Various ArtistsVanguard Records 79586-2
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
Songcatcher refers to anyone who collects songs, whether a singer or an outsider. It is also the title of the new movie about a female music scholar who, after being denied tenure by her all-male review board, retreats deep into Appalachia and discovers the roots of traditional American music: the rich, obscure Scots-Irish ballads passed down through generations, yet preserved by the seclusion of the mountains. |
There are several generalizations about the music on this CD. First, consistent with the female perspective of the movie, all the songs are performed by women. Second, with only three exceptions, the music collected on this album is traditional. Finally, the music is sparsely, but appropriately instrumented---for example, percussion rarely appears on the album.
An example is Dolly Parton's duet with Emmy Rossum, When Love is New, featuring the all-star bluegrass band of Bryan Sutton (guitar), Sam Bush (mandolin), Dennis Crouch (bass), Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Jerry Douglas (resophonic guitar), and Steve Buckingham (dulcimer). Parton's songwriting sounds authentic and fits well with the traditional songs on the album.
The contrasting vocals of the various women on this album makes an interesting scholarly study in themselves. They range from the silky soft Rosanne Cash on Fair and Tender Ladies, which opens the album, to the traditional sounds of Gillian Welch on Wind and Rain. Emmy Rossum's rough voice gives way to the sweet vocals of Emmylou Harris' version of Barbara Allen. Two songs in minor keys also demonstrate this contrast: Allison Moorer's deep voice is reminiscent of the Indigo Girls' Amy Ray in the ballad Moonshiner, whereas Julie Miller's sing with a much higher voice on All My Tears. The songs range from the understated Pretty Saro by Iris Dement to the Maria's McKee's soaring vocals on Wayfarin' Stranger (a song that may be familiar to Laura Love fans). One of the album highlights, however, is Deana Carter's The Cuckoo Bird. With a driving bluegrass beat by Darrell Scott on mandolin and banjo, it is one of the most aggressive tracks on this collection.
The music on Songcatcher is a wonderful interpretation of American roots music, which, like the soundtrack from O Brother, Where Art Thou, should inspire new fans of the music. Also, if you see the movie, watch for cameo appearances from Iris Dement, Taj Mahal, and Hazel Dickens.