Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Fox & Branch - Let Us Get Together

Fan of the oldies? I mean the reeealy old oldies? Dave Fox and Will Branch have been bringing traditional, roots, and folk music to the attention of families for two decades. The Milwaukee-based duo have issued five albums for kids and their grownups including Mama Don't Allow (2002), Did You Hear That? (2007), Take Time in Life (2009), Things are Coming My Way! (2011), and 2014's CD of originals and covers Let Us Get Together. Their recording debut Bootlegger's Blues (2001) and later album Hot Time (2007) are considered grownup releases, but hey, the entire family will dig both collections. Although their albums are great, Fox & Branch's drawing card is their interactive, informative, and entertaining live show, so make sure to catch them in concert if possible!

Let Us Get Together kicks off with a jaunty Vaudeville-blues song describing qualities that make one a "Big Kid" now, complete with a Spike Jones-inspired instrumental breakdown. The next tune suggests we respect the calmness and sanctity of nature as we walk "In the Woods," increasing the likelihood of seeing and hearing the wonders of those special places. The duo then perform their rendition of Elizabeth Cotten's "Shake Sugaree," a tune covered by Taj Mahal, Fred Neil, and Bob Dylan, among others; fiddler Susan Nicholson takes over lead vocals on the quiet song. The animals and landscape of Arizona are described during a trip out west as Tejano music spices up the tune "Tucson," and fellow Milwaukee resident Lil' Rev (aka Marc Revenson) sings the traditional Hebrew song "Zum Gali Gali" accompanied only by his banjo. The stark clarity of the performance makes it perfect for young classrooms learning the lyrics and melody.

"New Orleans Hop Scop Blues" was written by George Thomas Jr., one of the earliest champions of the boogie woogie piano style, of which this early 20th Century tune is one of the first examples. Fox & Branch perform a breezy, mandolin-led version; as a contrast, make sure to check out Bessie Smith's grittier, bluesy version! The band then promote the joys of being "Up in a Tree" as the waltzing tune describes the sense of greatness a young boy feels high in the branches. "Let Us Get Together" was written by blues singer and guitarist extraordinaire Reverend Gary Davis, who was a particular inspiration to Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady's Jefferson Airplane side project Hot Tuna (one of my favorite bands!).

The gently waltzing "Stewball," a British folk song that first appeared in the 18th Century, tells the story of a celebrated racehorse. Interestingly, John Lennon later inadvertently borrowed the melody for his single "Happy Xmas (War is Over)"! The brief and rousing instrumental "Banjo Tramp" utilizes that five-string instrument, fiddle, and tambourine to create a great square dance tune. Then the duo cover the food-related "Aiken Drum," a now-popular nursery rhyme and song from Scotland that dates back to the early 19th Century. Harold Arlen (music) and Johnny Mercer (lyrics) wrote "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive" in 1944, and the song appeared in the film Here Come the Waves that same year. Fox & Branch's version of "Accentuate the Positive" keep the joy of the original while trimming down the musical backdrop.

"I've Been Working on the Railroad" dates back to the late 1800s, with an end section originating even earlier that century. The tune usually gets a rowdy, rousing reading; however, Fox & Branch invited recently-passed Milwaukee musical legend Larry Penn to deliver his gentle, fingerpicked version, accentuated by his warm, back porch vocals and a brief, historical medley. "Life is Good" cheerfully saunters along, cataloging the endless joys of childhood (and reminding us grownups to keep those tiny, wonderful moments in mind). The album comes to a tender close with Will Branch's "When You Were Born," as fiddle and fingerpicked guitar help celebrate the arrival of a loved one.

Not only is Let Us Get Together a nice listen, it's a great place for families to begin an exploration of blues, folk, traditional music. Like I said before, the album is just a jumping off point: go to a Fox & Branch concert and get the full experience of music history, song and performer backstories, and lots of interactive fun. Oh, and check out Jessica Billey's awesome linocut artwork that graces the cover of Let Us Get Together! The original, titled "The Gathering Tree," can be seen on Billey's website. And for tour dates and more info about the duo who created the music within the album, make sure to visit the official Fox & Branch webpage.

Released 2014; Doodleywag

Track Listing
  1. "Big Kid"
  2. "In the Woods"
  3. "Shake Sugaree"
  4. "Tuscon"
  5. "Zum Gali Gali"
  6. "New Orleans Hop Scop Blues"
  7. "Up in a Tree"
  8. "Let Us Get Together"
  9. "Stewball"
  10. "Banjo Tramp"
  11. "Aiken Drum"
  12. "Accentuate the Positive"
  13. "I've Been Working on the Railroad"
  14. "Life is Good"
  15. "When You Were Born"

1 comment:

Kamal Raj said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.