With a voice and heart somewhere between Kenny Rankin, David Wilcox, and Gordon Lightfoot, the much-lauded David Roth has chosen 14 songs that affected him strongly in life and during his career as a folk musician. None of them are obscure, most are quite well known, and so this offering becomes a combination of tribute and interpretation predicated upon a common axis of the revelations of art and what it means to be human. That, when it comes down to it, is the task of the folk singer: in a culture frantic to consume and adulate, to keep people mindful of what it means to have life and what we're supposed to do with it.
Often, that's brought about by inspecting the opposite sphere, as in Paul Simon's American Tune, reflecting the plight of being out of synch by means of place and personality. Other times, it's explored through irony and class, as in Lightfoot's classic Don Quixote, wherein all and sundry must grin at others' folly...and their own. More than a few times, it's Dickensian, especially with a song as meaningful as Ralph McTell's Streets of London. Roth covers all these with a wine-smooth voice and very pleasant delivery, flawless in command. He also chose a sympathetic backing group, with the late Chris Jones on second guitar. On cuts like the Beatles' I Will and Michael Smith's The Dutchman, though, are where Roth's unusually soft approach shines, in a tone as gentle and fleecy as down quilting quietly covering, warming, and assuring the listener.
If you like the idea of exotic instruments tamed to temper a pastoral mode, then Beo Brockhausen's your man, toting a sarod, swarmandal, udu, hurdy-gurdy, kantele, bagpipes, and whistles (not to mention sax) into mellifluous configurations, brushing pastels, slyly inserting airs, carrying colorations to overflow their borders without intruding on tone and atmosphere. Mention must also be made of Hans-Jorg Mauksch's moody fretless bass, which, like a cello or low-register synth, flows almost invisibly but affectively in oceanically dark underpinnings, showing where the tears and heartaches are hidden, a backdrop to Roth's wistfulness.
Tom Paxton's Last Thing on My Mind enjoys an especially Lightfootish treatment. If you were shocked by The Move's bombastic take on it in 1970—very cool, actually, in its own overblown way—this version will smooth long-term ruffled feathers. Phil Ochs sees his When I'm Gone tended to and Roth has, over the years, dedicated a lot of effort, in concert with others, to keep the late rebel's catalogue alive. Like Mickey Newberry, Ochs was a huge presence…in a hidden fashion: though he may not have enjoyed the sales he deserved, musicians still stand in awe of the gent's talents and critics have ever been similarly impressed. Roth's melodicism plays particularly well in that respect, lusher than Ochs' own.
For more than an hour's worth of mellow, introspective, adagioed enjoyment, this is the prescription, a long set in which David Roth takes us on a tour with a number of the folk lions of the 60s and 70s, revivifying selections in his own dulcet tones and perhaps provoking, without pontificating in the least, the audience to ponder what on Earth has happened in the interim. Folk music, done right, has ever been this way.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Website design by David N. Pyles