Are a few lost treasures to be found among today’s albums? Here are two artists who played a sizable but often overlooked role in the folk revival of the 1960s.
We Dream Forever
[Crazy Creek (2009)]
The first wife of folksinger Richard Fariña (1937-1966), Carolyn Hester was one of the underappreciated instigators of Greenwich Village’s folk music scene of the early 1960s. Though she never achieved the commercial success of her peers Joan Baez and Judy Collins, the Waco, Texas-born, Southern California-based singer-guitarist influenced Buddy Holly, with whom she recorded still-unreleased tracks; Bob Dylan, who made his recording debut playing harmonica on her 1961 self-titled third album; and fellow Texan Nanci Griffith. On We Dream Forever, her first full-length album in a decade, Hester makes a strong case for being more than a historic footnote. Joined by her daughters Amy and Karla Blum as co-producers, songwriters, and performers, the 73-year-old Hester uses her still-penetrating soprano vocals to celebrate the rich traditions of folksong. Electric bass and keyboards offer occasional tone coloring, but arrangements remain centered on sparse strains of acoustic guitar. Hester showcases her songwriting skills with the Leonard Cohen-esque original “There’s An English Cowboy” and “Skyscrapers,” written with her daughters, Hester scores the most points with her interpretations of Kate Wolf’s Native American ode “Brother Warrior,” Ed McCurdy’s antiwar tune “Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream,” and a solo reprise of Bob Dylan’s “Boots Of Spanish Leather,” which she previously sang with Griffith at Dylan’s nationally broadcast 30th anniversary celebration at Madison Square Garden in 1992.
—Craig Harris (Chicopee, MA)
The Lost 1966 Waldeck Audition
[Bear Family Records (2010, rec. 1966)]
Today John Pearse is probably best known as a string manufacturer, or as the author of some of the definitive books on how to play folk guitar, including some of the first packages that combined instruction books with records or tapes. Pearse, who passed away in 2008, was also a key player in the folk revival, and recorded a number of influential guitar albums, mostly in the U.K. and Europe. The Lost 1966 Waldeck Audition, rather than being an audition per se, was an off-the-cuff performance Pearse was coaxed into by Jürgen Hähle, one of the organizers of the influential Waldeck Folk Festival, to test some new recording equipment. Microphones were set up in a pub, Pearse was plied with good German wine, and he proceeded to play an off-the-cuff set of American and U.K. folk and blues tunes. Long forgotten, the tape came to light in Hähle’s archives, and was released in its entirety on this Bear Family release. The performance is not a showcase of fancy picking or brilliant songwriting, but it is a relaxed, engaging set that provides a rare glimpse of an influential but relatively unknown luminary of the folk revival.
—Michael Parrish (San Jose, CA)
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