Ken Waldman,
Burnt Down House
(Nomadic, 2001)

Ken Waldman, known as the "Alaskan Fiddling Poet," is a self-professed hermit with a strange knack for creating music during the middle of the night. He has traveled throughout the state as a writing instructor, poet and fiddler. Burnt Down House is his second CD that combines old-time music with his poetry.

When you listen to the poem about his dishwashing routine, you realize how easy it is to turn the most mundane daily routines into poetry and art. I was caught right up in his story and sat spellbound listening to this man tell about how he washes glass first, plastic next and so forth. My one thought when this selection stopped was: "I have to get some musical accompaniment and take my poetry to the next level."

Andrea Cooper is featured on the banjo, flute and pennywhistle. She is an accomplished banjo player and really shines in "Year of Jubilo." Throughout the collection she is consistent in her old-time style and bare picking. She can take you back to yesteryear in a flash of fingers and strings.

Waldman and Cooper are joined by Lynn Basham (mandolin), Bob Bell (banjo), Mike Emers (fiddle), Gary Fitch (guitar), Robin Dale Ford (banjo, bass), Eric Graves (guitar) and Charlie Hunt (mandolin). All are residents of Fairbanks.

"Battle of Aughrim/Christmas Eve" has an Irish sound to tickle your soul. As you listen to Waldman telling about Irish tea and the way the culture reaches across the ocean, you will envision the details clearly. Such simplicity taken into art is nothing short of magical. Cooper's support on the flute and pennywhistle is tantalizing.

My favorite of all the music selections is "Lights of Nightmuse/The Caller." This has the most interesting "dead strings" playing -- where the string is abruptly stopped and pulled slightly tighter to create a squeaked rip/deadened thump. It is a distinct sound that you never forget.

This is the second time Waldman and Cooper have teamed up on a CD. Their first CD, A Week in Eek, was so successful that they immediately began another. Waldman has published more than 350 poems in various national publications and has two full-length collections of poetry: Nome Poems (West End Press) and To Live on This Earth.

Burnt Down House is so much wrapped into one CD. It is a collection of marvelous music, crafted and polished poetry, and a glimpse inside the culture of America's last frontier. I recommend this one to every reader because you have surely never heard dishwashing explained like this!

- Rambles
written by Alicia Karen Elkins
published 17 January 2004

[ visit the artist's website ]