I think that some of the songs the Mudcatters are singing are traditional folk songs. Othere are popular songs of bygone times, show tunes, some early rock tunes and a pot pourri of styles and ranges. I think we'd have to take a look at each song to determine how it fits in trelationship to traditional folk music. Your query piqued my curiosity so I checked out some of the tunes on the thread. Yours seemed to range from music hall to composed songs with one traditonal folk song, Liverpool Judies. Judging from the list, there seems to be eclectic examples of all kinds of songs some written recently. I think that when pop music is mentioned, it's assumed that it means popular music of the last few decades. Popular music is part of the music business that goes back at least to the 1atter part of the 1800's whereby one of the first big sellers was a chart buster called "After The Ball Is Over".
Iamarca, I agree that we can't be part of the tradition that many of these songs come from. That's OK. We can still sing them, reinterpret them and do what we want. In answer to your question, "Is the song the way I sing it still a folk song" I think it depends on the individual song. In the case of Charlie Poole, the song may or may not be traditional but the only way to find out is to chase it down. And this process is important to the music. For example, a classical musician who plays Beethoven would want to know about the man, the style, the period of time and it's history, the musical nuances that were prevalent at the time, the other output of music that he composed, and other salient factors. Why should the study of folk music be any different? Maybe the folk song started out as a "commercial" creation or maybe not. But did it go through changes? Did it have other variants? Was it adapted to fit different cultural traditional situations? I agree that many of the songs on the radio today may be sung in the future. Some may become folk songs if they go through the changes and the associative cultural traditions that guide it. I agree that biological and cultural changes take place. There is an assumption that one who studies folk music has no tolerance for other forms of music. I can't speak for anyone else but I listen to all kinds of music and appreciate them. The important part of this for me is to extend the range of what we know in music by introducing traditional folk music as part of the pallette of musical colors. I am much more optimistic about the crowd that "listens to the Beastie Boys". But they need to know the difference. Then they can begin to appreciate it.
I think that it's about knowledge. Traditional folk music exists whether we evangelize it or not. I, like you, would love to see a larger extension of musical education in this country that would accomodate an interest in traditional folk music. It can be done.
Before we abandon the word "folk" I think we have to know what it means. I think it has a specific meaning when appled to traditional American folk music that is not Peter Schikele who I have worked with and admire very much. I can assure you that he knows the difference between that which is trad folk and not. What we're talking about here is not some kind of religion. It's a process of identifying music by it's musical and literary content, history, style, and performance. Some songs fit into this realm and others don't. "Genetic diversity" in music produces some interesting hybrids such as rock and roll Mozart or Acid Jazz but it ain't folk and ain't gonna' be folk unless it goes through a lot of changes in the hands of many people through many years.
Interesting point about "mimises". But to imitate successfully, one needs to know about what one is attempting to imitate. Frank Warner did a lot of research and collecting as he imitated the sounds of the people he collected songs from. Same with the Ramblers and others. Ramblin' Jack is another who learned through imitation and is an extraordinary mimic. There is value in learning this way as long as it's not a surface performance by someone who hasn't studied the music. Imitation without love of the music and knowlege about it becomes pretensious and sometimes downright embarrasing when for example some singers attempt a black singing style or Irish brogue. Or try to assume an "image" that is not part of their heritage. If it works, we can call it good show business.