new Woody Guthrie" -- served their interests faithfully from about 1962, when he started writing songs in earnest, to about 1964, when he began to turn away from topical writing. Others in the same vein, such as Phil Ochs and Tom Paxton, never had quite the same impact. A decade later, Ochs, in association with Broadside, the topical folksong magazine run by Agnes "Sis" Cunningham and Gordon Friesen, "presents" 22-year-old Sammy Walker, who seems to have been fashioned, or to have fashioned himself, deliberately as the new Dylan the political folkies had been looking for. Walker, a native of Norcross, GA, fingerpicks an acoustic guitar and blows familiar harmonica interludes in his songs, which he sings in a voice uncannily like that of the Dylan of the LPs The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan and The Times They Are A-Changin'. And starting with the album's title song, concerning Patty Hearst, he addresses political and social issues from a left-wing stance. When he turns personal, as on "My Old Yearbook," he sounds a bit more like John Prine than Dylan, but his humorous song "Funny Farm Blues" could be one of Dylan's talking blues songs. He evokes his primary inspiration on "Ragamuffin Minstrel Boy," but also harks back to Guthrie on "I Ain't Got No Home in This World Anymore" (on which Ochs and Cunningham sing along) and pays tribute to his sponsor on Ochs' "Bound for Glory" (which is, of course, Ochs' tribute to Guthrie, and on which he again sings harmony). Walker is thus steeped in a noble tradition, and he is nobly trying to extend it into the middle of the '70s. But for many listeners, he will seem an imitation of Dylan (whom he also seems to resemble in appearance, from the photograph on the back cover), and that may be a distraction.