Red House Records, Inc.
P.O. Box 4044
St. Paul, MN 55104
U.S.A. Telephone: 1-800-695-4687
A review for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Alf Storrud
In "The Long Memory" Utah Philips and Rosalie Sorrels enthusiastically and effectively revive the organizing anthems of the Wobblies and other American labour unions. Listening to the selections, one is struck by the immediate relevance of the songs - and stories, as the CD also includes several examples of Utah's storytelling skills. This project is as much a reminder that the fight against injustice continues as it is a remembrance of the past. It's also a celebration of a long friendship-Sorrels and Philips have known each other since the 1950s, but this is the first time they have recorded together.
The CD starts with an archive recording of Aunt Molly Jackson defining folk songs, a definition which indicates what this album is all about: " ... a song of the condition of the people. Which is the only kind of song that is a folk song. It is what the folk composes out of their real lives ... ". There is a very strong selection of contemporary songs from Philips, Malvina Reynolds, and Si Kahn, as well as traditional songs of the labour movement. It is probably not fair to single out individual tracks as the whole album is clearly intended as a montage of songs and stories - and it works marvellously that way - but since it includes a couple of my personal favourites, I'll do it anyway:
Carolina Cotton Mill and Bury Me In My Overalls" are as simple and arresting in Rosalie's versions as I remembered them from Malvina Reynolds' own recordings. "Mill" confronts New Age philosophers with workers' need for "help of an earthly kind" while "Overalls" teaches truths about the dress code in heaven. Malvina may no longer be with us but her songs and concerns are definitely in the best of hands.
Utah's monologues introducing several of the songs demonstrate his skill as a master of the theater of folk music. The stories become folktales in the true sense as he relates the doings of the famous and the lesser-known men and women of the labour movement. "The Charge on Mother Jones", "Harry Orchard" and "Nevada Jane" are political storytelling at its most powerful. The excellent booklet which accompanies the disc contains lyrics, poems, essays, and photographs that help bring back the past to inspire us today.
This pairing of two folk legends has brought to life a part of the past often left out of history books - the lives, passions and battles of individuals caught up in the struggle for justice in their work situations. The meaning of the title - and the whole project - is summed up by Philips: " The long memory is the most radical idea in this country. It is the loss of that long memory which deprives our people of that connective flow of thoughts and events that clarifies our vision, not of where we are going, but where we want to go."
Edited by Kerry Dexter