Debra Cowan's Among Friends: A Night at the Folk Club

Among Friends
Muzzy Music MHM812
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Here’s a CD that worth ordering online (dcowan@DebraCowan.com). The life of an independent folk musician is such a peripatetic one that performers delight in those tour stops that welcomed you like a family member. One of Massachusetts-based singer Debra Cowan’s favorite haunts is the Bacca Pipes Folk Club in West Yorkshire, England. Back in 2012 she decided to make a homespun live album, Among Friends, which she mostly sells just at her shows and online. For those unfamiliar with the concept, folk clubs once proliferated though, alas, they are increasingly rare these days. Think a organized version of a house concert in that they book entire seasons rather than one-off events, but they have the same intimacy as house concerts. That is to say, performers generally play before dozens rather than multitudes and those in attendance are hardcore devotees of acoustic music.

Among Friends is typical of folk club offerings––a few well known traditional songs (“Darlin’ Corey,” “Star in the East”), a few covers, lots of audience participation, and easy interaction between performers and spectators. Cowan has a big voice––one that can make you quake without instrumentation. Her take on “Darlin’ Corey” is one of my favorites of that old chestnut. We also hear her being a bit silly on her piratical cover of Jerry Bryant’s “The Dreadnaught Mutiny,” and in prodding the audience into a faux opera refrain on “Good Fish Chowder.” One of the crucial elements of cultivating a home away from home is knowing what’s important to locals. West Yorkshire was once a British mining and industrial center and retains strong working-class identity. There are several fine labor songs on this collection, including covers of two John O’Connor songs––“A Cold Day in November” and “Carpal Tunnel.” Two other standouts are “The Great Fast Food Strike,” the inspiring tale of how six Ohio McDonald’s workers stood up to the tyrannical clown who managed their shop; and “Dad’s Dinner Pail,” a nostalgic remembrance of shop culture.

Call this one a small gem––one as unpretentious as, well, a well-established folk club filled with locals that cherish a pleasant night of song.  --Rob Weir

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