Tribute bands fill a void in the musical marketplace, allowing audiences the joy of hearing a semblance of the music of, say, the Beatles or the Doors in a concert setting long after the original groups stopped working. Usually, however, tribute bands do not take the next step of making their own albums, since listeners can still buy the original recordings. Work o' the Weavers, a tribute band "celebrating America's pioneering folk quartet," the Weavers, is a little different. For one thing, it's classic folk, not classic rock that the foursome is recalling. For another, they do not simply play the Weavers' songs in as close an approximation as possible to the original versions; they also stop to tell the story of a group that hit the top of the charts before succumbing to the 1950s blacklist and then making a remarkable comeback that seeded the folk revival of the '60s. As such, performances by Work o' the Weavers constitute both musical events and American history classes. It is only natural that Work o' the Weavers would provide their audiences with a souvenir CD reflecting the group's show, and that's what this is, a live recording containing not only their versions of Weavers songs, but also a fair amount of informative and sometimes humorous commentary on the historical context in which the music was created. The key to the band's success is singer/guitarist James Durst, who takes the part of first tenor Pete Seeger and often sounds uncannily like his model. Martha Sandefer, a powerful alto, is reminiscent of Ronnie Gilbert, although in her solo on "Buttermilk Hill" it's clear you'd never mistake her for Gilbert. Second tenor David Bernz and baritone Mark Murphy don't really sound much like Fred Hellerman and Lee Hays when singing solo, either, but in the harmony parts the group does capture the Weavers' sound. On this collection, the group receives the imprimatur of Seeger, who introduces them, and of Hellerman, who comes on at the end to compliment them and sing along on "Goodnight Irene." If Work o' the Weavers are to continue as a recording unit, they probably will have to take a different tack after this CD (which is in essence an abbreviated version of their act), perhaps introducing new material, as they do sparingly in their show. As it is, this disc can be thought of as an annotated re-creation of the Weavers, and fans who have seen the tribute band perform will enjoy reliving their experience with it.
Work o' the Weavers Review
by William Ruhlmann