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Rich Warren's Past Favorites

 

Rich's favorite Midnight Special CDs of 2007:

First, an explanatory note:
I refrain from calling these "The Best of 2007" because the following list is but one listener's biased opinion. I have culled these from the many good recordings that crossed my CD player this year. I'm sure I forgot to include a few notable recordings. All told, I estimate The Midnight Special received at least 700 new recordings, and I listened to about 400 new recordings, of which about 250 made it into the WFMT library, and about 150 received airplay. I do not include reissues and most compilations among these favorites. As the cut-off date is November 15, some of the newest recordings will not be considered until next year.

Once again, this year failed to overwhelm me with exceptionally great new releases, so there are just nine recordings on the list. There was plenty of good music, but only these grabbed me. While I thought about these choices long and hard for several weeks, if not most of the year, had I made the list a day earlier or a day later it might have been slightly different.

If a good friend visited from out-of-town with only an hour or two to spare, and asked me to play my favorites from 2007, I would play the following. Actually, I have purchased quantities of several of them to give to friends for the holidays.

By way of explanation, I have annotated the CDs on the list, arranged alphabetically. Recordings marked with an asterisk are truly exceptional.

RANI ARBO & DAISY MAYHEM: Big Old Life (Signature Sounds SIG 2005)

This eclectic recording infused with energy, passion and variety includes originals and covers, each treated with a fusion of old-time stringband and contemporary performance with fine harmonies by this quartet. After wandering in the wilderness in their first two recordings, Arbo & Co. found their groove in this refreshing and highly musical recording.


JOEL MABUS: The Banjo Monologues (Fossil 1707)

Joel Mabus doesn't record ordinary CDs; they range from good to great. This one is outstanding. While some listeners may run from an entire banjo CD, Mabus gives the instrument plenty of color and richness. However, it's the monologues that stand out, stories the deserve to become eternal, whether his convoluted family heritage or the story of coal miner turned musician "Leonard Lively." Mabus invests a dramatic amount of his soul lightened with subtle humor in this CD.


ANAIS MITCHELL: The Brightness (Righteous Babe RBR053D)

This young singer-songwriter's sophomore outing lives up to her growing reputation and potential. Exquisitely produced and sequenced, this CD of finely crafted songs with layered nuances and enticing melodies guarantees Mitchell a place in the upper echelon of contemporary singer-songwriters.


NERISSA & KATRYNA NIELDS: Sister Holler (Mercy House 80336 00458)

The motto of this release is: "Good artists borrow; great artists steal." The sisters Nields aspire to greatness with this recording. They base every song either lyrically or melodically on a traditional song, or even Pachelbel's oft-used "Canon." The new stories they make up for these songs are intriguing and sometimes compelling. "The Water Is Wide" becomes "We'll Plant an Oak." The production is mostly upbeat and catchy.


*GARNET ROGERS: Get a Witness (Live) (Snow Goose SGS1133CD)

Garnet Rogers' live performance qualifies as a force of nature although it did not always transfer to his recordings. His energy and passion often obscured the details. Get a Witness is his first recording that captures the subtlety and nuance of his performance, his fragility as well as his force. This recording mixes old and new songs, all of which are first rate, with an absolutely superb band that demonstrates perfect telepathy in their accompaniment.


*MARTIN SIMPSON: Prodigal Son (Compass 7 4466-2)

I think of Martin Simpson, in the most complimentary way, as the Frank Sinatra of folk music. He knows how to delve inside a song, consider its every nuance and sing it with unerring sensitivity. However, Sinatra couldn't play guitar and Simpson is one of the finest living guitarists, who gives as much thought and feeling to his guitar work as to his singing. Prodigal Son is a superb collection of traditional and original tunes, plus a Randy Newman song, with great variety and interest.


UNCLE EARL: Waterloo, Tennessee (Rounder 11661-0577-2)

Mix four young women possessing different instrumental talents, eclectic taste, and an appreciation of old string band tradition with modern sensibilities and you have Uncle Earl, which finally came of age with their third CD. Abigail Washburn, who has an active solo career, is the emerging star of the group, but she does not eclipse her talented band mates.


SUSAN WERNER: The Gospel Truth (Sleeve Dog 37101 30261)

The eclectically unpredictable Susan Werner strikes again with this agnostic gospel album. She spent considerable time at black gospel services in Chicago before creating this CD. Thus, the recording contains the passion of gospel with the questioning of superficial and insincere piety. The recording is anything but anti-religious, but rather points the way to truer and more honest faith. Werner's powerfully expressive voice carries some of her best songs on this recording.


WILDERNESS PLOTS: Wilderness Plots (Rosehill RH-111)

If Edgar Lee Masters had been a singer-songwriter rather than poet and attorney, he might have created Wilderness Plots instead of the Spoon River Anthology. In order to understand the CD Wilderness Plots it's essential to understand its genesis. Singer-songwriter Tim Grimm came across a small book full of very short stories, each based on at least a kernel of history, part truth, part folktale. He immediately saw songs in them and took the book to his songwriting group, who each wrote songs based on stories in the book. That group, Krista Detor, Tim Grimm, Carrie Newcomer, Tom Roznowski and Michael White wrote and recorded the 19-song CD Wilderness Plots. There are no bad songs or performances on this CD, only good ones and brilliant ones.


And for humor. . .

MODERN MAN: Assisted Living (Inverted Turtle 003)

David Buskin, Rob Carlson and George Wurzbach finally produced a very funny CD most of which can be played on the radio. It ranges from inane to insane. Most of the writing is clever, witty and on-target.

Other 2007 CDs that might please you:
Battlefield Band: Dookin'
Lou & Peter Berryman: The Universe: 14 Examples
Ben Bedford: Lincoln's Man
Girlyman: Joyful Sign
Terri Hendrix: The Spiritual Kind
Anne Hills: Ef You Don't Watch Out
Emily Kurn: Things Change
Doug McArthur: Thunder Into Heaven
John Roberts: Sea Fever
Carly Simon: Into White
Linda Thompson: Versatile Heart
LisaBeth Weber & Maggie Marshall: The Firetower Sessions


Rich's favorite Midnight Special CDs of 2006:

First, an explanatory note:
I refrain from calling these "The Best of 2006" because the following list is but one man's biased opinion. I have culled these from the many good recordings that crossed my CD player this year. I'm sure I forgot to include a few notable recordings. All told, I estimate The Midnight Special received at least 600 new recordings, and I listened to about 400 new recordings, of which about 250 made it into the WFMT library, and about 100 received airplay. I do not include reissues and most compilations among these favorites. As the cut-off date is November 15, some of the newest recordings will not be considered until next year.

Once again, this year failed to overwhelm me with great new releases, so there are just 11 recordings on the list. There was no lack of good music, but only these grabbed me. While I thought about these choices long and hard for several weeks, if not most of the year, had I made the list a day earlier or a day later it might have been slightly different.

If a good friend visited from out-of-town with only an hour or two to spare, and asked me to play my favorites from 2006, I would play the following in no particular order. Actually, I have purchased quantities of several of them to give to friends for the holidays.

By way of explanation, I have annotated the CDs on the list, arrange alphabetically.

ANTJE DUVEKOT: Big Dream Boulevard (Black Wolf)

Young, quirky, poetic and powerful, Antje Duvekot sings her mind. Her political/social observations are clever and piercing and her song about aging incredibly poignant.


GREG GREENWAY: Weightless (Face SOH004)

He's found his stride and everything comes together on this CD. Great songs, forcefully, or where appropriate, tenderly, delivered. Crystal clear sound with sparse, but superb acoustic production.


DIANA JONES: My Remembrance of You (Newsong SR0503)

Mesmerizing in style with melodies that wrap themselves around and through you. Her love songs are unbearably beautiful, but she has much more to offer than love songs.


JOHN McCUTCHEON: Mightier Than the Sword (Appalsongs 2005)

The prolific McCutcheon based this CD of widely varied songs on writers, poets and artists he's known. The lyrics were either collaboration, penned by another writer, or inspired by a writer or poet. McCutcheon gives each the perfect melody and delivery in his ever-pleasing style and fine musicianship.


LOREENA McKENNITT: An Ancient Muse (QuinlanRoad/Verve B00079200-2)

McKennitt returns after almost a decade absence from performing. She breaks no new ground with this recording, but that's all right. Her voice swoops and swirls in her mystical settings and poetic lyrics inspired by her travels and her heart. It's a beguiling coming together of a multitude of styles, folk, ethnic, jazz, new age and classical.


CLAUDIA SCHMIDT: Spinning (Pragmavision 43157 37775)

A true original, she continues her iconoclastic musical dance subtly infusing the folk singer-songwriter idiom with a hint of jazz, and using her seasoned, agile voice to take you along. She knows of what she sings and that becomes amply evident when she applies her talent to a traditional song.


BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: We Shall Overcome The Seeger Sessions (Columbia 82876 83568-2)

Springsteen doesn't as much pay homage to Pete Seeger as celebrate him. The sound of this recording is not typical Springsteen or traditional Seeger. It is a bright new amalgam that uplifts the American folk song. The songs sound perfectly natural in these improvised settings. There's energy with sincerity sorely lacking from many modern recordings.


TANGLEFOOT: Dance Like Flames (Borealis BCD179)

Members come and go from this Canadian quintet, but it just keeps getting better: The singing, the vigor, and the quality of the songs. Their songs are based on Canadian history, real or imagined, but they've broadened the subject matter for a diverse and more interesting scope.


PAT WICTOR: Heaven Is So High (Risky Disc RDE005)

He started as a flash slide guitarist and blues singer, but has grown into an inspirational songwriter, with a sharp ear for the music of others as well. His forceful musicianship carries the songs to an even higher plane.


And for comedy. . .

THE AUSTIN LOUNGE LIZARDS: The Drugs I Need (Blue Corn BCM 0603)

These guys are more than funny, they even sound great. A great bluegrass band with satire worthy of Tom Lehrer. They puncture holes in everything without ever using a vulgar word; proving hilarious humor can be clean. They are pure fun with intelligence.


Rich's favorite Midnight Special CDs of 2005:

First, an explanatory note:
I refrain from calling these "The Best of 2005" because the following list is but one man's biased opinion. I have culled these from the many good recordings that crossed my CD player this year. I'm sure I forgot to include a few notable recordings. All told, I estimate The Midnight Special received at least 600 new recordings, and I listened to about 400 new recordings, of which about 250 made it into the WFMT library, and about 110 received airplay. I do not include reissues and most compilations among these favorites. As the cut-off date is November 1, some of the newest recordings will not be considered until next year.

This year failed to overwhelm me with great new releases, so there are just 11 recordings on the list. There was no lack of good music, but only these grabbed me. While I thought about these choices long and hard for several weeks, if not most of the year, had I made the list a day earlier or a day later it might have been slightly different.

If a good friend visited from out-of-town with only an hour or two to spare, and asked me to play my favorites from 2005, I would play the following, in this case, with the exception of the first one, Danny Schmidt, in no particular order. Actually, I have purchased quantities of several of them to give to friends for the holidays.

By way of explanation, I have annotated the CDs on the list.

Danny Schmidt Parables and Primes (Live Once LO 9449-2)

Perhaps the most poetic and powerful singer-songwriter of the past 20 years. His ability with words and melodies continues to amaze me. His song Stained Glass is the most outstanding song I've heard since Phil Ochs' Crucifixion. Still in his twenties, Schmidt shows great promise.


The Duhks The Duhks (Sugar Hill SUG-CD-3997)

This kinky quintet from Winnipeg does folk music their way. Their refreshing approach molds traditional, original and contemporary songs by others into their own unique sound. They mix vocals with instrumentals displaying an impressive diversity of talent in the process.


Kat Eggleston The Only Word (Redwing RWMCD5414)

She's been working on this CD for over three years and it's about time she released it. Some of her best and most beautiful writing delivered by a voice that's never sounded better. Often-unusual songs in a variety of styles. The title song alone is worth buying the entire CD.


Dan McKinnon Fields of Dreams and Glory (GRZ1405)

Listening to this CD has the same effect as eating French chocolate truffles while relaxing in a hot tub sipping champagne under a cloudless sky. Hearing McKinnon for the first time was the same revelation as hearing James Keelaghan or Stan Rogers for the first time - a magnificent voice and seductive songs. By the end of the first track McKinnon draws you in and you can't stop listening.


Pete Morton Flying an Unknown Flag (Harbourtown HARCD 048)

Pete Morton has graced my favorites list before, yet he continues to mature without losing his spark and originality. Both his songs and his performance have a delightful twist that separates him from the pack of singer-songwriters. This CD also contains a new and more nuanced recording of his best know song Another Train. (The previous CD that included this song is no longer available.)


Sons Of the Never Wrong Nuthatch Suite (Gadfly 291)

This eccentric trio keeps making ever more interesting and entertaining music. Sue Demel, Bruce Roper and Deb Lader have synergistic talents that have created their best work thus far. It's novel, it's captivating and it's an eclectic mix of music that resists description. The Sons and their music can be serious, comical, and exuberant.


Tim O'Brien Fiddler's Green (Sugar Hill SUG-CD-4006)

I've always respected Tim O'Brien, but I can't say I've been a fan until this CD. His thoughtful and interesting interpretations of traditional music (plus a couple of covers) make this a fascinating recording. His interpretations are at once true to the tradition while being informed by the contemporary style. He also manages to build strongly memorable melodies in his arrangements.


Sylvia Herold & Euphonia: Lovely Nancy (Tuxedo TUXCD927)

Who says traditional music can't be fun and entertaining? Sylvia Herold researched all her songs even though she learned many from her contemporaries. Her three-man band provides plenty of pizzazz for her lively and fluid vocals. I just get a kick out of this recording because I love the depth and veracity of traditional songs with a faithful yet contemporary sound.


Tim Grimm The Back Fields (Wind River WR4035CD)

Tim Grimm always has been a first-rate journeyman songwriter and performer. With this CD he ascends to the next level. It's full of strong songs dynamically performed with full commanding voice. Even better, notable musicians such as Chris Walz and Jason Wilbur accompany Grimm, and on one track, even the entire Special Consensus bluegrass band. Tim's wife Jan Lucas fought leukemia during the year this album was gestating and many of the songs are influenced by her struggle (and co-written by her). A few weeks ago Jan was diagnosed with a recurrence of leukemia. The medical bills are way beyond health insurance coverage. I urge you to buy this CD to help with the Grimm's medical expenses.


The Bills Let Em Run (Red House RHR CD 186)

Another remarkable and original quintet from Canada. They mix folk, bluegrass and jazz and even include a Hoagy Carmichael tune for good measure. This is another group you can't pigeonhole. Their musicianship will knock your socks off and their songs will intrigue you. They mix vocals with instrumentals powered by a great surge of energy.


Tracy Grammer Flower of Avalon (Signature Sounds SIG 1292)

Dave Carter died three years ago and left behind a sheaf of still to be recorded songs. His partner, Tracy Grammer, put her heart and soul into interpreting these and succeeds without question. Carter's semi-surreal, highly poetic songs are set like diamonds in the widely varied and swirling production. There's no way to truly describe Carter's songs except to acknowledge their originality and imagery. Grammer does them justice in her first, full-length solo CD.


I don't choose holiday recordings for my favorites, however, if you're looking for a charming holiday gift, Lee Murdock's Christmas Goes to Sea is a lovingly assembled, written and illustrated small hardcover book with lyrics, illustrations, color reproductions of paintings and other information about the songs and the musicians on the accompanying CD. It's a beautiful and impressive package. Lee's voice and guitar are as entertaining as ever and he has a great crew of accompanists.


Rich's favorite Midnight Special CDs of 2004:

First, an explanatory note:
I refrain from calling these "The Best of 2004" because the following list is but one man's biased opinion. I have culled these from the many good recordings that crossed my CD player this year. I'm sure I forgot to include a few notable recordings. All told, I estimate The Midnight Special received at least 600 new recordings, and I listened to about 400 new recordings, of which about 200 made it into the WFMT library, and about 110 received airplay. I do not include reissues and most compilations among these favorites. As the cut-off date is November 1, some of the newest recordings will not be considered until next year.

It was really hard to boil my favorites down to a mere 14 releases this year. There was no insufficiency of great music. While I thought about these choices long and hard for several weeks, if not most of the year, had I made the list a day earlier or a day later it might have been slightly different.

If a good friend visited from out-of-town with only an hour or two to spare, and asked me to play my favorites from 2004, I would play the following, in this case in no particular order. Actually, I have purchased quantities of several of them to give to friends for the holidays.

By way of explanation, I have annotated the CDs on the list.

Robin & Linda Williams: Deeper Waters (Red House RHRCD 173)
Few duets, and few artists in any configuration have been at it as long as Robin & Linda. While their output of over a dozen CDs has seen its hills and dales, Deeper Water stands out for its strength of performance abetted by solid songwriting. Robin & Linda sound better vocally and instrumentally (along with Their Fine Group) than at any time in their productive past. I've always been fans of Robin & Linda, and will even forgive the Hopeful Gospel Quartet. Deeper Waters boosts them to a new level.

The Mammals: Rock That Babe (Signature Sounds SIG 1284)
They started out as three, which remains their core, but have grown to a five-member band. They prove there's plenty of life left in folk music, even among the younger generation. They have spunk, great musicians' chops, and an innate musical sense. The material on this CD is diverse from traditional songs to originals to covers, including the setting of a Ginsberg poem. When it comes to high energy, they could power the whole grid.

Guy Davis: Legacy (Red House RHRCD 175)
Guy Davis has been steadily improving at his craft since he arrived a few years back. He has a natural understanding of his material and an intellectual vision of it. You'll have to actually buy the CD to see what his goal is with this recording, but there's a rather interesting booklet and opening track to say the least. (We can't play the opening track on the radio.) Besides top notch performances of well chosen songs, mostly traditional and a few original, there's a message with this CD that you will realize when you read his notes and listen to it in its entirely.

Stephanie Davis: Crocus in the Snow (Recluse 47128)
Stephanie, no relation to Guy, approaches the singer-songwriter profession from a slightly different angle than most pretenders. She has a terrific sense of humor and spontaneity on this CD, as well as some deeply moving songs. It's obvious she deeply enjoys what she's doing, something that fails to surface on all too many recordings. I find her style, her subjects and her attitude refreshing.

John Roberts & Tony Barrand: Twiddlum Twaddlum (Golden Hind GHM-107CD)
John & Tony have been performing together even longer than Robin & Linda. Refreshingly, John & Tony are not songwriters. (They've penned the occasional tune, but this is not their path.) What elevates John & Tony to folk heroes, reaching an impressive height with this recording, is their unparalleled taste in material and their complete pleasure in performing it. They are at their best live, and this is a live recording featuring many of Peter Bellamy's settings of Rudyard Kipling poems and finally their recording of the mysterious ballad The Week Before Easter. (Which they perform better than just about anyone.) If you enjoy traditional music, Roberts & Barrand are among its best purveyors.

Lisa Moscatiello & Rosie Shipley: Well Kept Secrets (Shipwhistle SW 1002)
I always liked Moscatiello's voice, but she usually buried it under a ton of production. This recording features it with just guitar and Shipley's sensitive fiddling. Shipley also solos with exciting results. Moscatiello's versions of Here's a Health To All True Lovers and Girl From the North Country are among the best I've heard. I programmed the CD player to repeat the latter song for about half an hour after I had auditioned the whole CD. Moscatiello not only digs deep to interpret the song, but it is reborn gloriously in her voice and Shipley knows just how to enhance that. There's a musical sensuality in this recording missing from most CDs.

Kate Rusby: Underneath the Stars (Compass 7 4370 2)
Rusby is another artist who gets underneath the skin of a song and gives it a new body. Many consider her the best folk voice in Britain. She has the voice and knows how to use it. The CD contains a variety of traditional and original songs, but nearly all sound traditional. I could listen to this CD repeatedly for hours without growing tired of it. The title song always brings me inexplicably to tears.

The Wailin' Jennys: 40 Days (Red House RHRCD 177)
I'm not the only one who flipped for this CD. Red House told me on December 1 that it had sold out of the first pressing. Usually only sisters develop harmonies as tinglingly matched as the ones on this CD. The blend of these three voices is about as perfect as voices come. But it's more than just harmonies, the Jennys get it. I've been following this trio since they began singing together over three years ago and they just keep growing on me. The songs vary in quality, but the opening song One Voice by Ruth Moody, one of the trio, and the traditional Parting Glass that closes the CD are by themselves worth the price of admission.

Michael Troy: Romancing the Moon (self)
Here's an artist who brings a lifetime of experience, including a number of careers and having raised a family to his music. He sings with a real Massachusetts accent that adds charm to his performance. The vivid images in his songs bring them to life and his life experience gives credibility to his superb poetry. He's a rather unusual character in the world of singer-songwriters having started at a mature age. This is one of those CDs where the more you listen; the more it involves you. He's clever and he writes a good melody as well.

Teada: Give Us a Penny and Let Us Be Gone (Green Linnet GLCD 1228)
Too many of the current Irish/Celtic groups have recorded one too many CDs and have become formulaic and distanced from the tradition. Teada brings real Irish music back into focus. They play with gusto and dedication to the music. Their interpretations are fresh and sincere, as well as musically satisfying.

Chuck Suchy: Evening in Paris (Little Bluestem LBR 103)
Here's another artist with gray in his hair, except he's been at it all his life when he's not planting and harvesting or corralling his cattle in North Dakota. Suchy is another example of authenticity; his songs are imbued with real life. He wrote the best song on the CD, Ancient Voices while driving his tractor. That song alone justifies buying the CD. He sings with a wonderful voice and is a good guitarist as well. Suchy is a true journeyman singer-songwriter; he just keeps at it and keeps getting better.

Eliza Gilkyson: Land of Milk and Honey (Red House RHRCD 174)
This CD left me flat out speechless with its power and tornadic intensity. Gilkyson conquers several sensitive subjects in a briliantly poetic and caring manner that leaves you listening with your mouth agape. She has a handle on the human condition and is another songwriter who has survived a lot of living. Anyone not deeply affected by the song Tender Mercies can send his or her CD player to the landfill now. While there is some rock production on this CD, Gilkyson finally achieved the right musical balance and you can clearly hear the lyrics on every song.

Anais Mitchell: Hymns for the Exiled (Waterbug WBG 58)
I am going out on a limb to say that Mitchell may be the best under-30 year old singer-songwriter currently performing. While she doesn't sound like Ani DiFranco, she's every bit as good as, if not better, than DiFranco at the age of 23. Mitchell can write. She writes highly political and social songs, but does so with finesse and poetry. She doesn't beat you over the head, she seduces you. The song Two Kids chills while it brings a tear to your eye. Her melodies are like zebra mussels that latch on and stick to your consciousness. Although this is her second CD, she prefers to think of it as her first real release. I assure you, you'll be hearing a lot more from her.

Coyote Run: Don't Hold Back (Run Wild RWR-03)
They took their own advice from the title of this recording, although alas, this CD is the final document of a group that underwent a dramatic personnel change since it was released. Band member David Doersch wrote the mostly original songs that are like novellas. They perform with power, passion and sensitivity. They even tackle Stan Rogers' Northwest Passage with a large back up chorus including Stan's widow Ariel. I tend to think of Coyote Run as the U.S. answer to Tanglefoot, although they have their own distinct musical style.


Rich's favorite Midnight Special CDs of 2003:

I refrain from calling these "The Best of 2003" because the following list is but one man's biased opinion. I have culled these from the many good recordings that crossed my CD player this year. I'm sure I forgot to include a few notable recordings. All told, I estimate The Midnight Special received, and I listened to, at least 500 new recordings, of which about 200 made it into the WFMT library, and about 110 received airplay. I do not include reissues and most compilations among these favorites. As the cut-off date is November 1, some of the newest recordings will not be considered until next year.

If a good friend visited from out-of-town with only an hour or two to spare, and asked me to play my favorites from 2003, I would play the following, in this case in no particular order. By way of explanation, I have annotated the CDs on the list.

Enoch Kent: Songs of Love, Lust & Loathing (Second Avenue SAS2009)
Raised in Scotland, ensconced in Canada, cohort of Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger during the classic days of The Singers Club in London, Kent applies his majestically craggy voice to original and traditional tunes with equal ability. The diverse mix of songs on this CD goes straight to the heart and mind. Thereís great wisdom in his performance and you can sense a bit of twinkle in his eye as well.

Pete Morton: Swarthmoor (Harbourtown HARCD 044)
Peteís first CDs were rock. With each CD he has jettisoned a bit more of the unnecessary frenzy until this CD, which reveals the naked diamond. Itís just the voice and guitar of someone who has earned a place among the best singer-songwriters of the 21st century. The songs on this CD cover an amazing array of topics from politics to love, tragedy and comedy. All of his songs, no matter how dark, have a silver lining of optimism. His expressive voice serves his songs well.

Peggy Seeger: Heading For Home (Appleseed APRCD 1076)
You might say Peggy is an artist who needs no introduction. Yet, here she revisits many traditional songs from her vast repertoire with finer voice and deeper appreciation than any of her previous recordings. She can make a traditional song sound timeless, yet as current as if written yesterday. She also includes one moving, bittersweet original song about growing old. This is the recording you want to play for a younger singer and say: ďThis is the way traditional music remains alive.Ē

Mrs. Ackroyd Band Les Barker: Yelp! (Mrs. Ackroyd DOG 017)
I rarely include humorous CDs among my favorites because they age so quickly. However, this miraculously mirthful disc combines clever word play, parody, and drolly delightful performances into a barrel of long lasting laughs. In addition to skewering some well-known traditional songs and a Bill Staines classic, conning Pete Morton and Steve Tilston into performing parodies of their own songs, as rewritten by Barker, is the coup de grace.

Michael Smith: Such Things Are Finely Done (Tales From the Tavern 019)
Michael Smith can go a decade without recording and then spits out a flurry of CDs, some heavily produced rock. A venue in California persuaded him to perform audio verité, just Smith and his guitar in front of a live audience. Smith ranges from his classic songs such as The Dutchman, and I Brought My Father With Me to some newer tunes and a few of his previously unrecorded humorous songs. Wait until you hear The Princess and the Frog and Famous In France. Heís in good voice, nimble guitar and wicked wit in this recording. Iíve heard him better in performance, but this CD is the best documentation of his genius.

Finest Kind: Silks & Spices (Fallen Angle FAM 05)
This is the third CD from Shelly Posen, Anne Downey and Ian Robb as Finest Kind. They quite simply are. Great harmonies enhance a range of traditional Anglo/Irish tunes along with some contemporary fare including The Times They Are AíChanginí. They sing with passion and precision and infuse their music with light.

Martin Simpson: Righteousness & Humidity (Red House RHRCD 169)
Without a doubt one of the worldís best guitarists, Simpson is often overlooked as one of the worldís best interpreters of songs, both vocally and instrumentally. He also is a very accomplished writer. All is in ample evidence on this recording, including his own moving song Love Never Dies and an entrancing performance of Gallivan Burwellís The Devilís Partiality. This is intelligent musicianship at its finest.

Ekstrom & Quinn: Front Page Follies (self issued)
The next person who laments that Tom Lehrer stopped writing and recording Iím going to force this CD into their player and press play. Peter Ekstrom and Michael Quinn are every bit as clever as Lehrer in his That Was The Year That Was days. This CD sounds like Tom Lehrer meets Flanders & Swann. Their satire is brilliant, scathing and catchy. Youíll have trouble getting their songs out of your head. Be warned, this is old-fashioned left-wing satire, and theyíre not beyond goring some sacred cows.

Grace Griffith: Sands Of Time (Blix Street G2-10078)
Griffith possesses one of the most beautiful voices in folk music and seeks unusual material and unique arrangements, aided and abetted by her talented friend and fellow musician Marcy Marxer. This CD is full of remarkable gems sung in glorious voice and widely varying arrangements. The beauty of this CD is made all the more poignant by the Parkinsonís disease that is taking its toll on Griffithís music making abilities, making this, perhaps, her final recording.

Jonathan Byrd: The Waitress (self)
Iím not sure this is Byrdís first recording, but itís my discovery of the year. Byrd is right up there with the best of them with a twist and turn of phrase, a facile use of language and the ability to tell a story straight into your heart. This is an unforgettable CD. Of course, anyone who writes a six minute song about midnight radio is all right with me.

Tom Russell: Modern Art (Hightone HCD8154)
Tom Russell has been at his craft for a long time allowing him to come as near perfection as possible as a singer-songwriter. He divides this CD between originals and covers, and his taste in otherís music is as outstanding as his own compositions. He sings magnificently and knows how to tell a story. Virtually all of the songs on this disc are story songs ranging from baseball hero Mickey Mantle to Mohammed Ali to Michael Smithís fictional Dutchman to life in Tijuana.

Danú: The Road Less Traveled (Shanachie 78057)
In a year with several better than usual Irish and Celtic releases, such as those from Solas and Teada, this one shines. The sublime vocals by the groupís new singer, Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, capture the essence a song whether a traditional shoemakerís lament or a contemporary mystical song. Several outstanding singers have attempted covering Richard Thompsonís Farewell Farewell, but this is the first exquisite interpretation since Sandy Denny first recorded it over 30 years ago. The instrumentals are dynamite as well with the typically superb musicianship of this group.


Rich's favorite Midnight Special CDs of 2002:

Blue Murder: No One Stands Alone Topic TSCD537 (415-457-9080)

You may remember hysteria about rock and roll super groups, well this is the folk equivalent. When you put the Waterson-Carthy clan together with Barry Coope, Jim Boyes and Lester Simpson you have the best that British traditional music has to offer. They sing a variety of traditional songs from both sides of the pond, and some original songs, one of which, "The Goodnight Song" by Boyes, will certainly pass into tradition.

Carrie Newcomer: The Gathering of Spirits Philo 116 711 243-2

I will admit to being a sucker for a great alto voice, and Newcomer certainly sings with one. More than vocal quality, she sings with an authority and nuance that conveys her original songs on this CD with great impact. Newcomer continually grows as a songwriter and her life-affirming journey on this CD demonstrates that.

Liz Carroll: Lake Effect Green Linnet GLCD 1220

We received about a dozen or more recordings of great Irish fiddlers this year. Liz Carroll is more than a great Irish-American fiddler. She is innovative within the tradition, and puts a remarkable amount of feeling and expressiveness into her fiddling. She is among the rare group of violin players whose fiddle truly sings.

Michael Cooney: Together Again Cove Haven CHRCD001 (207-832-9931)

This CD, 20 years in the making, returns an exceptionally talented interpreter of folk and other music to the scene. Were is not for a tragic automobile accident a bit over 20 years ago, Michael Cooney would be one of the most prominent figures on the contemporary folk scene. Cooney has recovered with no loss of talent or taste. The 17 songs he chose for this CD range from the sublime to ridiculous, interpreted as only Cooney can, with a canny sophistication that sounds absolutely traditional.

Andrew Calhoun: Tiger Tattoo Waterbug WBG0053

Once a Chicagoan, Andrew Calhoun now resides in Portland, Oregon. His writing has varied like a roller coaster at Great America, but this CD showcases Andrew at his best. The depth of emotion so deeply entwined in Calhoun's poetry in service of stories only Calhoun could tell is arresting. It's been awhile since Calhoun released a CD, and now it's obvious why. He also includes for the first time on a recording one of his oldest, most passionate songs, Day in and Night Out.

Kim & Reggie Harris: Simplicity Appleseed APRCD 1061 (610-701-5755)

Kim & Reggie Harris roam far and wide on this recording with their loving harmonies and shared insights bringing to life and light 68 minutes of music, from Kim's experience ministering at Ground Zero to Pete Seeger's Rainbow Race sung with Magpie, from a soulful and rocking This Little Light of Mine to Phil Ochs' Changes, this CD covers some great musical ground.

Enoch Kent: I'm A Workin' Chap 2nd AV SAS2007 (416-686-1616)

Born and raised in Scotland many decades ago, living in Canada, Enoch Kent fuses contemporary music into a traditional sound, mostly setting his original lyrics to traditional Scottish melodies, as well as including a Ewan MacColl song. Kent's songs carry on MacColl's political tradition, as well as a love song or two. There's something riveting about the traditional sound and setting of this CD.

John McCutcheon: The Greatest Story Never Told Red House RHRCD 163 (800-695-4687)

The master of contemporary protest is at the top of his form with this CD. The song Not In My Name is one of his best.

Tanglefoot: Agnes on the Cowcatcher Borealis BCD 143 (877-530-4288)

This quintet writes and sings songs based on Canadian history. Think of it as listening to 14 historical novellas sung in great harmonies with zest and compassion.

Cathy Fink & Marcie Marxer: Postcards Community Music CMCD203 (800-669-3942)

Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer surface from recording mainly children's CDs to offer a superb collection of traditional and contemporary songs (there's only one original that Fink penned with Tom Paxton). Marxer's performance of Billy Bragg's setting of Woody Guthrie's Birds and Ships is worth the price alone, and Here Is the Chorus by Bernard Carney is one of the funniest songs I've heard on CD in a long while.

James Keelagahn: Home Appleseed APRCD 1059

Home is another fine collection from the master song craftsman sung with a voice that's pure pleasure. A variety of fascinating songs, mostly original, but including a lively interpretation of a David Francey song and a traditional Irish song.

Aoife Clancy: Silvery Moon Appleseed APRCD 1065

Although she has been releasing CDs in Ireland for some time, this is her first official U.S. release. It includes a wonderful version of Kisses Sweeter Than Wine sung as a duet with her late father, Bobby Clancy. As much as her alluring voice, the collection of songs on this CD, nearly evenly split between traditional and outstanding songs by contemporary writers, makes this one a pleasure.

Ralph Stanley: Ralph Stanley DMZ Columbia CK 86625

Ralph Stanley is a living work of American musical history, returned to deserved prominence by the movie O Brother Where Art Thou? On this CD he sings a collection of mostly traditional songs he has visited many times with a depth and understanding that few, if any, can match. I suspect this may be the recording by which he wishes to be remembered.