March/April 1997 Issue
Cosy Sheridan: "One Sure Thing"
by Gene Bertram
I was going to write a review of Mary Black's new CD "Circus," since the announcement of a new release by one of my favorite singers is cause for an immediate trip to the music store. I could have written about how Mary can sing about barbed wire and broken hearts as in "Free As a Stone" and, with her wonderful voice, make you feel uplifted. I was going to comment on her tendency to make you listen by singing in a whispered tone as in "The Circus," instead of belting out the lyrics. There were the comments about the theme song for new parents in "Wonder Child," her cover of a Mary Chapin-Carpenter song, "The Moon and St. Christopher," and the perfectly balanced instumentals that enhance her singing instead of competing with them. I was even going to contrast that with the last track, "Raven In The Storm," a you-ain't-heard-nothin'-yet jam with a full band and live audience. But, to paraphrase Arlo Guthrie, I didn't come here to talk about that, I came to talk about Cosy Sheridan.
After all, if you know about Mary Black, and I assume you all do, you're going to buy her new CD whatever I have to say about it. But how many of you know Cosy Sheridan? You should.
With a voice reminiscent of Nancy Griffith, nice guitar work and an electric bass to fill things in, Cosy is a singer/songwriter deserving of more recognition than she gets. Her third CD, just released, titled "One Sure Thing," is her finest one yet. There are songs here that most of us could either identify with or play to comfort someone. For instance, in "Allies," a song for the dissaffected, she sings; "I know you don't like 'I'm sorry'/ 'cause once no one said it to you/ just like you don't like holidays/ and you can dissapear in a room/ just like what family means to you/ it's a burn mark 40 years wide/ but we are all somehow deserted/ all somewhere left behind."
Then, on a lighter note, she sings about the trials of growing up female in a world where "looksism" is so big. In "The Losing Game," Cosy writes; "I have learned not to care/ what the pictures say/ I was born with this body it won't go away/ I don't need a diet I would need a machine/ to look like the women in those magazines/ no one ever called me skin and bones/ I'm not a frame/ I'm a finished home."
There are also sweet love songs like "I'd fall for You" and "Always Under Your Pillow," "Reach out in the dark/ I'm the blanket while you sleep/ what holds up your head/ and warms up your feet." as well as truly silly songs like "The Mustang Ranch" and "The True and Terrible Trials of Waldo the Dog" "They call him fixed but he's feeling broke."
Of the 14 tracks, Cosy either authored or co-authored 11, though two of them appeared on her first CD, "Quietly Led." Jean Ritchie (with whom some of you may be familiar) wrote one, a lovely piece entitled "One I Love," and T.R. Ritchie, (whom I believe is Cosy's husband) arranged the last song, "Quiet Hands," a beautiful a capella piece that is a great encore song, with words like; "After all is said and done/ after my time has come and gone/ let my life have been the scene/ of useful work and graceful things."
On her three CDs so far, Cosy Sheridan's life has been the scene of useful work and graceful things, turned into songs for all of us to enjoy.
Geyer Street Sheiks Live Tape
by Andrew Limanni
It is indeed a pleasure to review a new production of the Geyer Street Sheiks. The last time we did this was in 1994 when the Sheiks released their CD “Great Dream.” That recording was one of the first by anyone that this magazine ever covered. That was a fine CD to be sure, and this tape, recorded by John Higgins, is even more of a treat -- more on this later. First, the technical details.
Recorded live at Off Broadway, Blueberry Hill, and the Great Grizzley Bear, this tape was released about two months ago. It captures the real live experience of attending a typical bar concert of our favorite Band of Merry Pranksters (and friends).
This band is just packed with talent; friends that we have come to know and love over the years in this incarnation and in many other bands and groups. (They even played at contra dances in the late 70’s.) They are Steve Mote (master of the ad-lib) on guitar, Marc Rennard (one of the greatest in this corner of the galaxy) on fiddle, Mike Prokopf on bass, Tom Hall on whispering National Steel guitar, David Gebben on washboard, Charlie Pfeffer (one of the best mandolin players in the Alpha, maybe even the Delta, Quadrant) on mandolin, and lovely Alice Spencer on vocals.
In fact, you could almost call this the Alice Spencer tape, as it largely features vocals led by her in that great, deep, sexy blues-belting style that we have come to enjoy. Alice really shines on
“World of Trouble,” and especially on “Mama’s Got the Blues,” when she sings about all the men she’s got (21, count ‘em) in towns all over the South.
One of the most charming things about this tape is that the mistakes were left in -- the laughs, ad-libs, thank-yous and gaffes that always happen in a live performance. It’s wonderful to hear all this going on while great music is also being created. This brings me to the point I mentioned earlier -- that this tape is a treat precisely because it has errors in it -- it’s alive. These days we hear too many CD’s released by groups (especially in the traditional string band area) whom we have heard tear the roof off at dances, weekends, etc., but which in their recorded versions often sound weak, wimpy and sanitized. Some recording engineer has gotten hold of these bands and told them what they
should sound like -- totally professional, cleaned up, digitized and perfect -- so that there’s no life left in them. I sometimes feel like you're better off taping it yourself at a weekend than buying the dead CD. Live music for and from the people should be recorded that way! Thank God John Higgins did this on the
Geyer Street Sheiks tape.
Get it wherever the Sheiks are playing. It's one of the best $10 you will ever spend. Highest recommendation.
Bonnie Rideout: "Soft May Morn"
by Bob Borcherding
This album, recorded in 1994, is a fine representation of the modern Scottish fiddle tradition. It features Bonnie Rideout, a three-time U.S. National Scottish Fiddle Champion. Bonnie has played "Soft May Morn" for the Queen Mother, and has played on the fiddle once played by the legendary Niel Gow, considered by many to be the finest traditional Scottish fiddler of all time.
Perhaps a bit of Niel rubbed off on Bonnie when she played his fiddle, for she has a sweet, lyrical tonality to her playing. Once she played on a fiddle of mine and I've never heard it sing so sweetly. She plays airs and strathspeys with confidence, not overconfidence, and with a tenderness and simplicity that cloaks complexity.
Bonnie is not a fiery, Johnny Cunningham-styled, pyrotechnical player, but rather a soulful player of Scottish music. I am hard to please when it comes to fiddle recordings, but this is a worthy effort, one I recommend. The album is beautiful, restful, yet energizing, and well executed, especially in Bonnie's intonation and timing.
A major challenge for any artist preparing a recording is music selection; balancing listener needs with their own abilities and needs to "push the envelope." Bonnie has succeeded in selecting a breadth of music that allows her to shine. It is interesting to note that all the selections are from a single printed source, the "Patrick McDonald Collection" of 1781.
Bonnie was joined by Betty Rideout on piano and Charlie Wilkie on guitar. I was especially impressed by the tastefulness of the pianist's contribution.
"Soft May Morn," MMCD208, is published by Maggie's Music, P.O. Box 4144, Annapolis, MD 21403, phone (410) 268-3394.
Swing Set, "The Secret Circus"
by Andrew Limanni
Hoo-Hah! Swing Set just released their latest recording which is chock-full of some of their best material and most danceable tunes. Most of us know Swing Set for their fun and exciting live concerts, where the dance crowd ususally gathers for swing and jitterbug rug-cutting. (Tap Room Concerts especially, seem to draw the dancers due to their large wooden floor and no cover charge.)
Here’s a chance to own some of these great tunes. Swing Set has not released anything since their “Happy Birthday,” tape, which came out early in the band’s incarnation. This CD includes great swing tunes like “Benny’s Bugle,” slower bluesy numbers like “Blue Drag” and even a tribute to baseball's Joe DiMaggio, “Joltin’ Joe.” There are a couple of strange vocal cuts (“Cabaret” and “It Was a Very Good Year”) and even an old Western tune “Don’t Fence Me In.” This is all the stuff that the guys play in their live sets. It’s all great fun and makes you want to move your feet.
Don’t know why this CD is called “The Secret Circus” -- although under the pictures of all the band members (tastefully arranged like mugshots) are circus names like "Knife-Thrower," along with the real instruments they play -- Rich Tralles on bass, John Chiecsek on guitar, John Marshall on drums, Eric Sager on saxophone and Chriss Bess on accordian. This reviewer heartily thanks them for not including lots of pointless liner notes, but just giving us the music straight and hot.
You will love this CD and probably play it over and over again. For information on how to buy it (or to hire the band) write to Swing Set, 8736 Argyle Dr., St. Louis, Mo 63114 or call 314-426-3525. Swing Set has their own channel on the FolkFire FolkLine. Dial 776-3655 (disconnected 3/2001) (PRO-FOLK) and tap in 2-2. Enjoy!