Garnet Rogers- Get a Witness (live)
Two years ago Garnet Rogers, Greg Brown, Karen Savoca, and Pete Heitzman recorded an album at “The Black Sheep” in Wakefield, Quebec. It must be a cool club because Garnet went back to record his own live album there. Just so you know, Get a Witness is a mix of electric band, solo acoustic, and a few hybrids. The song dictates the recipe for production (as it should). “Beyond this Wall” is a dramatic expose from a soldier in Afghanistan fighting against child warriors as he wonders about his own child who he’s never met. Tough stuff, but that’s the reality which our music will not avoid. “Summer Lightening” allows us to follow a traveling songwriter. We hear his thoughts until one fateful night in a lonely hotel room. I featured this song recently in honor of the sudden passing of Scott Fetterolf who ran a folk club in Akron, Ohio. It’s a sad song, but it’s magical at the same time, and that’s life isn’t it? It may be death too… Garnet Rogers is often a master chef. Taste this album and you’ll be back for more.
Various Artists- I’m Not There (soundtrack)
As poetic as Bob Dylan has been for over 4 decades, it’s about time someone has attempted a poetic description of his life. Though I haven’t seen the movie, I understand that 5 different actors portray this much recognized writer, and one of them is a woman. It’s too bad that this soundtrack isn’t as original. Nearly 3 dozen artists chose Dylan songs but it wasn’t until number 9 into the first CD that someone didn’t try to sound like Dylan. Of course, it’s hard not to once you’ve heard his distinctive delivery. Two very different groups, Iron and Wine and Calexico, combined to record “Dark Eyes.” It’s startling, and that’s good. With the exception of Richie Havens and Willie Nelson, many of the other contributors sound like they’re trying to do Dylan imitations. Use a chef’s recipe, but do your own cooking. After all, that’s how Bob got started. (My thanks to Brian Siewiorek of WYEP in Pittsburgh for making sure I received this album)
Robin & Linda Williams- Radio Songs
How old is A Prairie Home Companion? Some history books will take you back to the early eighties; others mention 1974. Either way, Robin & Linda Williams have been with Garrison Keillor almost since the beginning. Their new album, Radio Songs, features highlights from their many appearances on the show. In fact, you can hear Garrison’s intros on several songs and he sings on a few others. Highlights include the Carter Family’s “By the Touch of Her Hand” and a curious song about someone wandering across America written by Dave Hull called “Restless One.” The album is long and somewhat same-sounding, so the title may have a double meaning, being very appropriate for radio (or internet) stations, which program one song here and there. Fans of Robin and Linda’s will look at the menu and want to order the whole thing, and that’s fine too. Radio Songs is a fun reminder of how important this couple has been to the best-known radio show in the world that honors our music.
Gypsy Soul- Beneath the Covers
Cilette Swann has been singing with Gypsy Soul for 8 albums now. This is their first using songs written by others (thus the clever title) and they revisit a couple of their own. These revisits may be the best, perhaps like the cook tweaking his or her own recipe. Take “Silver Lining” for example. The lyrics are the same as when they wrote it, but now Cilette sings them with an experience only age can bring:
“Every heartache is a lesson, every choice a risk
Every child is a promise, every faith has its test
Every soul has an answer, if we only listen to it.”
This is a wake-up call about having the right attitude. We all have the choice on whether to focus on dark clouds or silver linings – since both lay in front of us. The covers include songs by Chris Isaak, The Moody Blues and U2, and they’re not bad. Swann may be overly dramatic at times, but there’s not too much else to pick at. There may be better versions, including the originals, but at least Gypsy Soul put their own mark on the recipe, which is most important.