Rick Fielding,
Acoustic Workshop
(Borealis, 2004)

Canadian folk musician Rick Fielding has been performing for more than 30 years. Often, the number of years has no direct relationship with the level of talent. In Fielding's case, however, he might as well have a Ph.D. in folk music. Listening to Acoustic Workshop is like taking a survey course on roots/traditional folk music, even though most of the tracks are modified versions or Fielding originals.

"Off to School No More" is a reworked sea ballad, replacing the hard life of a fisherman with that of a musician, resulting in a pretty funny tune with modified lyrics that oddly sound inherent. "The Last Freight Train," a lament for the ever-vanishing American railroad, is based on Woody Guthrie's tune to "900 miles." If you want to focus solely on Fielding's guitar skills, check out the nice finger-picking on the traditional arrangements for "Hesitation Rag" and "Hangman's Reel/Bonaparte's Retreat."

As for original tunes, there are two songs worth recommending. The original upbeat "Dick Justice Blues" must be an autobiographical ballad; it conveys a young'un's desire to see an old-time country musician. "Charlie's on Rampart," also by Fielding, has a ragtime feel to it. These original songs fit in seamlessly with the older ones.

Although most of the tracks on this album are very good, there's one song for which I'm a bit torn: "Cuckoo." Mechanically speaking, Fielding has finely re-worked a classic folk ballad with a guitar, fiddle and bodhran. From an enjoyment perspective, it seems to be one of those songs that persistently sticks in your head, not unlike a commercial jingle. The chorus, with Pamela Swan's haunting harmony vocals, reverberates in your ears and brings you to the brink of insanity. Once you've reached that point, though, you suddenly get a Helsinki syndrome-like attachment to the song. In the end, you're glad you stuck it through -- call it an enjoyable struggle.

Acoustic Workshop shows Fielding has a deep knowledge of and love for roots/traditional folk music. There's a consistent performance level on every track. While folk music fans would enjoy this, I'd really recommend it someone interested in but not quite "in the know"about folk music. Like a survey course, Acoustic Workshop will provide a general understanding/appreciation for the folk music genre.

- Rambles
written by C. Nathan Coyle
published 28 August 2004

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