November 2001

Roger McGuinn - Treasures from the Folk Den
Appleseed Recordings APR CD 1046
Released: 2001

by David J. Cantor

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

[Reviewed on CD]Treasures from the Folk Den could refer to the performers who join Roger McGuinn, as well as, obviously, to the many songs of the ages that make up the album. Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Odetta, Jean Ritchie, and Judy Collins are among the greats of the mid-century folk revival (some of them had been around even earlier) who created much of that movement’s richness and creativity. And let us not forget that McGuinn’s 60s band, The Byrds, made one of its best-known and most durable hits out of Seeger’s "Turn, Turn, Turn" -- lyrics from Ecclesiastes.

Although it does not dominate Treasures as it did The Byrds’ recordings, McGuinn’s famed Rickenbacker electric 12-string guitar -- yup, the one you hear when The Byrds’ rendition of Dylan’s "Mr. Tambourine Man" plays in the supermarket -- makes cameo appearances in "Sail Away Lady" sung by Odetta, "The Virgin Mary" with Odetta on backup vocals, and "John Riley" sung with Judy Collins. Partly because the disc mainly celebrates its nearly 20 songs’ compelling lyrics and melodies, not instrumental virtuosity, a couple of McGuinn’s brief Rickenbacker introductions are among the recording's finest instrumental moments. His acoustic 12-string is one of the album’s key elements of continuity. Probably the best instrumental work, though, is the blues guitar of Josh White, Jr. on "Trouble in Mind." The son of the late folk-revival giant Josh White sounds so much like his father in both vocal and guitar stylings that the track evoked memories of listening to père White with my father nearly four decades ago.

Similarly, "Wagoner’s Lad," with McGuinn and Baez singing, recalled the first folk album I owned, 40 years ago: Joan Baez Volume 2, which opens with the same song. On the McGuinn album, Baez sounds less gripped by the spirit of the song but more lighthearted and no less musical. Undying are her dedication to communicating through phrasing and texture and her knack for enabling a song’s inherent joy to transcend its core complaint. "Oh, hard is the fortune of all womankind/They’re always controlled, they’re always confined/Controlled by their parents until they are wives/Then slaves to their husbands for the rest of their lives."

I also find Seeger’s aged voice very moving, as it echoes the lines of "Dink’s Song" after McGuinn first sings them: "If I had wings like Norah’s dove/I’d fly up de river to de man I love/Fare-you-well, O honey, fare-you-well." Very pretty. And the raucous "Whiskey in the Jar," sung this time by Tommy Makem and The Clancy Brothers, delivers a key chunk of the collection’s fun. "As I was a-walkin’ over Kilgary Mountain/I met with Capt. Pepper as his money he was countin’/I rattled my pistols and I drew forth my saber/ Sayin', 'Stand and deliver for I am the bold deceiver.'" I’m not at all sure what "Musha rig um du rum da / Whack fol de daddy o" (most of the refrain) means, but I appreciate that it always comes back town to "There’s whiskey in the jar."

In addition to being fun to listen to, Treasures from the Folk Den will make a good purchase for anyone wishing to hear a solid selection of traditional folk songs that succinctly express universal human virtues, foibles, wit, longing, and faith -- performed as only this unique covey of folk-songbirds rounded up by an aging folk-rocker could manage.