Electrifying the Folk | Stephen D. Winick

September 8, 2014 4:14 PM

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Electrifying the Folk | Stephen D. Winick

I've always loved European-style folk-rock, also known as electric folk: the application of electric instruments and rock techniques to traditional songs. It's a style you can find here in North America, as well as in Britain and Europe. I've received a few CDs in this style lately, and I'll share my impressions with you, beginning with Marah's Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania. This proudly monophonic, low-tech vinyl LP-plus-CD release is an homage to an unlikely artifact: an actual, honest-to-God book. The book is Henry W. Shoemaker's pioneering collection of folksong lyrics and other local poetry, originally published as North Pennsylvania Minstrelsy in 1919, and later enlarged several times until it bore the title Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania. The musicians of Marah began with the words recorded by Shoemaker, but freely adapted them, then added melodies and arrangements to craft new folk-rock compositions.

About half the pieces are instrumentals. One of these is the traditional Renaissance dance "La Rotta," familiar from John Renbourn and other guitarists, and the rest are original. Like the songs, they're part folky pastoral and part disturbing doom-metal, all of it deployed with intelligence. The al...

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