These three veteran Grammy winners look set to win another one with this excellent collection of bluegrass and good old fashioned folk songs.
Tom Paxton, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award Winner, surely needs no introduction here but Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, who perform as Fink & Marxer might not be familiar names to many of us. Suffice to say that their harmonies, backed by guitar, five-string banjo, ukulele, mandolin and cello-banjo have led to them winning two Grammy Awards. The trio are old friends and recorded an album way back in 2004 which, guess what? – won a Grammy.
This recording, a two CD set containing 28 songs, grew from a series of Zoom song writing sessions Paxton and Fink began during lockdown with the trio eventually recording them. Ranging from straight forward folk songs and bluegrass workouts they address a number of topics with historic female outlaws being a theme they returned to often, along with what they call “community songs,” folk songs with a strong chorus made for audience participation. There’s a political bent in here also (listen to the 17 second song, ‘Trump Lost, Biden Won’ with its full lyrics sung rapidly by Paxton – “One truth beneath the sun/Trump lost and Biden won”) as they address censorship and the Me Too movement while many of the songs are happy just to celebrate the art of living.
The album is a joy to listen to, especially if you are a fan of laid back, bluegrass inflected folk songs with all manner of stringed things fluttering here and there. The humour of a song such as ‘When the Big Bad Books Go ‘Boo’ reminds one of the satire which permeated much of the folk boom of the 60s while Pete Seeger is celebrated on ‘Pete’s Shoulders (The Power of Song)’ but when the trio sing a straight forward sad love song as on ‘Perfect Strangers’ they approach perfection. Of the “community songs,” ‘The Freedom of Forgiving’ rings out clear and one can imagine Joan Baez singing it in her heyday and ‘Friends Like These’ is buoyant and uplifting.
A brace of female pioneers and outlaws are noted on a trio of songs. ‘Stagecoach Mary’ was the first African-American woman to carry mail for the US Post Office and she is given an old time folk blues treatment here. ‘The Pearl Of Arizona’ remembers Pearl Hart, a stage coach robber and of ‘Eleanor Dumont’, the album notes state –“Completing our trilogy about wild and lawless women of the west is Eleanor Dumont (1829-1879), card dealer, gambler, prostitute and madam. It was a distraction from COVID for sure, and we wanted another bluegrass song”.
Bringing the album bang up to date is the superb bluegrass rendition of ‘Me Too’ with Fink reminding us that she has been singing feminist songs from her start while the closing song, ‘We’re Getting Back To Normal’, is an optimistic farewell to Covid. It’s a fine end to a glorious album which finds three well versed veterans still at the top of their game.
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