The Bramble and the Rose
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
Before there was Nanci Griffith, Iris Dement or Gillian Welch, there was Mary McCaslin. Her rich, pure voice could fill a room, backed only by her open-D tuned guitar. She would tell new tales of the old west, or revive a song from the past, like Ghost Riders In The Sky. And the first time I heard Nanci Griffith, Gillian Welch and Iris Dement respectively, it was to Mary McCaslin that they were compared. Fine as they are, Mary McCaslin remains the standard.
Jim Ringer was a folksinger who had known hard times, and even done a little hard time. He had been a prizefighter as a younger man, and worked the fields of California while growing up. His family passed along a rich catalog of traditional American music. He wrote Waitin' For the Hard Times To Go, later a title tune for the Nashville Bluegrass Band.
Together they were the perfect mixture of coarse and smooth; of grit and silk. This album of duets, first released in 1978, has been re-released on CD. It is as much a treasure as it was back then. With songs from both the contemporary and traditional worlds, the songs themselves show the contrast between these two colorful and talented artists. To hear them harmonize on Oh Death can be downright chilling.
With the untimely passing of Jim Ringer in 1992, this album takes on even greater significance. We won't be blessed with the blending of their voices again. At a time when disco was king, and punk was breaking out, along came Mary McCaslin and Jim Ringer. They were a musical pairing which was simply meant to be.
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Edited by Roberta B. Schwartz