Rick Fielding,
(Folk-Legacy, 1995)

This is my CD of the year to date.

It is the best combination of music, lyrics, simple tunes, information and genuine love for the material that I have encountered for some time. Many CDs have many of these elements but few combine the lot. And Rick Fielding has a fantastically warm voice that is ideally suited to the material.

"So Long Charlie" is the first track and it sets the tone. It a simple folk song written by Fielding about a man named Charlie Chamberlain, known as "the singing lumberjack," and it brings out the genuine feeling for his subject. It ends with a beautiful fiddle piece called "Jim's Polka."

The album is far from being a "worthy" tribute to the genre. The track "If Jesus Was a Picker" gives the lie to anyone who might think that. It is a witty and somewhat irreverent song that combines Jesus with some of his "successors" in the modern TV world. With lines like "That's Judas sitting in the tree. ... He likes to count the money and we let him drive the bus," you get the flavour.

"Lifeline" is a song that paints a picture of that only folk music can do. It brings to life a land a century ago. "River horses haul the log booms to sawmills back upstream." Then Fielding brings us shuddering into the 21st century with a powerful song written by Grit Laskin (what a name) called "Margins of my Neighbourhood." This brings to life the very people we hear the sociologists refer to everyday -- the marginalized. People like Henry James who is "yelling curses and hurling his fists at demons we can't see" or Charlie ("the printed word still mystifies him") as he looks at books and "cries let me in." This song should be compulsory in sociology classes.

Then he takes us back in time to the traditional song "The Birth of Robin Hood," where we hear of the nativity of this hero in 11 verses and not a bad one among them.

Folk songs deal in history and few do it better than a song written by Fielding following a chat with a 90-year-old. "Angus Fraser" is the history of the 20th century distilled through one man and set to music. Fielding reveals his love of this genre with another self-penned track, "Voices of Struggle." This is where it all comes together as he recounts the folk songs and singers who gave voice to people's struggles -- "Kevin Barry died for Ireland but his song is sung today" and "in the streets they marched to Joe Hill's songs." From the Klan to Vietnam and Victor Jara to Florence Reese this song tells what folk music must do.

Not only does this CD provide 19 tracks including some fine instrumentals. There is an excellent 36-page booklet giving lyrics, background and guitar notation. In short this is a folk music lovers dream. BUY IT.

[ by Nicky Rossiter ]
Rambles: 28 April 2002

Buy it from Amazon.com.