WHEN TWO people speak of "folk music" these days, they aren't necessarily talking about the same thing. One person might be talking about the rough-hewn, provocative tradition of Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Bob Dylan and Billy Bragg, while the other person might be talking about the highly polished, inoffensive tradition of the Kingston Trio, the Limelighters, John Denver and Schooner Fare. The first person might consider Denver -- with his sentimental homilies and smooth pop -- a traitor to folk music, while the second person might consider Dylan -- with his surrealist lyrics and electric guitars -- the traitor.
The Maine trio, Schooner Fare, is the modern-day champion of the acoustic-pop camp, and the band's new album, "Signs of Home," is typical of the camp's M.O. Tom Rowe and the brothers Chuck and Steve Romanoff emphasize their smooth, impeccable three-part harmonies with just enough acoustic guitar, banjo and bass to frame the songs. The songs -- four originals, seven tunes from contemporary folkies and one traditional tune -- are safely G-rated family material, addressing such hotbeds of controversy as the comforts of home, the idealism of children, grandma's house, the mystery of rivers, New England sailing ships and old-fashioned courtship.
Schooner Fare doesn't have a stand-out lead singer or instrumentalist, but they execute their carefully arranged harmonies flawlessly. Still, they sound like the Yale Glee Club performing at an elementary school assembly.
SCHOONER FARE -- "Signs of Home" (Outer Green). Appearing Friday and Saturday at the Birchmere and Sept. 26 at Merriweather Post Pavilion as part of a benefit for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.