Skookumchuck Music, 1996
3104 Carpenter Hill Loop SE
Lacey, WA 98503
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Jim Dubinsky
A decade ago, when my wife and I lived in the Hudson River Valley with two small children, we didn't go out often. Instead, on Saturday evenings after putting the kids to bed, we cooked a special meal and listened to the Hudson River Sampler, a radio show hosted by Wanda Fisher, broadcast from Albany. Those evenings were lovely times. We imagined that we were in a small cafe. It was there we met many of the artists, such as Bill Staines, Kate Wolf, Gordon Bok, Claudia Schmidt, Stan Rogers, Nanci Griffith, whom we have come to love.
Time moved on, and so did we. We're now in Ohio with four children. One of the two babies just became a teenager, and we don't often have those quiet Saturday nights anymore. But, every so often, we hear an artist who brings back the memories of those days. Hank Cramer is such an artist, and his music on West by Northwest has that lovely feeling of being directed right to you, as if he were playing in the same room.
I wasn't surprised to learn that Hank is a favorite at many of folk festivals in the Northwest or that he was a resident bard at an Irish pub. His music, a mix of his own songs, traditional tunes, and songs written by others, has that storyteller touch that one expects from poets and songwriters who frequent small pubs and cafes. On this album we hear stories about love, the sea, the open road, and the sacrifices of life. The cassette begins with The Roseville Fair, a Bill Staines song about love in a small town. Performed as a duet between Hank and Tania Opland (whose lovely voice is one of several that accompany Hank's rich bass on the disc), this song presents love in an ideal way. The other love song, Kind of Like You, written by Hank, expresses a reticent, careful love that comes from knowing pain and being shy of opening up again. The man keeps repeating, almost as if he is trying to convince himself that what he feels isn't love, but if it were, the woman would "be kind of like you." The other two Staines' songs Cramer covers, My Sweet Wyoming Home and Wild, Wild Heart, are also well-interpreted with the personal touch and understatement that comes from playing many small taverns. Nothing is overdone, no grand symphonic background or many-layered overdubbing here, just simple harmonies and fiddle, mandolin, and guitar.
Another thing that makes Cramer's music distinctive is his songs of the sea. He knows the waters because he sailed on the Lady Washington, one of the remaining tall ships which is pictured on the tape's cover. These songs, Pay Me My Money Down, Santy Anno, Liverpool Judies, Snap the Line Tight," and The Ballad of Saint Anne's Reel, all serve to keep a rich tradition of sailors' worksongs alive. The two chanteys (Pay Me My Money Down and Santy Anno), with their rich choruses, are real sing-a-longs. I kept hearing echoes of Schooner Fare and other performers who have worked to keep these traditions vital.
The rest of the tape is a mix of ideas chosen by a man who travels widely across the American West. The already mentioned Wild, Wild Heart and I am Gone, another of Cramer's originals, help us feel the long road and truck drivers' love of traveling. There is also the sense that traveling leaves lots of time to think and to remember. My favorite, perhaps because I was a professional soldier, is Touch a Name, a song of remembrance about the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial in Washington, D.C. Hank and Susan Welch, both of whom lost their fathers in the Vietnam War, sing so plaintively that you can almost feel the pain as they reach to touch a name on the wall.
All in all, Hank and his music are hard to classify. Rooted in several traditions, his music seems original. His work may not appeal to everyone, perhaps because he is so eclectic, but the music here is honest, straightforward, and great for a Saturday night at home. If you want to hear more about Hank, write him, c/o Ferryboat Music, 6702 16th Ave SW, Seattle, WA 98106. For orders or inquiries write to "West by Northwest," 3104 Carpenter Hills Loop SE, Lacy, WA 98503 or call (360) 923-4227.
Edited by Kerry Dexter