THESE KIDS TODAY with their sequencers, samplers, loops, USB interfaces, pitch controllers and iPods holding 5,000 songs. They think music was invented yesterday by them and their buddies and tunes are spit out at the push of a button in patterns of Zeroes and Ones. Ainít it time we all unplugged, slowed down and got our folk back on? To wrap our hands around the cool maple neck of an actual guitar and our brains around actual songs passed down for generations?
The Old Town School of Folk Music Songbook: Volume One provides such a service with this topnotch overview of songs that have thrived in the centuries-old oral traditions of American folk cultures. All your song styles are represented: ballads and narratives, lyricals, blues, work songs, sacred songs, protest songs and even some folkified Tin Pan Alley compositions. Yes, it is a valuable learning tool for anyone interested in traditional songs, but itís also a bang up good listen.
The Songbook contains 23 archetypal songs performed by a wide range of artists. Some are nationally known like Jon Langford (Mekons, Pine Valley Cosmonauts, Waco Bros), Dan Zanes, John Stirrat (Wilco), Janet Bean (Freakwater, Eleventh Dream Day), Alice Peacock, Robbie Fulks, Rick Sherry (Devil in a Woodpile) and Danny Barnes (Bad Livers), and some are instructors from the Schoolóperformers with decades of teaching experience. Included is a hefty booklet written by folklorist Paul Tyler that gives a detailed history of each song.
These songs have thrived in the folk traditions of America for a reason. They are tough and long lasting but malleable enough to be adapted and re-invented easily. Their essence lies in their distillation of the varieties and vagaries of the human experience, topics that never go out of style. They are strong witnesses to what we all have in common; longings and desires, good times and bad, loved ones gone and true love found.
Besides, since no oneís teaching this stuff in schools anymore, itís been left up to the Old Town School of Folk Music to keep our vast musical heritage alive for all of us. Thatís no small feat in this time of short attention spans and whiz-bang computer programs. Pull up a chair and join the circle.
Founded in 1957, the Old Town School of Folk Music plays a unique role in Chicagoís cultural community. The School is the only organization in Chicago dedicated to teaching and fostering traditional music and cultures from around the world. Today more than 6,000 students attend over 500 classes each week, and some 70,000 attend the Schoolís concerts annually. Outreach activities reach more than 3,000 youngsters who typically lack access to arts programs.