Mike Wild of Stirrings
reviews Roam the Country Through by Jeff WarnerI hadn't listened to Jeff Warner's singing for a few years and it was a pleasant surprise to receive this 17 track CD. Like a lot of popular songs on records and in sheet music most are around 3 minutes duration, which I like. Jeff (vocals, English concertina, banjo, guitar and jig-doll ) is joined by Alice Jones (vocals, harmonium, piano, whistle ) and Ben Paley (fiddle) . The songs were recorded and produced by Doug Bailey whose WildGoose studios puts out regular CDs of great quality. The sleeve note cover shows a pretty farming scene in a naïve Eastern States style and Jeff who grew up in New York City has lived in New Hampshire since the late 90s. His parents Anne and Frank Warner were great song collectors and he has been surrounded by traditional song for as long as he can remember. As a youngster he collected from people who were still singing such songs in their communities. There is a nice photo of a waist high young Jeff with Mr and Mrs John Galusha in 1946
His voice is a pleasant tenor/baritone and he pitches the songs in relaxed keys with easy going accompaniments. He can go higher and hit the key of A if the song demands it. The harmonium and fiddle accompaniments added a lot and the overall feel was of relaxed domestic and communal singing. With seventeen songs on the CD I can only pick out to comment on those that seem to give the flavour. Jordan Is a Hard Road to Travel was recorded by Uncle Dave Macon in 1927 as a reworking of an older song from1853 by Dan Emmett of the minstrel craze. He comments on the events of his time and the song could easily be adapted for America today! The Girls They Go Wild Over Me is a tongue in cheek Tin Pan Alley number from 1917 of the kind that Woody Guthrie would sing. The tune has the air of many other songs such as Coming In on a Wing and a Prayer. Several traditional songs from Britain and Ireland, which may have been helped along by broadsides, as well as in the memories of immigrants include The Lass of Glenshee written in Perth by Andrew Sharpe, a shoemaker who died in 1817. A Frog He Went A-Courting may date back as far as 1580; this version was collected by Cecil Sharp in the mountains of Kentucky in 1917. Jeff's long-time singing partner Jeff Davis now does a show with Brian Peters on Sharp's song collecting. Bony on the Isle of St Helena tells a tale, from oral tradition, of ambition with the hero of many early revolutionaries finally brought down by Wellington to live and die on a rocky outpost in the |Atlantic. It uses quite a lot of verse end words that rhyme with Helena, which is demanding! The Roving Peddler was a favourite in logging camps. Gypsum Davy is a great version with the banjo providing a C drone behind it. It was collected by Cecil Sharp.
Songs generated in the United States, reflected new social and economic circumstances specific to the new world even though many kept older idioms. The cowboy song Hitting the Trail Tonight was written in 1935 by Bruce Kiskaddon an ex cowboy who was born in 1878 put to a tune by Hal Cannon a Utah folklore expert. The California gold rush is called up in Days of '49 which was written in 1872 as a minstrel song by Charles Bensell. the Warners got it from old John Galusha and its cast of characters and their foibles and mishaps was then sung to a different more modal 'old' tune, which indicates transmission in print. Jamie Judge was a loggers' song telling of a tragedy in a 'come all ye' style in a traditional manner that accommodated a new activity, that of the dangerous job of breaking up log jams. Jamestown Homeward Bound is a rousing sea song which tells of a return to a land of milk, honey and Liberty. The tune reminded me of the Sheffield Grider. Religious songs such as Beautiful Life from Amish sisters Mary and Emma Yoder in Ohio was actually written in 1918 by William Golden and which rapidly became a country music standard. Train on the Island has a blues feel which was collected from a fiddler and Tenting Tonight on the Old Campground was written by a musician drafted into the Union army in 1863, like Lily Marlene it became poplar on both sides as it touches such a basic human chord. My Dixie Darling is the well-known Carter family song written in New York City in 1909 and which went into oral tradition.
It is the interplay between words and tunes by inspired writers and tunesmiths which circulated freely and were also heard on radios; and the ingenuity of local singers that made American popular music so enticing to an audience avid for songs that expressed the excitement of a growing nation yearning for home at the same time as it was forging new ways of life and expanding its frontiers. I first heard such songs from singers such as Burl Ives on BBC radio and later sought out skiffle and other Americana which led me to finding out more of our own traditions, many of which crossed the Atlantic to form part of a back and forth exchange. The melting pot generated some great music and Jeff's CD expresses it beautifully.