Back in the early seventies I thought I knew something about music. Hell, when I was a kid I thought I knew something about music. Cheeky little bastard, I was. My point is that I got my comeuppance in the mid-seventies when I headed to San Diego to work for a record store only to find an area so steeped in folk music that I found myself lost. Until that time, folk had always been Odetta and Ian & Sylvia and Gordon Lightfoot and a whole lotta Joni and Judy, you know? Man, was I in for it.
See, at that time, San Diego had one of the best Folk Life Society chapters going and put on this festival every year, somewhat small in comparison to what festivals are today but impressive, nonetheless. All of a sudden I am deluged by folk music I might never have considered folk music—traditional folk from the UK; Irish and Scottish folk, modernized and not; acoustic and sometimes electric guitar instrumental music which, while not always carrying the folk formula, always had one leg in roots; mountain music, vocal bluegrass. Man, I was being schooled every time I turned around.
I was introduced to a number of instruments during my three year tenure in SD, among them dulcimer, autoharp and hammered dulcimer. And there were so many more—lutes and bodhrans and tablas and different kinds of whistles and flutes. So by the time I moved from SD to another folk-centric area, Seattle, it was like stepping from a warm bath into a warm bath. I was comfortable. And I was quite happy, truth be told, because, as in SD, I had plenty of people to talk with and learn from because the Pac Northwest loved its folk as much as it loved any kind of music. I mean, I was in Seattle when Reilly & Maloney grabbed the #1 sales slot two weeks running from the major label artists of the day. I watched George Winston and Will Ackerman top the charts during their runs and, hey, Jim Page (no, not Jimmy Page, JIM Page) busked the streets when he was not on tour and Danny O'Keefe, not really considered folk by many but who had folk roots like you can't believe (just listen to his early works), was homegrown and people were quite proud of that fact.
So by the time Carolyn Cruso and Robert Almblade came along, I was ready—or would have been ready except that I was gone by then. I heard the names, though. It was hard not to if for no other reason than that they were attached to musician Billy Oskay who had settled in Oregon, my home State, and who had gained a reputation as not only musician but producer. In fact, that was how I heard of them. One of their albums had received a most complimentary review in one of the Pac NW papers and Oskay's name was used and—what can I say? My eyes stopped on his name all on their own.
Shortly thereafter, I ran across one of Cruso's solo albums, Have You Ever, and wrote a review of it for FAME (you can read it by clicking here). That album was my introduction to Cruso, but in the one-sheet I found references to earlier album, mainly those with Almblade. I wondered. Until Migrations came along.
Migrations contains tracks from four of those earlier albums. They were recorded by Cruso and Almblade and a number of people chosen for the four projects, not the least of whom was Oskay. Indeed, each track has a special feel brought to it by the guest musicians, from the outstanding (and I mean outSTANDing) fretless bass of Sandin Wilson on Herodias to the understated celtic harp of Kim Robertson on Planxty Berch to the almost classical-but-not-quite violin of Oskay on Reunion.
Acoustic enthusiasts will love the way the instruments work their various ways through movements of new age and Irish and Scottish folk music and even classical to reach the peaks and valleys on which the songs flow. The rhythms, at times, take the music on international journeys of sorts, giving that edge which separates it from the norm. It is always melodic and always adventurous and first class. And the tracks don't feel like they are from four different time periods. The album feels cohesive and settled and downright buoyant.
Even people who don't really like hammered dulcimer (I hear there are a few out there, though I've not met one yet) will like this. Because it is not about the instrument. It is about the music. And the music is not just good, but way beyond good.
This is why we have folk festivals. Simple enough.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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