Makem & Spain
Sessions Vol. I
Red Biddy Records 2014
If the name Makem rings a bill it's because Rory is the offspring of Irish folk legends Tommy and Sarah Makem. He once had a trio with older brothers Shane and Conor, but when Shane left to pursue other things and Conor (alas!) got into legal difficulties, Rory joined forces with New Hampshire natives Liam and Mickey Spain to form the Makem & Spain Band. But if you're thinking the new generation is out blazing new trails, think again–the single newest thing about Sessions I is that it was funded by a Kickstarter campaign. This album's feel is that of the early Folk Revival–back in the days in which Pete Seeger's command to "Sing out!" was in full flower, genres were loose, and music was a group exercise.
Sessions I mines folk's back archives and calls upon some of folk music's beloved road-warriors to take the lead: Gordon Bok, Jonathan Edwards, David Mallett, Roger McGuinn, Tom Paxton, Schooner Fare, The Shaw Brothers, Bill Staines, and Noel Paul Stookey. The flavor is that of hootenannies, basket clubs, and kitchen parties. There is, for instance, Tom Paxton leading the charge in a honky-tonk folk rendition of "My Creole Belle," David Mallett (with sons Luke and Will) giving a more homespun treatment to "Roll on Columbia," and Schooner Fare leading a Kingston Trio times two cover of "I Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound." Most of this album is so retro that it sometimes comes–for good or ill–as a sort of a folk revue. Makem and Spain even dust off children's favorites such as "Skip to My Lou" and "Go tell Aunt Rhody." With the exception of "Run, Come See Jerusalem," which Gordon Bok arranges similarly to the way he performed it with Ann Mayo Muir and Ed Tricket; and Mallett's updated look at "The Ballad of St. Anne's Reel," with Eileen Ivers gracing the fiddle parts, Sessons I stays in the retro mode.
Your enjoyment of the record will depend entirely on whether you delight in a stroll down Memory Lane, or long to turn the calendar page. This reviewer felt a bit of both. I happen to think, for example, that "Four Strong Winds" is a sad song that ought to be enveloped in pathos not chorale singing, but that's surely a statement of preference, not artistic judgment. And, in an odd way, it's an endorsement of the project. The twelve songs on the album are such a part of the American DNA, that we're bound to hold views on how they should sound. Call it old meets new meets old. —Rob Weir