It's What We Do

Various Artists

(DR CD 3020)
Daring Records
P.O. Box 793
Marblehead, MA 01945

A review written for The Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
By Gary Coombs


When I received my review copy of the Daring Records compilation, "It's What We Do", I discovered, somewhat to my chagrin, that it was not the compilation of singer/songwriter music that I had expected. In reading the liner notes I had half convinced myself that I was in way over my head. Here in my hands was a compilation that included a wide range of musical styles, from folk to jazz, blues to zydeco, and Celtic to stride. There was even one track of ambient sound recorded in the British Virgin Islands. Several of the tracks were drawn from the soundtracks of such films as "The Secret of Roan Inish", "Passionfish", and "Matewan", reflecting the relationship between the founder of the label, Mason Daring, and the filmmaker, John Sayles, developed when Daring produced the musical scores for the films. How could I hope to do justice reviewing such farflung musics? I decided that there was nothing for it but to forge ahead and begin a musical journey following the treasure map so carefully crafted by Mason Daring.

When I studied the track listing more carefully, I found that it did, in fact, start off in familiar territory, two tracks of contemporary folk music wonderfully delivered by Bob Franke. On "Eye of the Serpent" and "Trouble in This World", the listener is treated to Franke's gentle voice and poetic lyrics. Listening to Bob Franke sing his compositions is like hearing an old friend sitting down to sing you one of your favorite songs or his newest discovery; it's a comfortable experience and a true joy. Two tracks by Jeanie Stahl, including one with Bill Staines sharing vocals, were equally joyful for me. She has a lovely, warm voice and clear enunciation that allows the lyrics to shine. "Lord Franklin" is a traditional piece telling the story of a noble, but ill-fated, sailor seeking the Northwest Passage. Fans of David Wilcox will recognize the traditional tune from his song "Jamie's Secret". Bill Staines joins Stahl on a song he wrote, "Music to Me", their voices blending beautifully. Stahl reappears on another track, "River", from a recording she did with Mason Daring of songs from their days on the coffeehouse circuit. This track is a bit more lush in terms of the instrumentation and harmonies than the other two cuts, though in no way does this overwhelm the beauty of her voice. Several tracks of jazz started to take me farther afield. Billy Novick's smooth clarinet and saxophone work are salted through the compilation performed by various combos, including a trio, a quintet, and one duet with Guy Van Duser on acoustic guitar. Jazz is a musical genre that I have not spent a lot of time listening to, yet I found myself quite drawn to these tracks. Personally, I sometimes find many types of jazz to be somewhat inaccessible, yet my toes were tapping along with Novick's combos. I had a similar experience with the piano-based blues tracks by Butch Thompson. While I don't know stride from barrelhouse from ragtime, I do know that each of his four tracks was able to peak my interest in learning more about the various styles. A particular treat was a track drawn from a collaboration Thompson did with Doc Cheatham, an 89-year-old trumpeter and singer. Duke Levine contributes two tracks of "blues-country-soul" guitar work that further demonstrates the eclectic nature of the Daring Records catalog.

Perhaps that eclecticism is best exemplified by the three tracks drawn from the Sayles' soundtracks. "Return to Roan Inish" from the film 'The Secret of Roan Inish' offers the lovely Celtic vocals of Maire Breatnach over Mason Daring's arrangement of fiddles, flute, guitar, and drums. Contrast this to the spicy Cajun zydeco track "Oh Negresse" by John Delafose and the Eunice Playboys from the 'Passionfish' soundtrack and the union call to West Virginia coal miners embodied in the mountain folk tune "Fire in the Hole" by Hazel Dickens, Gerry Milnes, and John Curtis from the 'Matewan' soundtrack, and you discover that Mason Daring has led you on a grand tour of musical styles with treasures all along the route. The CD "It's What We Do" is available for only $10. If you want an introduction to the Daring Records catalog and a smorgasbord of music, give this one a try.

[Edited by: David Schultz]

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

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