I write this column as the oppressive heat of July and the smoke from local fires is hanging over the state of Jefferson, challenging my brain to summon up some of the music I've enjoyed recently. The first one that comes to mind is a wonderful documentary entitled You Want a Banjo. It‘s an enlightening history of the instrument, narrated by Steve Martin, and features many of the most influential banjo players.
That makes me think of the unusual release that Steve Martin made with Edie Brickell, graced by his gentle banjo melodies, and her poetic lyrics. Love Has Come For You is a unique and wonderful project from the two of them.
There was a loving tribute concert recorded in New York City last year honoring the music of Kate McGarrigle, Sing Me The Songs That Say I Love You. The event featured performances by many of Kate's family and friends including her children, Rufus & Martha Wainwright. There are some lovely renditions of some of her finer songs. Though you might think you don't know her music, there is a good chance you have heard some of her songs covered by Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris and Maria Muldaur.
Guy Clark has recently released his first studio album in several years, honoring the memory of his wife Susanna Clark, My Favorite Picture Of You. It is full of sweet tunes and makes me grateful that we still have songwriters like Guy making music.
I belatedly discovered a release that was named Americana album of the year for 2012, honoring Guy Clark, entitled This One's For Him. It is a stellar collection of Guy's songs, recorded for the most part live, with few overdubs, with the band consisting of Guy's long time friends, sidekicks, and other legends. I've owned it for a few months now, and still can't resist playing something off of this collection each time I host the Folk Show.
Scottish born, Canadian raised troubador David Francey, is celebrating his tenth album, So Say We All. It’s not often that an album will hold my attention from the first song to the final note the way Francey does with his music.
One of my favorite players making her home in Southern Oregon is Cyd Smith. She released a beautiful album last year entitled Wide Open Night.
Though I write this in the midst of the summer heat, when this finally reaches you, come September, one wrinkle in the cosmos will have been ironed out. Mark Knopfler's fine album Privateering, was briefly released in the states and then pulled from the shelves a few days later, as a result of the dispute with his label. The good news is that after 35 years, he is no longer with Warner Brothers, and instead his album will be released in the states on the Verve label. I was lucky enough to find it on his website months ago, and I highly recommend this double Cd for his remarkable writing and compositions, fine cast of players, and for showcasing the talents of artists such as John McCusker, Ruth Moody, and Tim O'Brien.
As I wrap this up I feel compelled to mention my fondness for the late J.J. Cale, who recently passed away at the age of 74. I was just a kid when my older sister brought home his album, Naturally. She had bought it after hearing him perform in a Boulder nightclub back in the early 70s. My sister had a way of wearing out records in those days, when turntables could be set to keep repeating endlessly. To this day I can't bear to hear Simon and Garfunkel's LP Bridge Over Troubled Water. I know it's a classic, she just wore me out on it. Somehow I never did tire of hearing Cale's tunes or his unique guitar work. Later on, during one of my annual pilgrimages home from California to Colorado I came upon an Eight Track of Grasshopper which saw me across many empty Nevada miles.
I feel so fortunate to have finally had the chance to see J.J. Cale perform a few years ago at the Craterian in Medford. He had not been well, and in fact had to back out of an interview with JPR to save his energy for the paying customers that night. You could tell that he was fighting a bad chest cold but he still put all he had into keeping the crowd happy. A consummate performer who let the music do the speaking for him instead of his ego. He has influenced so many players with the Tulsa sound he helped create. If you want a good sense of who he was, or are just a fan like me, look for the documentary To Tulsa And Back. He was known as an animal lover and his website has the suggestion that you donate to your favorite shelter in his memory. I suggest a listen to the classic Crazy Mama.
As you read this I hope you are finally enjoying a beautiful blue smoke-free sky as well as some sweet music in the wonderful state of Jefferson.
Cindy DeGroft hosts the Folk Show heard on Sunday evenings at 6pm on JPR’s Rhythm & News service.