Acoustic folk music is making a comeback both on record and in cabarets around the country. Once the trademark of angry, young protesters and supported chiefly in college coffee houses for most of the 1960s, folk was all but drowned out by the rock thunderstorm of the Woodstock generation. Its descendants, however, are putting their best feet forward to bring what Woody Guthrie called "ear music" and Pete Seeger termed the voice of the people" back to the forefront of American popular song. And they're doing so with notable success.
A favorable Portent of folk's revival was the somewhat surprising announcement that Pete, Paul and Mary were coming out of retirement in response to what Mary Travers says is "the public's desire for songs dealing with personal identity, the spanning of time and pertinent social questions." The trio, perhaps the embodiment of the commercial folk boom a decade ago, will do a national concert tour later this summer, two albums (one studio and one live) and a network television special.
"Folk music has one marvelous advantage," Travers asserts. "It doen't have to be tarnished by the commercial vagaries of pop music. The lyric is too important . . . The kids today are just as concerned about the issues as were the kids of the Sixties. The issues are, remarkably, the same, only updated - renovated. They are still: human rights, women, sexuality and racial equality."
Issues, though, do not solely constitute the magnetism of the current folk revival. Love, humor, pathos, adventure and traditional tales are but a few of the non - topical subjects to be encountered on the spate of new acoutic (or near - acoustic) releases by the idiom's guiding stars.
A certain pleasure for relaxed summer listening is Neil Young's "Comes A Time" (Reprise, MSK 2266) which spotlights the singer - song-writer's capacity for creating airy distractions though song. In the past, Young's material has comprised dark compelling often maddened, emotions accented by his characteristic high-pitched whinny and sparse accompaniment. This record, however, will catch a good many of his devotees off - balance.
Combining a clarion - voiced resonance (never considered Young's forte) and textured instrumentation that includes some sextremely animated banjo an Cajun fiddling by Rufus Thibodeauxz, the songs reflect the performer's optimism in love and self - awakening. The introspective title track is about settling down learning how to adapt to a relationship and sharing experiences with another person on a spiritual level. "Look Out For My Love" is a plaintive celebration of love and understanding balanced perfectly against Young's guitar dynamics. His gentle blend of finger - picking and staccato phrasing is unimposing and always interesting. So are his duets with former girl friend Nicolette Larson on all but two of the songs on the album. Often sounding like a 1970s version of Ian and Sylvia, their harmony is a direct descendant of commercial folk music; appropriately, the final song on the album is a redition of Ian Tyson's classic "Four Strong Winds." Several songs with Young's former group, Crazy Horse, round out this thoroughly enjoyable collection from one of our premier artists.
John Prine's approach to folk music is more eclectic. He incorporates traditional patterns of music with clever, richly descriptive rhymes about familiar people and places. Rarely a verse goes by when the listener isn't dragged into the song's storyline only to be returned smiling from the experience.
His new album. "Bruised Orange" (Asylum. 6E-139) is no exception. Produced by fellow Chicago - folk enthusiast. Steve Goodman, it is a potpourri of high times, unsympathetic women and enough screwball characters to make Damon Runyon pale with jealousy. Sabu the Elephant Boy goes on a whistle - stop tour of Minneapolis and St. Paul to promote his newest movie: Iron Ore Betty and her man struggle to survive in Smalltown, U.S.A.: Hobos disappear from the side of railroad tracks. Prine observes Americana in wry and compassionate lyrics that define our frailties and idisyncrasies much the way Mark Twain did nearly a century ago.
Prine is a true social humorist augmented by simple, homespun melodies.
David Bromberg, whose lyrics and music are anything but understated, has all the presence of a modern - day singing cowboy in a traveling medicine show. His band, billed as "the first folk orchestra." 15 neither truly acoustic nor always together: the closest comparison would be to a funky Salvation Army qpuartet. Somehow, this all comes together to provide a program of musical fun and entertainment on his new album, "Bandit in a Bathing Suit" (Fantasy. F-9555).
Like John Prince's, Bromberg's charm is rooted in his use of time-honored instruments: guitars, banjos, mandolins, fiddles, clarinets and trombones all pumping away like a calliope. His story-songs are recounted with a rascal's sense of delivery; one get the impression that Bromberg is usually one step ahead of the sheriff while boasting about his latest scam. But it is nearly impossible not to listen to what he has to say, to laugh or wonder what he will be up to next as he passes through each escapade. "Bandit in a Bathing Suit" is Bromberg's spirited, comical travelogue in which the listener is always invited along for the ride.