Joe Craven is known for his versatility as a percussionist, fiddler, and occasional mandolin player with the David Grisman Quintet, but he has a lot more to offer, as he demonstrates on his second solo CD. Although he utilizes an ever-changing cast of supporting musicians, he does a lot of the work by himself, as he takes numerous different century-old folk songs and rearranges them in often drastic ways. "Banks of the Ohio," a song about love rejected that results in murder, features Craven on electric tenor guitar and mandolin; another murder-theme song, "Wild Bill Jones," finds Craven on oudolin, a hybrid instrument with qualities of both the oud and its descendant, the mandolin. "John Henry" begins with Craven narrating in an old man's voice, then he switches to normal vocals, overdubbing himself on mandolin, fiddles, and percussion. "Midnight on the Stormy Deep," a 1727 German seafaring song, is recast as a country-flavored rocker. The spiritual "Working on a Building" encompasses R&B and funk, complete with carpentry sound effects. "Little Maggie," a favorite of bluegrass musicians, is transformed into salsa with a touch of Santana-like guitar. But far and away the most imaginative arrangement is Craven's wild hip-hop/soul/reggae treatment of "Ol' Dan Tucker," with the leader overdubbing all of the instruments and using his voice to provide percussive effects. His "Spokenfolk" is a compelling history of music, with his rap backed by his vocal percussion, complete with simulated turntable scratches. Often side-splitting, Joe Craven's new look at old songs will open ears and expand the boundaries of what many consider folk music to be. This CD is available through Joe Craven's website at www.joecraven.com.
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AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden