There’s no reason that folk music should remain stagnant–like all living forms, it needs to change, mutate, grow and cross-breed. Bill Monroe heard jazz and created bluegrass as a result. Bob Wills heard jazz and created country swing.
Both are perfectly valid today, but who says that “Uncle Pen” or “Take Me Back to Tulsa” have to be played the same exact way every time? That’s why I love folk that pushes the boundaries. Bethany Yarrow, daughter of Peter, made an excellent album, “Rock Island,” that really puts the folk standards through some changes, including touches of electronica. I loved it.
A more subtle approach is taken by Dick Connette and Sonya Cohen on the two “Last Forever” albums they made in 1997 and 2000. I first heard “Hide and Seek” on a Starbucks sampler record I bought for 50 cents at a garage sale, and I almost crashed the car–it was that startling.
Sylvia is the daughter of John Cohen, a member of the pioneering New Lost City Ramblers (and a niece of Pete Seeger). She certainly has the folk gene, but also a really strong, warm voice, which perfectly suits the material.
Connette is a composer, and he’s applied magic to old folk standards, giving them an almost mystical gloss that still respects the old-time tradition. The songs, from “Diamond Joe” to “Louis Collins” and “Indian War Whoop,” get new and enthralling, almost luminous arrangements.
Connette told me that some folk authorities were distinctly cool to this project, preferring folk to be preserved in amber. Well, the same critics rebuffed Bob Dylan, hated Coltrane, told Ornette Coleman to go back to Texas and Eric Dolphy to hang up his horn.
Listen to Last Forever. It will change your mind about the possibilities of folk music, and that’s a good thing. See for yourself; there are some Last Forever videos here.