Where Folk Gets The Blues
BluesWax Rating: 7 (8 for the folk CD, 6 for the blues CD)
Folk & Blues Become Friends, But Not Soul Sisters
Anne Weiss has a beautiful voice, especially when she is singing folk music. She sings it with longing, hope, wistfulness, sorrow, and humour as the songs dictate. There are hints of Joni Mitchell here and there, but her voice is her own.
She also accompanies herself very nicely on guitar and piano. More than all this, though, is her songwriting. Her folk tunes are everything you want from the genre, from the reflective “Have Some Peace” to the poignantly political “Cherokee.” Weiss’s songs explore the traditional canon of folk subject matter and emerge with a CD of remarkable variety.
They all work at various levels, but some tracks are stand-outs. “Compass” is an ethereal lament for a love who is about to go off into the world. If the harmonies of Weiss and guest Mary Cole don’t make the hair at the back of your neck stand up, you had better check your wrist for a pulse.
“Quenching Ground” is a beautiful song that ultimately is a guide to our quest for personal and, in many ways, societal redemption. It is particularly haunting with Ms. Weiss providing her own subtle and intricate harmonies. Its beauty lingers like the dissipating reverberations of a church bell echoing away to silence.
The intensely personal and evocative “Particle of Rain” is not so much a song as it is a poetic exploration expressed by music and Ms. Weiss’ clarion voice. It is the most intimate song on the CD and it made me want to take her by the hand and walk along an endless shore.
This is followed by the anthemic “Day of Celebration.” Elton John was once asked how to write a great song. “Write a hymn,” he answered. This song is a wonderful hymn, secular though it may be, sung by a small choir consisting entirely of vocals by Ms. Weiss.
This is beautiful folk music that pays homage to the golden years of the Greenwich Village folk scene of the late 1950s and early ’60s while maintaining a sound that is very much of the 21st century. It is a tour de force.
All this makes reviewing the blues half of this two-CD compilation so difficult. It is excellent blues-inspired folk music, but it doesn’t really work as authentic blues.
Of course Ms. Weiss’s voice is still strong, clear, and controlled and she has excellent expression. Just not blues expression. She does a wonderful take on Elmore James’ “It Hurts Me Too,” accompanied only by Mary Flower’s lap steel guitar. Even with such a wonderfully original arrangement, she still sounds like a folk singer singing the blues more than a dyed-in-the-wool blues singer.
She also does a jazzy version of Robert Johnson’s “Love In Vain” that doesn’t serve the song well. I understand the need to find new ways of interpreting these old tunes, but this goes so far away from the original as to be an entirely different song. For me, it missed the mark.
You have to love a blues song in which the first few lines reference John Muir, Walt Whitman, and Jack Kerouac. “John Muir’s Brook” is a even more of an anthem than “Day of Celebration” thanks to the superb Just Add Soul Gospel Choir. This is not an easy offering to sum up. But if I think like a consumer, not a reviewer, I have to ask myself, would I buy it?
Yes, I would buy the folk CD. No, I would not buy the blues CD.
If you can accept that the blues CD is “blues lite,” then go ahead and get it. But if you like your blues grittier and bluesier, and you don’t like folk, give it a pass.
Anne Weiss is a talented singer-songwriter who, to my ears, should concentrate on what she does best – folk music.
Kim O’Brien is a contributing writer at BluesWax.
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