Ken Waldman,
Music Party
(Nomadic, 2003)

Music Party is Ken Waldman's third CD. Known as Alaska's fiddling poet, Waldman travels to bring his music and poetry to audiences throughout the state and often ventures into the lower 48.

This CD is promoted as being more "raggy" than the others while featuring more instruments, such as the guitar and bass, than the other, more bluegrassy collections. Still, the music is simple and raw, though bigger in sound.

I readily agree that that in places the music has a bigger guitar sound, but somehow it is missing the quality and warmth of Burnt Down House. This one sounds more like a stiff rehearsal than a relaxed front-porch pickin'. That was the very thing that made Burnt Down House so wonderful. It had the flavor of true bluegrass.

The poetry, however, is still spectacular. Waldman writes about the ordinary things in life; things you encounter every day, yet have never stopped to examine in detail. He records moments, such as a fellow musician's departure from Alaska, with astounding details. When he speaks of the electric sky fueling his friend's music, you will see the lightning shooting down to his friend's hands.

The Music Party Band is Waldman (fiddle), Mike Emers (fiddle, backup vocals), Richard Shoen (fiddle, backup vocals), Bob Bell (banjo, vocals), Andrea Cooper (banjo), Jerry Hagins (banjo, fiddle), Alan Bent (guitar), Gary Fitch (guitar), Charlie Hunt (mandolin), Gretchen Kerndt (banjo-uke), Robin Dale Ford (bass) and Pat Fitzgerald (fiddle).

Personally, I think Waldman should avoid trying "Greasy String" again. It was pitiful and detracted so much from the rest of the collection that it was hard to remain for the second half of the performance. At least he could have placed that one at the end.

"McKinley March" was another pitiful version of a classic. Waldman states that he learned this version from a man who learned it from a man in Kentucky. Somehow something got lost in one of the translations between the mountains of the "Kaintuck" and Alaska. Again, this selection would be best used in a closing.

He needs to pick up the beat on "Safe Harbor Reel" or call it something else. Most of us associate reels with a faster pace and lots of spinning power.

"Bobtail Mule" and "Ebenezer" are fantastic and demonstrate the potential of this band. "Black-eyed Susie" added vocals and was the absolute salvation of the second half of the collection. Strangely enough, the CD cover only lists 18 selections, while the inside booklet and the CD contain 22.

My overall rating of this CD is mediocre. The good is great but the bad is terrible. I suppose we could say that this one is a collection to the polar extremes. Burnt Down House is a much better buy.

- Rambles
written by Alicia Karen Elkins
published 17 April 2004

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