House on Fore CD cover

House on Fire: An Urban Folk Collection

Various Artists

Red House Records 58

A review for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
By Jim Dubinsky

From the dramatic opening notes of Peter Ostroushko and Dean Magraw's "The Whalebone Feathers" to the bluesy piano of Paul Geremia's "The Things That Used to Matter" that close this collection, HOUSE ON FIRE grabs and holds your attention. You can smell the smoke, hear the sirens wail, and feel the heat in this collection. Red House Records has assembled 17 outstanding songs about love, loss, hope, and thoughts about our children's (and country's) future. These selections are written and sung by some of this country's most talented songwriters and musicians.

Why HOUSE ON FIRE? These artists want us to feel a sense of urgency about life; they want us to know the their music has consequences. There are songs about real fires: Lucy Kaplansky's song "Somebody's Home" is about the pain of watching her house burn.

"There's a fire in my house tonight
it's climbing up the stairs
it's tearing through my photographs and choking off the air.
And now the walls are burning too and the roof is crashing in."

There are metaphorical "fires" as well. They appear as the painful fire of love's loss so achingly told in the tale of "Black Jack Davey" sung by quintessential folk artist Sally Rogers. You can also feel that fire's heat hauntingly expressed by the Chenille Sisters as they go about "Howlin' at the Moon." Then there is the fire of hope as the New Dylans sing of going home and trying "to get it right" this time. Finally, the slow, warm fire of love burning in a hearth that Neal & Leandra sing about in "Old Love." Of Course, there is the play on the record company's name - Red House. The album's producers want us to know that somebody's home; very much alive and kicking. This is as good an anthology as I've heard lately, clearly worthy of a tenth anniversary for Red House Records.

The subtitle--"an urban folk collection"--highlights a point these artists want to make about the audiences to whom their red hot offerings are directed. Folk music is not simply for those living a life isolated from society; it is about society and the folks that live in it. One need only hear John Gorka's bittersweet song "Love is Our Cross to Bear" or Paul Geremia's accusation "The Things that Used to Matter" to know that these songs are meant for all of us. They speak particularly those of us who live in the midst of things - our children. It explores the changes they might make as in Bill Staines' "Child of Mine," as well as our worry about them and the roads they must cross in Claudia Schmidt's "Make It Across the Road."

I admit I'm a folk-a-holic and have been ever since I first heard at seven years old Peter, Paul, and Mary sing "500 Miles" and Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind." I've watched and rejoiced as rock, swing, bluegrass, country, and many influences from overseas have added life and vitality to the music we call folk today. HOUSE ON FIRE reflects that life and vitality. Here is an opportunity for everyone to hear some of the best of the current generation of folk singers and songwriters. Here also is a chance to enjoy the finest contemporary folk music. This is music for a post-traditional society with roots deep in that tradition.

©1996, Three Rivers Folklife Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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