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  WINDY CITY TIMES

MUSIC Women Folk
by Gregg Shapiro
2003-10-15

This article shared 3256 times since Wed Oct 15, 2003
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** Caroline Herring @ Old Town School of Folk Music, (773) 728-6000, Oct. 25

** Emmylou Harris @ Symphony Center, (312) 294-3000, Nov. 1

In the last year of her life, the late June Carter Cash was the subject of much musical interest. Her 1999 album Play On was reissued and her final recording, Wildwood Flower (Dualtone) was also released. Husband Johnny Cash, who would follow her in death less than four months later, is one of a host of family members and friends who made guest appearances on this remarkable disc that like a field of wildwood flowers features a variety of blooms. Songs of hope ('Keep On The Sunnyside') and redemption ('Kneeling Drunkards Plea') are to be expected on a June Carter Cash album, but the real pleasures lie in the revelation of Ms. Cash's unique sense of humor, which we heard on Play On's 'Tiffany Anastasia Lowe' (a song about her granddaughter whose parents are Carleen Carter and Nick Lowe). Here it surfaces on 'Temptation' (featuring the 'Little Junie Intro') and 'Big Yellow Peaches' (with the 'memories of Lee Marvin' intro). Every aspect of Ms. Cash's creativity will be greatly missed.

Something tells me that June Carter Cash would have appreciated The House Carpenter's Daughter (Myth America), the new album of traditional and contemporary folk music by Natalie Merchant. In fact, Merchant even covers 'Bury Me Under The Weeping Willow,' a Carter Family tune. Merchant's 'long and hard' search for 'a true definition of folk music' led her to record this 11-track album which features songs from the 20th Century ('Sally Ann,' 'Which Side Are You On?,' and 'Crazy Man Michael') and also delves into the past for meaningful traditional numbers including 'House Carpenter,' 'Owensboro,' 'Down On Penny's Farm,' and 'Poor Wayfaring Stranger.'

Another Natalie, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia fiddler Natalie MacMaster is the cousin of out, gay fiddler Ashley MacIsaac. Like Natalie Merchant's disc, MacMaster's Blueprint (Rounder) features both traditional and contemporary compositions which ring out in a timeless manner via her sensational string work.

With the aid of Willie Nelson (and others), Carla Bozulich (of Ethyl Meatplow and The Geraldine Fibbers fame) recreates Nelson's acclaimed contemporary, yet traditional 1975 album Red Headed Stranger (DiCristina Stair Builders). Her smoky and lived in voice is the perfect female counterpart to Nelsons's and her interpretations of these songs are definitely her own, giving the listener an opportunity to rediscover these songs (including 'Time Of The Preacher,' 'Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain,' 'Can I Sleep In Your Arms?,' and 'Hands On The Wheel') in a different setting.

Allison Moorer's sister Shelby Lynne has released one of the best studio albums of 2003. Moorer can also say that she has released one of the best live albums of 2003 with Show (Universal South). The live follow-up to her acclaimed 2002 studio disc Miss Fortune, Show contains five concert renditions of songs from that album including 'Let Go,' 'Steal The Sun,' 'Yessirree,' 'Going Down' and 'Dying Breed,' as well as songs from both of her previous albums including the flawless 'A Soft Place To Fall.' A limited edition of Show also includes a DVD.

Speaking of things that are flawless, nearly 30 years into her major label recording career, Emmylou Harris remains at the forefront of female vocalists, and continues to reveal herself as a songwriter of note and depth. As on her 2000 album Red Dirt Girl, Harris rises to the occasion as both a singer and a songwriter on the tumbling, yet graceful Stumble Into Grace (Nonesuch). Stumble Into Grace is also something of a reunion album. Reunited with producer (and occasional co-songwriter) Malcolm Burn, Harris also works again with Daniel Lanois (producer of Harris's 1995 masterwork Wrecking Ball), Kate (Rufus Wainwright's mother) and Anna McGarrigle on 'Little Bird' and 'O Evangeline,' Linda Ronstadt on 'Strong Hand,' and Jill Cunniff (formerly of Luscious Jackson). The addition of Jane Siberry on the songs 'I Will Dream,' 'Time In Babylon,' 'Can You Hear Me Now,' and 'Lost Unto This World,' only sweetens the pot. Stumble Into Grace is a career high in a career that has long been at a heavenly elevation.

Labelmates Claire Holley and Caitlin Cary are two more representatives of the female voice in the folk/Americana/insurgent country scene. Holley's Dandelion (Yep Roc) may open with the bluesy Southern rock belt of '6 Miles To McKenney,' but a majority of the remaining tunes are smartly crafted pop songs that divulge a range of emotions. Outstanding cuts include the title track, 'Henry's,' 'Waiting For The Whales,' 'Playground,' 'Tread Softly,' and 'Waving Goodbye.'

Whiskeytown (and Ryan Adams) survivor Caitlin Cary received quite a compliment and boost when Joan Baez recorded her song 'Rosemary Moore' (from her 2000 EP) for her new album Dark Chords On A Big Guitar. Cary herself also released an exceptional album in 2003 called I'm Staying Out (Yep Roc). Produced by ex-db and current LeTigre producer Chris Stamey, the album features appearances by Mary Chapin Carpenter (on 'Empty Rooms,' 'The Next One,' and 'Lorraine Today'), Don Dixon ('Sleeping In On Sunday' and the title track) and Stamey and Dixon cohort Mitch Easter ('Cello Girl'). If you are wise, you will stay out with Cary.

While you're at it, please consider Sunday Afternoon (Listen Here) by Rebecca Hall; the tasty Texas tunes of both Caroline Herring on Wellspring (Blue Corn Music, the same label that is home to out singer Ruthie Foster) and Terri Hendrix on The Ring (Wilory); the mid-Atlantic torch and twang of Second Avenue (Machine Heart) by Lisa Moscatiello; the authentic Americana strains of Jolie Holland on Catalpa (www. jolieholland.com); One Step Ahead (Rounder/Martha White) by bluegrass diva Rhonda Vincent; Parading In The Rain (DreamWorks), the third album by country songbird Chalee Tennison; and the contemporary Celtic interpretations of traditional tunes by June Tabor on her album An Echo of Hooves (Topic).


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