Not In Stores
Music from Riverfolk, primeTime sublime Community Orchestra, Scandinavian Accordion Club of New York
Not every CD made winds up in the stores. Here are three that are worthy of the extra effort to obtain.
A common caveat: I've known Riverfolk for years, and can prove it with some great pictures of Chas & Becca, Andy Anda (sometimes spelled "&e &a") though while I've known Roady almost as long as I've known Andy I don't have a picture. Reviewing the work of friends is always a bit of a pickle: I want to promote my friends' work but I have to maintain journalistic integrity (such as it is these days) and I don't particularly want to say bad things about people I like. Fortunately, I get to say good things about Riverfolk today.
Meander is Riverfolk's first album, and it's excellent. In concert, Riverfolk is an amorphous group of 2 to 5 musician friends who play in a laid back folk atmosphere. They just love playing for friends. The CD captures a lot of the folksiness while emphasizing the vocals a live unmiked concert can't balance. The four main folk are joined by others on some cuts so the sound isn't the same on each song. Sometimes Andy plays fiddle, sometimes mandolin. Chas and Becca's harmonies are allowed to intertwine and counterpoint. The cover of the CD is a cutout of the four of them with a NASA photo of the Arkansas river as it goes Passing Through Tulsa, a Tom Paxton song that serves as the title cut. Like the river, Riverfolk meanders through the folk genre with a steady tug. Unlike the river, they sing of love and love lost; the folk don't expect a lot from life, but they know what makes a home.
As a fan of wordplay, my favorite song is A Member of the Rabble by Kevin Brixius, sung by Chas with harmony by Becca and Sally Heinz, violin by Andy, bass by Nate Bucklin (another friend I've talked about before):
I am a member of the rabble
I put em-PHA-sys on the wrong sy-LA-ble.
I do not meet with the social elite
I do not speak well I babble.
Or perhaps my favorite cut is the bouncy Home, featuring the four Riverfolk, a love song about coming home. Chas and Becca alternate singing their verses then sing them in counterpoint. Just like home. Or even the Nancy Griffith Grammy-nominated song Love at the Five and Dime, about young lust which blooms to true love. Chas goes deep (but not gruff) in the Woody Guthrie/Billy Bragg song Way Over Yonder In The Minor Key with a nice mandolin break from Andy and harmonies from Becca and Sally. Or perhaps my favorite song is... well you get the idea. Still, I would be remiss in not mentioning the one song that works best live: Chas' love paean to his wife, Bonnie's Song, which generally requires Bonnie being around.
Meander is more than iPw (iPod worthy), it demonstrates that Riverfolk are larger than the sum of their parts, and are as good in the studio as they are live. Recommended.
Riverfolk's first album came to their doorstep less than forty-eight hours before I'm writing this, and I was their first sale. As yet, they don't have availability info on their web site. I asked, and they said to write them about getting the CD. Mention that you heard about it from Baron Dave.
And as long as I'm mentioning albums not available in stores, let me again briefly plug Roady's 1996 CD, Rich and Roady. A nice bunch of original folk tunes, including Minnesota-inspired The Wood-Tick Song. Definitely iPw.
Sometimes, my friends will pop up with a CD and I say, "can I have one of those?" Sometimes, CDs mysteriously appear in my KFAI mailbox saying "check this out!" A few weeks ago Songs That Will Never Win A Grammy by the (wait, let me get the capitalization right) primeTime sublime Community Orchestra or pTsCO. Their web site contains the kind of hype I strive to avoid, so you can read all their attempts to make what they do sound more than it is. And what it is is: fun.
pTsCO is an electronic group, with electronic vocals and topics that range from Nixon and Bush to sex. I don't know whether the electronic vocals are entirely created by computer, as is Reed Waller's Nellie and the Drummers or everyone gets pumped through a synthesizer. Still, the music is good -- highly orchestrated in a way that you can only do with lots of money OR a lot of computer time -- and the lyrics understandable. They try to be political and/or current, which mostly doesn't work as comment on the news but does keep them fresh. Songs include Curb Your God, about "G_d poop"; and It Will All Be Over Before You Know It, an electronic lounge song about living each day as if it were your last.
These songs will never win a Grammy because they don't deserve to. Still, they're off the beaten Top-40 path and if you like your music a bit out of the ordinary, Songs That Will Never Win A Grammy is iPw.
The Scandinavian Accordion Club of New York has been performing since 1987. A friend handed me their fifth CD, Have A Banana! from 2002, distributed in a paper CD holder. They play at SkandJam in New Jersey, which is a big Swedish gathering, and have played from Norway to South Dakota. Here in Minnesota, we have a lot of Scandahoovians (one of whom was the friend who gave me the CD) who are rightly proud of their heritage. They can be proud of the Scandinavian Accordion Club of New York.
The twenty-four cuts on Have A Banana! comprise twenty mostly instrumental waltzes and polkas plus four short cuts of Dan Knutson asking for a cup of coffee. Most people, I would imagine, associate accordion dance music with Lawrence Welk, who was really good and led a really good band. But where Welk was on tv and liked bubbles, the Scandinavian Accordion Club of New York just plays for folk. And they too are really good: danceable tunes played nicely. If you don't listen to anything but rap and hip-hop, this probably isn't for you. But these iPw cuts are going in the shuffle soon.
The CD insert says to order by e-mailing JWDragspel@aol.com but that was from 2002; on the website is the same e-mail plus another contact telephone #. Recommended for anyone making a dance mix or who just wants some sprightly music around the house.