Ben Bedford creates cinematic folk music with the wisdom and depth of someone twice his age. “John the Baptist” is a rousing song despite its minor key, thanks to its carousel of organ, slide guitar and backbeat drums (“The devil skulks ’round every bend / And a broken soul you cannot mend / Not till you raise repentant hands”).
This collection draws on Carrie Newcomer’s dozen releases on Rounder, adding two new tracks that continue in her tradition of exploring spiritual dimensions in everyday life. Newcomer’s gentle alto welcomes the listener with more warmth than a cappuccino.
For most of my life now, I’ve been sucked ever deeper into various forms of Americana music. I love the simple forms and catchy tunes, the plainspoken emotion and humor, the fiddles and mandolins and banjos. In a worship context, I’m drawn as well to the music’s accessibility and its cross-generational appeal.
It’s easy to write Kris Kristofferson off as another country songwriter trawling the shallows of whiskey, diesels and cornpone imagery. But that’s a myopic read of the Rhodes scholar, William Blake devotee, Golden Gloves boxer and helicopter pilot.
This project by producers Paul Marsteller and Gabriel Rhodes is an admirable tribute to pre–World War I popular music. Each singer is accompanied only by instruments from the song’s period. Richard Thomson’s sly baritone curls around “The Band Played On” like a handlebar mustache, while Graham Parker tackles “The Flying Trapeze” with saloon-and-sarsaparilla panache.
We practiced at “The Decontam”— clumsy name for an ugly place—bare concrete rooms buried beneath a protective pyramid mound of soil, turf, and God knows what, designated sanctuary nonetheless for any unlucky enough “in the event of nuclear attack” to survive the initial blast and burn to reach this subterranean space of hollow refuge. The Station Decontamination Centre—to rhyme the place in full, an—as yet—unfrequented location (praises be . . .) where, Tuesday nights, an ill-assorted crew of horns and woodwinds—sackbuts, cornets, clarinets, even the occasional bassoon—would fumble-stumble along through “Colonel Bogey,” “The RAF March Past,” old favorites from Gilbert and Sullivan, “Chu Chin Chow,” and Noel Coward, rehearsing for the CO’s garden party, full-dress dinner evenings at the Mess. They echoed so, those naked rooms and sounding corridors, as if our music might drown out—yes, decontaminate—the cold, blind fury cradled tight beneath the wings of our sleek avenging bombers; full squadrons perched above in laden readiness, paying no heed to our hapless melodies and marches.