Dave Van Ronk

To All My Friends in Far-Flung Places

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Van Ronk covers 28 songs by friends new and old, here and departed, on this double CD, including Bob Dylan ("Subterranean Homesick Blues"), Tom Waits ("Jersey Girl"), Randy Newman ("Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear"), Phil Ochs ("Outside of a Small Circle of Friends"), Christine Lavin ("Amoeba Hop"), the Rev. Gary Davis ("Soon My Work Will Be Done"), Paul Simon ("Punky's Dilemma"), Tom Paxton ("Ramblin' Boy"), Patrick Sky ("Many a Mile"), Ian Tyson ("Four Strong Winds"), Paul Geremia ("Stone Sober Blues"), and Joni Mitchell ("Song to a Seagull"). Van Ronk does remarkably well with this material -- he holds a tune less effectively than Dylan, but he also imparts a special rawness and seriousness to the songs, his voice (sometimes backed by a light gospel-style female chorus) overflowing with the sound of seemingly bitter experience. Some songs, like "Ramblin' Boy," sound less like gentle works of the innocent 1960s than painfully old and bitter, and that's just scratching the surface. Others, like Paul Simon's "Punky's Dilemma" and Christine Lavin's "Amoeba Bop," remain playful. Not all of it works -- his voice is sometimes way too rough even by folk-blues standards for what he's trying to do -- but most of it is extremely valuable. And his cover of "Soon My Work Will All Be Done" is one of Van Ronk's greatest performances ever.

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