Scott Alarik,
Revival: a Folk Music Novel
(Peter E. Randall, 2011)

If you ever need a guide to the Boston folk music scene, call Scott Alarik, whjo knows everything there is to know about it. As the folk music critic for the Boston Globe for the past 20 years and a performer himself, he has seen the scene, heard the music, hung in the clubs and coffeehouses and has written Revival to tell us about it.

His book is a deep immersion into folk music, a celebration of the world and its performers and the fans who make up the community and who, according to Alarik and his characters in this novel, make the music possible. It's a highly entertaining book that takes us behind the scenes with a reek of authenticity, a hard-earned sense of plausibility.

Its plot is simple. Nathan Warren, a performer who had a shot at stardom years before, missed the golden ring because of record company politics. His disappointment sent him spiraling down; he self-medicated his pain with booze and his behavior made him unwelcome in the major folk clubs. Today, he no longer drinks and is living on the edges of the scene, getting along by running a Tuesday open mic night and a Wednesday jam at a Cambridge bar. He also does a couple of afternoons per week of guitar instruction. He meets Kit Palmer, an extraordinarily talented singer-songwriter who has a genuine chance at stardom if her stage fright doesn't cause her to melt into a puddle on stage. Warren become her teacher, mentor and lover.

As the two of them fall in love, her star ascends while his, bruised and battered by his experiences, barely flutters. Both of them have lessons to learn from their trek through the clubs and coffeehouses and festivals; Kit has to learn to get over her nervousness and develop a stage persona that will let her charm and personality come through, while Nathan has to learn to get out of his own way. A lot of folk archetypes appear, including a critic based obviously on the author himself.

Revival's plot summary makes it sound a little like A Star is Born, but it resolves in a more real and satisfactory way.

It is a novel that readers of this journal will love. It goes deeply inside a topic that is the reason we read the reviews and articles presented on this site and is loaded with scenes showing how folk music is written, performed and recorded. It cruises through folk history and shows us a world that we'd all like to be a bigger part of. If there is a flaw, it's that Alarik almost knows too much and gives us too much background. When the characters are going to play a house concert, for example, he offers us a quick history of house concerts that isn't quite quick enough. That crawl through the history, though, might strike me as a flaw but for many people, it'll be the major reason for reading the book.

Whatever your reason, you'll be glad you read it.

book review by
Michael Scott Cain

10 December 2011

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