This review is written by Kevin McCarthy, 5/08
"Kevin and Maxine's Celtic & Folk Music CD Reviews"
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Musically recreating events or figures, whether about times and
characters historically significant or miniscule, can be a dangerous
pursuit. Not because of any threat of actual harm but due to the
tendency towards an overly reverential bent bordering on or venturing
into the saccharine. Even the opposite can appear where a veritable
cardboard cutout stiffness occurs. Joe Crookston not only avoids that
trap on his latest release "able baker charlie and dog," his offerings
in that camp stand out because his writing and the instrumentation
wrapped around the songs superbly bring the subjects and happenings to
life and places the listener in and alongside them.
"John Jones" opens with a bluesey riff and then heads into an
escaped slave 'speaking' to his still captive mother. This is the first
song of many here featuring New York state historical figures and
others from elsewhere in the country.
The indelible "Brooklyn in July" is best described as folk noir
laid out amidst black and white. Molly MacMillan on piano charges this
The easily visual and rollicking "Red Rooster in a Mash Pile"
has moments of Stephane Grappeli (Judy Hyman on fiddle) with Django
Reinhardt framing (Crookston) and MacMillian again on piano.
The title cut, "able baker charlie and dog" is a touching
chronicle of intersecting assignments during World War II where the
bulding of infrastructure leads to so much more.
"Hands, Metal and Wood" metaphorically and otherwise speaks of
the craft of roofing, a profession prominent in Crookston's heritage.
Dougie MacLeans "Scythe Song" comes to mind when listening to this
The genesis of "Mending Walls" is Robert Frost's poem of the
same title -- Crookston extends the relationship theme initally
depicted by Frost.
Two covers are done, Supertramp's "The Logical Song" and Dan
Fogelberg's "Wandering Shepherd." The former is a young person's
checklist to rebellion although applicable to those of any age.wishing
to not consume compliance and conformity untested. The latter a salve
to those both separate and journeying.
The last two cuts, a reprise of "Red Rooster in the Mash Pile"
and a take of the polka-ish "The Rutabaga Curl" both recorded live,
provide enjoyable insight into Crookston in concert.
Whether it's solo guitar, dots and dashes of fiddle or
accordion or loads of piano, Crookston's instrumentation choices
choices always enhance the texture. That and his fetching vocals,
strong and sure flow into the head and heart.
Crookston is one of those artists who leaves one wondering
about justice in the musical world and also someone who defiantly
demonstrates the tin ear-ness of the god and goddesses ensconced
throughout the corporate domain whose color blindness leaves them only
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