Fufkin.com Review of “Folksongs of Illinois, Vols. 1 & 2”, August 2007

Various Artists — Folksongs Of Illinois #1 and #2 (Illinois Humanities Council): This ambitious project, spearheaded by folk singer Bucky Halker, attempts to compile the rich musical history of Illinois, which, thanks to its blend of agriculture and the commerce of Chicago, mixed the tradition of the large variety of ethnic groups that settled in the state. Mixing vintage recordings with contemporary performers, you get everything from pure folk to blues to polka to western swing and a whole lot more. On Volume 1, Halker finds a lot of great story songs, many of which are specifically about the Land of Lincoln, such as Henry Spaulding’s “Cairo Blues”. Halker himself does a nice rendition of “The Dying Miner”, while Jon Langford and Kelly Hogan duet on “Mississippi Flood” and I’m particularly fond of Janet (Freakwater, Eleventh Dream Day) Bean’s sober reading of “The Hanging of Charlie Birger”. But you also get to hear vintage tracks like “Jay Gould’s Daughter” by Carl Sandburg (!) and “Lonely Cowgirl” by The Girls of the Golden West, not to mention a fervid version of “I’m Coming Home” by The Staple Singers. The second volume is devoted to fiddlers, and Halker and co-producer Paul Harris run the gamut of fiddle music — there are tracks from Sones De Mexico Ensemble, Pat Roche’s Harp & Shamrock Band, and Nordic Cowboys, rubbing elbows with renowned jazz violinist Johnny Frigo and bluegrass-country star (and Illinois native) Alison Krauss & Union Station. There are good old fashioned hoedowns (like “Sail Away Ladies” by Artie P. Crowder & The Tennessee Railsplitters) and bluesy ditties (check out “Without a Dime” by “Banjo” Ikey Robinson). This is academic but alive rather than bloodless and, for my money, a more interesting history lesson than anything Sufjan Stevens has conjured up. Mike Bennett, Capsule Reviews: August, 2007

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