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GUEST,Frank Hamilton An American Traditional Music Forum? (52* d) RE: An American Traditional Music Forum? 09 Jul 06


I think Joe has a point. OTOH we can talk about styles of music of which I am very interested.

For example, I hear Springsteen coming from a pop-rock place in the Seeger Sessions. I hear the obligatory girl back-up group, the twin fiddlers ala Bob Wills, the rock drummer and pianist and the overall "studio" sound of the production.

That said, I think this approach to American folk music may be as valid as any other. The difference I hear is that there is a kind of intimacy that's lost when you hear just a voice and a guitar or a voice and banjo. We have become so conditioned to "production" in the pop music area that it's hard for many to just hear the simplicity of a voice and one accompanying instrument. i think, however, that this is what makes much of American folk music unique.

Cecil Sharp did not like the sound of a banjo accompanying his "English" ballads in America.I think he missed the wonderful interplay between voice and accompanying instruments that can take place when a folk artist pares down the performance so it's not overdubbed or obscured by a number of instruments.

I will cite what I consider to be some watermarks in the folk revival performances.
Pete Seeger's "Darlin' Corey" album on Folkways. Erik Darling's "True Religion" on Vanguard. Almost any performance of Josh White. Jean Ritchie with her voice and dulcimer. Burl Ives even though his guitar playing was um-plunk, it was the right um-plunk. Early Peggy Seeger "Folksongs of Courting and Complaint". Cisco Houston. "Nine Hundred Miles'. Woody's dry simple accompaniment on "Dust Bowl Ballads" was rich and appropriate as well. Of course there are many others.

Then there are many examples of traditional American folk music such as Buell Kazee, Uncle Dave, Doc Boggs, Carter Family, Clarence Ashley, Vera Hall, Texas Gladden, Horton Barker, Leadbelly, and all of the blues greats from Son House, Lightnin' Hopkins,McKinley Morganfield, Brownie and Sonny..................to me this is North American folk music because it reflects the total performance of interplay between voice and instrument on one hand and on the accapella side, a moving understanding of the material. In this way, the vocal and instrumental interplay reflects the artistry that was exhibited by the early art songs of Dowland, Campion, and early Europe.

The rise of Irish, English and Scottish music reflects this marvelous interplay between instrument and voice as well in the hands of Andy Irvine or others. I think that when this music goes pop it picks up the production value of American pop music and changes the music. In some cases it works because it enhances the text but in many cases it gets in the way because it's trying to be pop production (to sell records).

In some cases the Singer/Songwriter tradition supports the interplay between voice and instrument but I would advocate that in most cases the songwriting could be better.
Paul Simon and Joannie Mitchell set the bar high in their earlier recordings. Stan Rogers is one of the masters also. Eric Bogle. BTW, Jean Ritchie writes wonderful songs also.


The problem with a "production" is that many times it becomes more important than the song.

So the singer/instrumentalist-accompanist becomes important in North American Folk Music and is what turned people on to it.

Today we see the "image" of the folksinger and many accept that as being representative of the music which might be misleading. The image is more important than the music.

We see "bands" cropping up that sometimes get in the way of the text. BTW, this was Pete Seeger's complaint at Newport when he thought Dylan's words were being masked by too many electric instruments. That's what started the whole ridiculous idea that Pete was going to take an axe to the cords.

There is however a value in a good "production" in pop music as has been shown by the Beatles, The Band, The Stones, Byrds, The Doobies, Motown, Disco etc. as well as some of the contemporary groups. It's a different way of listening to music.

When we listen to the effect that traditional American folk music has had on popular music, we see that the North American tradition is alive and well.

I do miss the simplicity of a singer/instrumentalist interpreting the songs that originally turned us on to American folk music, though.

You can hear this interplay in jazz. Tony Bennett and Bill Evans comes to mind.
Or Louis on the "West End Blues".

Frank Hamilton


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