From the Heart of Studio A:
Roz and Howard Larman's FolkScene program on KPFK (Los Angeles Public Radio) has been one of the longest running folk radio shows. Over its 28-year history, nearly 2000 artists have visited the show and played their music live in the studio. From the Heart of Studio A: The FolkScene Collection is the first compilation based entirely upon live songs recorded for the show. Culled from tracks collected over the last seven years (1991-1997), the Larmans have assembled a brilliant collection of some of the finest contemporary folk and acoustic musicians that have appeared on their show.
The album opens with one of David Wilcox's characteristic narration/introductions to his song Someday Soon in which he welcomes the radio listeners, now the CD audience: "Hi. Live music crawling right out of your radio."
Listeners looking for a collection of upbeat songs (musically and lyrically) have slim pickins on From the Heart of Studio A. Many collections manage to sprinkle some rocking songs in amongst the slower material, but the FolkScene collection tends towards the mellow side. The closest to rocking out this collection comes is Lowen and Navarro's entry Writing on the Wall. Even Maura O'Connell's Hit the Ground Running, usually a stand-up-and-dance song in concert, comes off a little slow on this collection. The laid-back style of this collection is actually to its benefit. It makes a great album for closing your eyes and just listening to the lyrics and concentrating on the excellent musicianship that appears on this CD.
Some of those songs to focus on are Bruce Cockburn's excellent Pacing the Cage. Although pretty faithful to the version that appears on his studio album, The Charity of the Night, an added urgency comes from this particular solo performance. Another song which is faithful to its original version, but benefits from the sparseness of Studio A is This Was Pompeii, Dar Williams' comparison between the post-break-up phase of a relationship and the ash-covered bodies and artifacts from Pompeii. On her album Mortal City, the vocals to This Was Pompeii are muffled with background filler of electric guitars. A head-to-head comparison between the versions on Mortal City and FolkScene highlights the superior sound quality and the sparse instrumentation on the FolkScene collection that adds to the solitude experienced at the end of the relationship. This is the only live performance on CD of This Was Pompeii known to this reviewer (other than a rare UK Promo CD).
Other excellent songs on this collection include Dillon O'Brian's The Box, Tish Hinojosa's Love is On Our Side, Iris Dement's Our Town, and Dave Alvin's Barn Burning. "The FolkScene Collection" also includes a previously unreleased track by John Gorka, The Lock Keeper, a must-have for Gorka completists. The album closes to the audience applause of Mary Black's powerful Columbus, recorded at the Veteran's Wadsworth Theatre.
Besides the Larmans, big kudos also go to Peter Cutler, the behind-the-scenes engineer. As noted in the extensive liner notes, no remixing was done to perfect the tracks. The performances were as the radio audience heard them each Sunday evening, meaning Cutler mixed the performances on the fly. The clarity of Williams' vocals and precision in Cockburn's guitar are just examples of how much care was taken on the technical aspects of producing this collection.
The booklet is well-constructed with several in-studio shots of the artists. Liner notes for each individual song include band members and dates of recording, a plus for information-oriented people like myself.
All in all, this CD comes across as a very professionally produced and compiled collection of the performances on FolkScene. It would be great if this were only the beginning of a regular release of the floodgates of what must be thousands of hours of quality performances recorded over nearly 30 years. So, thanks to Roz and Howard for their longevity and making this collection possible. We're looking forward to having more music crawling out of our radios (and our stereos) in the future!
Edited by David N. Pyles (firstname.lastname@example.org)