John Palmes

Mouthbow: Small Voices

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For folk musicians and novelty lovers, John Palmes' Mouthbow: Small Voices is a fascinatingly unusual document. Since he plays the mouthbow, hardly an up-to-date instrument, one might expect him to perform songs like "Jimmy Crack Corn" or perhaps "Raggle Taggle Gypsy." Palmes, in fact, meets these expectations part way, offering instrumental and vocal versions of several old folk standards like "Groundhog." But most of the time, he defies expectations, holding forth on everything from James Brown's "I Feel Good" to Schubert's "Unfinished Surprise." While these choices may seem a bit odd, more novelty than the real thing, Palmes isn't just fooling around. He performs all of these songs -- classical, pop, reggae, and folk -- as though he were sitting on his back porch in front of a few neighbors. In essence, all of these songs, whatever their genre, are converted into folk songs. And while a mouthbow may seem like an odd fit for Ravel's "Bolero" and Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," it seems perfectly suited for "Silhouettes/Stir It Up." Palmes doesn't get everything right on Mouthbow. He insists on talking and offering explanations in the middle of some pieces, and these digressions are more distracting that edifying. Overall though, Mouthbow is a neat attempt to expand the horizons of traditional folk music.

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