Combining and re-mastering Grit Laskin's 1980 release of Unmasked and 1985's Lila's Jig, neither of which had been available on compact disc, Unabashedly Folk: Songs and Tunes 1979-1985 captures one of the most extraordinary voices in folk music. Originally issued on Stan Rogers' Fogarty's Cove label, these much-requested recordings have been re-released by the Borealis Recording Company with two bonus tracks. |
For the uninitiated, Laskin is a Canadian songwriter and author of profound talents, incorporating guitar, tenor mandolin, Northumbrian smallpipes, concertina, tenor banjo, tenor mandolin, button accordion, tin whistle, fiddle and dulcimer into a number of jigs, reels, airs, shanties, waltzes, and polkas from a variety of traditions. Amazingly, he even makes many of the instruments he plays, as he is recognized as one of the best craftsmen in North America, and has people on three-year waiting lists just to buy one of his finished products. Best of all, Laskin is an incredible songwriter, adept at combining contemporary themes with traditional styles into a perspective that can capture the darkest of human tragedy and explore the most controversial issues with careful sensitivity. He writes roaring satires, as well.
Joined by a host of friends, including his former bandmates from Friends of the Fiddler's Green, Unmasked is a modern folk classic. The darkly humorous The Life of a New Mother is one such example, as the tribulations of parenting drive a woman to grizzly black thoughts. As Laskin seems to take pleasure in parodies, the rousing a-cappella sing-a-long of Cosmic and Freaky updates the traditional Pleasant and Delightful, just as he twists traditional themes in the slightly risqué The Photographers. Transporting us into the mind of an 18th century boy, Life on the Rolling Sea is a breathtakingly beautiful song with guitar and fiddle. Borrowing an Israeli folk tune for the heartbreaking recounting of the 1972 murder of 11 Israeli Olympiads, The End of a Pointed Gun is folk music at its most powerful. Somewhat lighter, Lila's Jig is the culmination of Laskin's many years of experience with dance tunes, as this album consists of mostly original material. Still, the bluesy gospel feel of Shut Off the Power and Say Goodbye, a rumination on dying with dignity in the face of being kept alive with machines, and the sadly realistic account of sweat shop labor in Sewing Machines, are hardly fluff. Pensive airs, cheerful waltzes, and bouncy polkas balance a set that also features the hilarious anthropological satire of Macho Man and the sweetly imaginative Where Does Love Come From? in this well-rounded set.
All in all, Grit Laskin is a huge bear hug of a folk singer. Every scrap of critical praise falls short in describing just how great his contributions really are. He could reasonably be referred to as a Canadian version of Martin Carthy--I'd just like to see Carthy make himself a guitar.