Roam the Country Through

by Jeff Warner

I’ve been surrounded by traditional song for as long as I can remember. As a boy, and later as a teen, I was with my parents, Anne and Frank Warner, on some of their song-collecting trips in North Carolina and New York State’s Adirondack Mountains. I learned first-hand the value rural singers placed on the songs passed down to them. I’m glad I got to meet people for whom old songs were their main—sometimes only—music. Some of the songs on this album I learned from the singers my parents met, some from early country music recordings and most, I see, from friends along the way who had the same love of tradition that I did. Now, I’m proud to pass them on to new friends.

Tracks on the album are accompanied by:-

Jeff Warner: vocals, English concertina, banjo, guitar, jig-doll; 

Alice Jones: vocals, harmonium, piano, whistle;

Ben Paley: fiddle



1. Jordan is a Hard Road to Travel

Uncle Dave Macon (1870-1952), first star of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, recorded this song in 1927.  It was his re-working of Dan Emmett’s song written in 1853—which very well might have been a parody of an earlier song.  Emmett (1815-1904), along with his band the Virginia Minstrels, helped bring the minstrel craze to the New York stage in 1843. Uncle Dave’s verses comment humorously on his times, and hint at his talent as a stage entertainer and banjoist. Macon recorded about 170 songs in his career, even though he didn’t become a professional musician until he was in his 50s.  He was known as the “Dixie Dewdrop.”

2. Beautiful Life

I learned this from Ohio fiddler Jeff Goering who learned it from Amish sisters Mary and Emma Yoder from the village of Charm in eastern Ohio.  As I found later, it was written by William Golden in 1918.  It became a country and bluegrass standard, often performed faster than the Yoders’ version.  But this is the way I first heard and loved the song.

3. Girls They Go Wild Over Me

This starts out as a 1917 Tin Pan Alley popular song “They Go Wild, Simply Wild Over Me,” written by Fred Fisher, music and Joseph McCarthy, lyrics. But I learned it in the 1970s from Mac Benford, banjo player and songster for the famed Highwoods String Band of Ithaca, New York.  From correspondence with Mac, it appears many hands re-shaped the song over the decades—perhaps most especially Mac himself.

4. A Frog He Went A-Courting

This old English song goes back to at least 1580, and there is much speculation that the “mouse” could be Queen Elizabeth I; others say perhaps Mary Queen of Scots.  This version was collected in the mountains of Kentucky in 1917 by English song collector Cecil Sharp.  I learned it in the 1980s from a charming singer—and renowned arts administrator—Dick Lewis of Portland, Oregon.

5. Lass of Gleanshea

John Galusha (1859-1950) sang this song to my parents, Anne and Frank Warner, in 1941.  John lived in Minerva, New York, deep in the Adirondack Mountains.  He spent his life as a logger, later as a guide and forest ranger. “Glenshee,” widely sung in the lumber camps of the northeast US and Canada, was written by Andrew Sharpe, shoemaker and song-writer of Perth, Scotland, who died there in 1817.

6. Hitting the Trail Tonight           

This is a 1935 poem by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950) reflecting his work as a cowboy in Colorado and Arizona.  The tune is by Hal Cannon, former Utah State Folklorist and member of the Deseret String Band.  He published it in Old Time Cowboy Songs, Peregrine Smith Books, Salt Lake City, 1988.

7. Gypsum Davy

Cecil Sharp collected this version of the “Gypsy Laddie” ballad in the mountains of Tennessee in 1916.  The fine mixolydian tune is as he found it.  I have inadvertently added text from other versions over the years, but the story remains the same, one that has echoed down the generations.  I play it in double C banjo tuning.

8. Bony on the Isle of St. Helena

Anne and Frank Warner met the Tilletts in 1940, on an early song-collecting trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  Charles, known as “Tink,” and his wife Eleazar gave the Warners many great songs over the years, including “Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still.” Tink learned this song about the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte, in oral tradition, “perhaps from a shipwrecked sailor.” Years after noting down the song, the Warners discovered that Tink’s “Be’est it best in time” in the last verse of the song was a mis-hearing of “Be ye steadfast in time.”

9. Roving Peddler

A version of the “The Roving Journeyman” collected in 19th century England and Ireland, the “Roving Peddler” (or Pedlar) was in the northeastern US as early as 1851, in the Philadelphia published “Bobbing Around Songster.”  A favorite in logging camps in the US and Canada, I learned it from the repertoire of New York State’s Catskill Mountain logger George Edwards (1877-1949).

10. Days of ‘49

John Galusha gave this to the Warners in 1941.  A nostalgic look back at the California gold rush camps, it first appears in print in San Francisco in 1872, a minstrel song (without chorus) written by Charles Bensell (aka Charley Rhoades), d. 1877, with a tune different from Galusha’s.  The Galusha-Warner version appeared in John and Alan Lomax’s Folk Song USA in 1947 and has become the standard melody for the song. I use a G minor banjo tuning, gDGBbD.

11. Better Home

I learned this in the 1980s from Jeff Todd Titon, now of Brown University.  He learned it from the Rev. John Sherfey in Stanley, Virginia, in 1977, during long research that became his book Powerhouse for God, University of Texas Press, 1988.  “Better Home” (“When I Get Home”) was probably written in the early 20th century.

12. My Dixie Darling

This is the Carter Family version of a widely popular country song.  Like many Carter Family hits, it was originally a Tin Pan Alley popular song, this one written in New York City in 1909, as “Dixie Darlings,” Percy Wenrich music, Arthur Gillespie words. As the song passed down in oral tradition, some text was lost or changed.  Often confused by the “girls of the north” reference in the song, I put together a third verse, using text from the original sheet music, that attempts to clarify.

13. Jamie Judge

Another from the repertoire of New York Adirondack Mountain singer John Galusha.  It is one of many logging camp songs reflecting the dangers of trying to break up log jams in a river during spring log drives.  The Bonshee River probably refers to the Bonnechere River in Renfrew County, Ontario.

14. Train on the Island

I learned this in the 1980s from Craig Johnson and The Double Decker String Band in Washington, D.C.  Of themselves and their music they said, “Oldtime country music is the source. Delight and bewilderment is the result.”  They got the song from Virginia fiddler Luther Davis (1888-1985).  The often-enigmatic text varies from source to source—I selected from several.

15. Tenting Tonight

I’ve heard this American standard all my life—but I wasn’t drawn to it until I learned that it was written in my adopted state of New Hampshire.  Walter Kittredge (1834-1905), a famed musician known as the “Minstrel of the Merrimac,” was drafted into the Union Army in 1863.  He quickly wrote and performed the song which became well-known on both sides of the Civil War—and remained so after the conflict.  Kittredge, as it turned out, did not pass his physical and did not serve in the Union Army.

16. It’s My Lazy Day

“Lazy Day” was written by Smiley Burnette (1911-1967) and was featured in the Western movie Bordertown Trails in 1944.  Burnette was a comic actor, songwriter and musician who often appeared in Hollywood films as sidekick to Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.  I learned the song from famed West Coast fiddler Hank Bradley, who was stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in the 1960s.  He came up regularly to play music at our coffee house in Durham, NC.  It was formally known as the Triangle Coffee House, but we locals called it by the institution’s old name the “Null and Void.”

17. Jamestown Homeward Bound

Jeff Davis, my music partner for twenty years, found “Jamestown” in Joanna Colcord’s 1938 book, Songs of American Sailormen.  Davis made some subtle changes to the melody and we recorded it in the 1980s.  It’s time to revisit this anthemic song.

1
Jordan is a Hard Road to Travel
Uncle Dave Macon (1870-1952)
2
Beautiful Life
I learned this from Ohio fiddler Jeff Goering who learned it from Amish sisters Mary and Emma Yoder from the village of Charm in eastern Ohio. As I found later
3
Girls They Go Wild Over Me
This starts out as a 1917 Tin Pan Alley popular song “They Go Wild
4
A Frog He Went A-Courting
This old English song goes back to at least 1580
Sample not available
5
Lass of Gleanshea
John Galusha (1859-1950) sang this song to my parents
Sample not available
6
Hitting the Trail Tonight
This is a 1935 poem by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950) reflecting his work as a cowboy in Colorado and Arizona. The tune is by Hal Cannon
Sample not available
7
Gypsum Davy
Cecil Sharp collected this version of the “Gypsy Laddie” ballad in the mountains of Tennessee in 1916. The fine mixolydian tune is as he found it. I have inadvertently added text from other versions over the years
8
Bony on the Isle of St. Helena
Anne and Frank Warner met the Tilletts in 1940
Sample not available
9
Roving Peddler
A version of the “The Roving Journeyman” collected in 19th century England and Ireland
Sample not available
10
Days of ‘49
John Galusha gave this to the Warners in 1941. A nostalgic look back at the California gold rush camps
Sample not available
11
Better Home
I learned this in the 1980s from Jeff Todd Titon
12
My Dixie Darling
This is the Carter Family version of a widely popular country song. Like many Carter Family hits
Sample not available
13
Jamie Judge
Another from the repertoire of New York Adirondack Mountain singer John Galusha. It is one of many logging camp songs reflecting the dangers of trying to break up log jams in a river during spring log drives. The Bonshee River probably refers to the Bonnechere River in Renfrew County
Sample not available
14
Train on the Island
I learned this in the 1980s from Craig Johnson and The Double Decker String Band in Washington
Sample not available
15
Tenting Tonight
I’ve heard this American standard all my life—but I wasn’t drawn to it until I learned that it was written in my adopted state of New Hampshire. Walter Kittredge (1834-1905)
Sample not available
16
It’s My Lazy Day
“Lazy Day” was written by Smiley Burnette (1911-1967) and was featured in the Western movie Bordertown Trails in 1944. Burnette was a comic actor
17
Jamestown Homeward Bound
Jeff Davis
Sample not available

folking.com

Dai Jeffries

Roam The Country ThroughIf you haven't yet heard Jeff Warner live, you have a rare treat in store. Jeff is the son of two of America's foremost song collectors, Frank and Anne Warner and, as such, his knowledge is unparalleled. On stage he is relaxed and genial swapping between concertina, banjo and guitar � and sometimes jig-doll � and rarely have I so devoutly wished that a gig would never end. I do love Americana and Roam The Country Through is what I mean by that. This is the real thing.

All these songs are traditional except when they're not and I probably should explain what I mean by that. Take the opening track, 'Jordan Is A Hard Road To Travel'. Most of us would consider it to be traditional but Jeff's version owes much to Uncle Dave Macon who adapted a minstrel song written in 1853 by Dan Emmett who probably pinched an earlier song. OK, let's call it traditional.

The seventeen tracks here mix traditional songs, some collected by the Warners and others by Cecil Sharp, twentieth century poetry, music-hall tunes and even a bit of gospel. The journeys that some of these songs have undertaken are quite remarkable. 'Lass Of Glenshee' is as Scottish as they come and was probably written in the late 18th century in Perth and the Warners collected it from an old logger in the Adirondacks in the 1940s. You can only imagine how it got there. From the same source came 'Jamie Judge', a real logging camp song. In complete contrast is 'It's My Lazy Day' by Smiley Burnette who appeared in movies as Gene Autry's sidekick.

So, we have a selection of songs than span more than 150 years, most with a well-documented provenance but as with 'Lass Of Glenshee' we can speculate on how 'Gypsum Davy' arrived in Tennessee. Jeff doesn't need much support but he's aided by Alice Jones on vocals, keyboards and whistle and the fiddle of Ben Paley and, all in all, this is a damn fine record.


Living Tradition

John Waltham

This is an enchanting and entirely absorbing collection by one of the foremost singers in the US folk world. Jeff's parents spent a lifetime collecting and disseminating music from Tennessee to New Hampshire and beyond, so Jeff's spent a lifetime with their work, and has expanded the horizons even further. He's familiar over here as a result of his regular tours, and this CD casts an eye over a broad range of song types throughout its 17 tracks, so you'll find everything from home-grown US classics like Days Of 49 through spirituals and Tin Pan Alley numbers (I loved Girls They Go Wild Over Me) to songs that emigrated from the old world and developed in different ways to their European cousins � like Darwin's Galapagos creatures in fact, although Jeff's Lass Of Glenshee has less variations than many versions from different parts of the British Isles.

There is so much here to intrigue the listener. Add to that the uniformly fine singing and exquisite accompaniments, mainly on concertina and banjo with the odd evidence of Jeff's jig doll percussion, and you have something that will reward several hearings. You'll find more sides to many of the tracks as you go through the recording again. The sleeve notes are concise and very informative, and underline the depth of Jeff's background as far as his music's concerned.

You may guess from all this that I enjoyed this CD. You'd be quite right.

www.jeffwarner.com


Folk North West

Derek Gifford

American performer Jeff Warner is well known in the UK having made numerous forays across the 'pond' to appear at clubs and festivals over a number of years.

He is steeped in the American tradition, largely through the influences on hearing his parents Anne and Frank Warner when he was a teenager, and this is reflected in the material he has recorded for this album which is his second with Wild Goose.

Jeff has a very relaxed vocal delivery which is well suited to much of the 'old timey' songs. Not only is he an accomplished singer but he also accompanies himself with a variety of instruments including English concertina, banjo and guitar. Alice Jones, a fine singer from Yorkshire, also accompanies him with harmonium, piano and whistle and additional vocals. Ben Paley adds excellent fiddle accompaniment on some of the tracks. Finally, a jig-doll is even heard dancing away on a few tracks.

As a result the album comes across with a simplicity that belies the quite complex careful arrangements of the songs giving them an authentic feel.

Of the 17 tracks many are quite short which is fine, of course, and illustrates the way many of the songs were collected. There are American versions of many familiar English songs including A Frog Went A-courting, Gypsum Davey (AKA Gypsy Laddie) and Roving Peddler. Walter Kittredge's Tenting Tonight, which I think Jeff sings a little too slowly for my taste, will also be familiar to many UK listeners and has an interesting pedigree which Jeff elucidates in the extensive sleeve notes. A number of the songs are from the repertoire of New York's Adirondack Mountain singer John Galusha of which The Lass of Glenshie is particularly delightful.

Although some of the songs are 'written' (as most were anyway!) they are in traditional format. Jeff concludes the CD with a relatively well known sea song,  Jamestown Homeward Bound, which he used to sing with his long time singing partner Jeff Davies some years ago and which Jeff has revisited here. A great song but I feel a full chorus would have been better for all the verses rather than just towards the end of the song.

Overall, this is a very good recording, especially for all you Jeff Warner fans out there, and one to definitely add to your CD collection. It's available through the Wild Goose web site and is distributed by Proper Music Distribution.

Shire Folk

Barry Goodman

Jeff Warner has been surrounded by traditional song for as long as he can remember. His parents, Anne and Frank Warner, collected songs in North Carolina and the Adirondack Mountains and Jeff went with them, met the singers and learned the songs.

That love of traditional song has never left him and this latest album continues his journey through the music that tells the story of America. Here you will find songs transported across the Atlantic ('Gypsum Davey', 'Bony on the Isle of St Helena; 'Roving Peddler; 'Lass of Glenshee'), cowboy songs ('Hitting the Trail Tonight; 'It's My Lazy Day'), early country songs ('Beautiful Life; 'My Dixie Darling; 'Train on the Island') and minstrel songs (Jordan is a Hard Road to Travel; 'Days of '49'), together with the Civil War standard, 'Tenting Tonight'; songs of logging, sailing and popular Tin Pan Alley numbers from the early twentieth century.

Jeff delivers the songs with concertina, guitar or banjo, joined on some tracks by Alice Jones (vocals, harmonium, piano, whistle) and Ben Paley (fiddle). The full ensemble sound is contrasted with a spare, unadorned approach to many of the songs, where the voices of the traditional singers encountered in his youth seem to come alive again through Jeff's unique interpretations.

His understanding of the value that rural singers placed on their songs is plain to hear on this outstanding album, lovingly produced by Doug Bailey at WildGoose Studios, and accompanied by a very informative booklet with fascinating background on the songs and the tradition bearers who handed them on.

Around Kent Folk (UK)

Bob Kenward

Once again from Jeff, this is the real deal. He's chosen well in his accompanists, Ben Paley and Alice Jones, and tracks ranging from My Dixie Darling through Tenting Tonight, Jordan Is A Hard Road To Travel sit comfortably side by side with fun rarities like Girls They Go Wild Over Me.

Jeff's gentle banjo style captures beautifully his mantra that 'the song's the message', and Ben's ability to capture the feel of a particular and appropriate era is vital to this. Alice, too, underpins the lyrics with harmonium and piano, adding variety in parlour style. Americana players will welcome the insights into presenting historic songs beyond bluegrassing.

Jeff's many fans in Kent and Sussex will find this a thoroughly enjoyable and listenable 17 tracks, as ever crisply recorded by Wild Goose. And please do read Jeff's interview in Living Tradition 125- it's a gem!

Stirrings

Mike Wild

I 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 na�ve 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

fRoots

Vic Smith

It is rather odd that in such a peculiarly British institution, the folk club that some of the most consistently popular and successful artists are Americans. An impressionistic listing gives, amongst many others, the late Tom Paley, as well as Sara Grey, Dana Robinson, Bruce Molsky.... and of course, Jeff Warner.

This release, his second solo for the English company finds him on very fine form. He chooses two very different British accompanists to work with here and clearly he is sparked into elevated performances by the empathy that he achieves in their company.

In particular his banjo heard alongside Ben Paley's fiddle is an inspired combination and a fresh life and enthusiasm is brought to old favourites like My Dixie Darling and Gypsum Davy.

A different quality is brought by the singing and keyboard playing of Alice Jones and the contrasting quality of two reed instruments - his concertina and her harmonium is particularly pleasing.

As with his live performances, a lot of thought has gone into the programming of the album; the pace, key, mood and instrumentation are all varied effectively.

Having worked with Jeff on the technical side of the multimedia show about his parents' great song collecting work, it comes as no surprise to hear a number of these included here, In particular he always expressed a great admiration for one of his parents' informants, John Galusha and there is something very affectionate about the way that treats the three learned from this excellent singer who had a number of tremendous songs in his repertoire. in particular, Lass of Glenshee, weaves a fine spell and it is the song that rings in the ears after each listening.

RnR

Ian Croft

Jeff Warner is a leading performer of American traditional music, with a simple performance style that combines a warm, characterful voice with unshowy expertise on banjo, guitar or concertina. On Roam The Country Through he's helped from time to time by Ben Paley's fiddle and Alice Jones on backing vocals, harmonium, piano and whistle. The result is an authentic sound that is applied to seventeen songs taken from a range of sources including Jeff's parents, song collectors Anne and Frank Warner.

A high standard is set from the start. A lively 'Jordan Is A Hard Road To Travel' is propelled by Ben's sparky fiddle, and then the wonderfully anthemic 'Beautiful Life' is underpinned by great harmonium from Alice. Several songs are variants of songs also collected in Britain  'A Frog He Went A Courting' is from Kentucky, 'Gypsum Davey' was collected by Sharp in Tennessee, 'Roving Peddler' is a version of 'The Roving Journeyman'.

There are stories of cowboys, gold prospecting, logging and trains. And Jeff gets right to the essence of familiar songs like 'My Dixie Darling', once sung by The Carter Family, and 'Tenting Tonight', a song covered by many.

Put together it's a cracking record, full of really good American songs sung and played with verve and much skill.

Fatea

David Kidman

There can be no argument that Jeff Warner is one of the foremost interpreters and performers of American traditional song. And not only because he comes from one of that nation's most eminent families of folksong collectors (his parents were Anne and Frank Warner). He's also one of the most popular performers on the folk scene, and any evening spent in his company is truly an experience to be cherished. Even more surprising, then, that he's made so few recordings, and Roam The Country Through is only his second album for WildGoose. Here he sings and plays banjo, English concertina, guitar and jig-doll.

Although Jeff's solo personality is exceedingly charismatic and involving, and he's a past master at sustaining an audience's interest over a long timespan by his thoughtful selection of songs and pacing of material, his star can shine even more brightly in the company of another empathic musician. On this latest disc his partnership with young singer/keyboardist/whistle player Alice Jones and ace fiddler Ben Paley proves a singularly inspired move. Having experienced the alchemy of Jeff's teaming with Alice in the live folk club environment, I can confirm the wisdom of recording them together in the studio for this album. It's sheer magic.

Whether performing solo or sympathetically accompanied, Jeff ensures maximum concentration on the effective communication of the songs by keeping the arrangements simple, and he's also careful to make capital out of the various contrasts in timbre that even this simplicity can provide. Having said that, the blend of concertina with harmonium is a particularly pleasing one, which works very well on several of the disc's choices, and Ben's fiddle is always a brilliant foil for Jeff, especially when Jeff picks up the banjo.

The tracklist for Jeff's latest album contains some quite familiar titles, but Jeff's forte is the research and presentation of interesting or less familiar variants, and there are bound to be many surprises in store for the listener, who is likely to end up preferring Jeff's versions! On this album, A Frog He Went A-Courting, Roving Peddler, Jordan Is A Hard Road To Travel and Gypsum Davy are cases in point. Other successes in the �familiarity breeds no contempt� department are the Carter Family hit My Dixie Darling, the anthemic yet wistful forebitter Jamestown Homeward Bound (a cousin of Rolling Down To Old Maui) and the Napoleonic ballad Bony on The Isle Of St. Helena; the latter is performed here in spirited a cappella mode.

Jeff and his fellow musicians turn in particularly affecting performances of Beautiful Life (learnt from the Amish community via Ohio fiddler Jeff Goehring) and the gorgeously sanctified Better Home, while at the other end of the secular spectrum we find Jeff clearly relishing the old time cowboy song Hitting The Trail Tonight and the fun Smiley Burnette number It's My Lazy Day (which I discovered some years ago from the singing of Debby McClatchy). Jeff also admits to only recently being drawn to the standard Tenting Tonight, but it doesn't show in this faithful performance of a song that he's known all his life. New York Adirondack Mountain singer John Galusha is the source for two contrasting songs � Days Of 49 and Jamie Judge � and he performs them both with all due gusto.

Throughout the album, Jeff keenly follows the dictum of his source for Train On The Island, Craig Johnson & The Double Decker String Band � �Old-time country music is the source. Delight and bewilderment is the result�. That could well be the motto for the whole of this delectable, eminently enjoyable album.



The Living Tradition

Interview by Nigel Schofield

Jeff Warner has been coming to tour in the UK on a regular basis for over 20 years. Alongside his skills as a performer and his vast and varied repertoire of songs, he has the distinction of a significant parental heritage. His mother and father, Frank and Ann Warner, made several visits to what were at the time (and in some cases still are) remote regions of the Eastern seaboard states, collecting songs and performances from traditional singers there. They created a unique and invaluable archive.

Unlike British collectors, they didn't go with the aim of stealing traditional tunes to reshape into a classical format or to capture the old songs before advances in technology and entertainment made them extinct. The range of music performed by the singers and musicians encountered was significant to them in its own right. A singer such as Frank Proffitt might offer a traditional ballad with Scottish roots alongside a version of a song recently released by Jimmy Rogers. Pop meets folk, to borrow the title of a short lived TV series. This eclecticism informs Jeff's approach to folk music.

The night before our lunchtime interview, I'd watched as he performed a set which embraced shanties and sentimental songs, ballads and hymns and, of course, songs collected by his parents. Part way through our conversation, we discussed the motivations that lay behind preserving and performing traditional music. "It's a wide subject with probably as many subtly different answers as there are people singing folksongs," he says. "Rather than consider them and certainly without wishing to dismiss or diminish any of them, I can give my reasons. In fact, let me sum it up before we go into any kind of detail with a quote from an article I read in the New York Times, shortly after 911. It was in a piece in which the author explained why going to museums was important. Like a good folksinger, I borrowed it and adapted it slightly to my own purpose... `I bring the latest news from the distant past."'
Speaking of the latest news, a few days before we met, Jeff had just released his latest CD, Roam The Country Through, an album of American music on a British label. Because of his collaborations and projects like Short Sharp Shanties, it's hard to know how to count his releases over the years. How did this one come about?

Jeff explains: "Fair point let's say it's my third solo CD release. That gets that out of the way with no area of dispute remaining. The story of how it came about is longer than it is interesting. Doug Bailey who runs WildGoose Records in Hampshire wanted me to make a third album. I honestly didn't think a third album of Jeff Warner singing traditional songs was something the world wanted, let alone needed. However, the combination of flattery and interest spurred me on to at least consider it." "Doug won. The album got made. In retrospect, I'm glad. It's a fun album. My brother had been at me to record an album which is more like what I do on stage. That is, more pared down, essentially solo stuff. The thing is, a recording is not a stage performance and the two things do require a different approach. A lot of what I do on stage isn't the songs themselves: it's the context, the conversation, the style, making friends with the audience, their participation which I must say is always a big and enjoyable part of singing in the UK. Just doing the song doesn't do it."

"On an album, the focus is entirely on the song and the technicalities of performance. No matter how strong the songs themselves were, I wanted the texture of more than just my own solo performance. 1 had to find people to help me musically that also would keep it simple. I believe 1 was successful in doing that." "I heard Ben Paley at a couple of festivals and it struck me he might be the ideal person to play fiddle: in my opinion, he's the best American fiddler in England. In contrast, over several years I'd been won over by Alice Jones, a very English performer; she's the person I picked not only to play on the album but also to sing with me. Her Yorkshire accent set against my New England pronunciation made for an interesting combination. She's so energetic and enthusiastic and eager to do the necessary research that it worked out really well even better than I expected in fact."
Like Jeff, Ben is someone with a personal folk heritage. "Second generation serious folkie, indeed. Who better to learn from than his father Tom?"

Tom Paley was an original member of The New Lost City Ramblers, the group that in the late fifties brought first the music and later the performers that people like Jeff's father had collected to a wider folk audience. He died last year. That would be around the time Jeff was making the CD. "It was. Ben told me a story of Tom being ill in his bed. Ben was due to go to China to play and was going to pull out because of his father's ill health. When he heard this, Tom pricked up in his bed and said, `Don't stay because of this,' and then lay back down again. So, Ben went, and his father died shortly after he returned. We were due to record the album in October. It was Ben's decision and also his father's wish that his passing shouldn't get in the way of anything Ben had plans to do. Ben was great, so quick and so fast, a joy to work with, even in those trying circumstances. One thing 1 loved was, for example, he'd been adding fiddle to something I'd already put down; I'd hear what he'd done and say, `That's a bit bluesy', a bit 1925, could you roll it back to, say, 1885?' And he would, perfectly, next take."

Both the CD and what Jeff does on stage deliberately cover a wide range of music from the pop songs of their day, to hymns, to the dustier corners of the American tradition, as well as unusual versions of more familiar material. "Familiarity is a strange one. Sometimes I'll do something which is really widely known in the States, like Tenting Tonight, and discover it's almost unknown over here. Then I'll do something which I think is obscure and find out lots of people have heard of it because it was a hit during the skiffle era or featured an that BBC schools programme that featured singing together to traditional songs. I've stopped trying to prejudge."

"Doug likes a lot of material on a release 17 tracks on this album. That meant I had to look round in my repertoire to see what I had left that was suitable to record and maybe look at one or two things I'd done a good while ago and revisit them, particularly things that might not be available any longer. I think in the end there were only three things we were seriously considering that didn't make it onto the album."

"So far as the variety of music goes, folk music is and always has been a broad spectrum anyway. One thing that has
always fascinated me is the huge influence of Tin Pan Alley up to the 1920s on both traditional and old timey music. I wanted to include things like Dixie Darling and The Girls They Go Wild Over Me, partly because they are such fun, both to sing and to hear. Some of those songs, in the same way 19th century ballads did, have kind of broken away from their authorship and are in the process of becoming traditional, even though they were once determinedly commercial."

"That worked both ways, of course, because traditional musicians from folk, blues, gospel and so on were recorded for commercial release. That's true of most of the things that ended up on the Harry Smith Anthology. These recordings became the foundation of not only country music but also commercial blues and its many offshoots. Popular music from Shakespeare's time right through to vaudeville in the States and music hall over here has always drawn on traditional music. The various forms that emerged at the start of the last century became the foundation of the pop music that emerged at the end of that century and is still with us today. You can't dismiss something because of where something came from any more than you can dismiss something because of where it ultimately went."

"...A lot of what I do on stage isn't the songs themselves: it's the context, the conversation, the style, making friends with the audience, their participation which I must say is always a big and enjoyable part of singing in the UK. Just doing the song doesn’t do it…

"In truth, with that early period of recording, it's really hard to determine who's a rural traditional singer and who's a commercial artist, not least because they influenced each other so much in terms of both style and repertoire. Recording made a huge difference and you can see it in how collectors thought of what they were doing. Were they collecting songs, in which case you could get the tune from one verse and then all you needed was the rest of the lyrics? Were they collecting performances? Were they recording performers? In different instances, the answer is yes to any of those. My parents, of course, did all three things."
"I love what I see a lot of in the UK that I don't see at all in America the use by young musicians of traditional tunes and texts to create new music. There's a school of thought, and you find it a lot in the States, that disregards the fact that any version, be it written down or mechanically recorded, is of the moment and not definitive or intended to be faithfully replicated. Folk is an ongoing, vital thing. There's actually no such thing as doing it wrong, just doing it differently. There is, of course, also a place for going back and performing a song in the style that we know it was once performed in, and that's one of the things I try to do with some songs."

"Folk and traditional music is much more popular, in several senses of the word, here than it is in the States. It's complicated, of course, because we have bluegrass and Cajun and blues and lots of other stuff that's got its place in folk while also being commercially successful, but there's little interest in Appalachian music or our seafaring traditions of the Eastern seaboard. They happen to be two areas that particularly interest me."

"Here, young kids are using traditional material, rearranging, updating it, rewriting it even and don't forget that's what people have always done; that's what happened to English ballads in America and I think that is a great thing. It's something that fills me with hope and I wish it was happening in my country too. It's exactly what was happening in the 1920s where commercial popular music and traditional popular music were able to cross pollinate."

We turn from discussing Jeff's latest CD to what, to me, are the two most important releases he has been involved in though not as a performer, as a project curator. I'm talking about the two CDs of his parents' field recordings. "Tim Erikson befriended Jeff Davis and me as a teenager, after he came to see us at a concert in Stoneybrook, Long Island. Through that he got to know my mother, which led to him hearing the recordings she and my father had made on their field trips to the Appalachians. He became a successful artist in his own right, of course, recording for Appleseed Records, and it was he who convinced them to release the two albums of recordings made by my father which include people who were great performers like Frank Proffitt, the Tillet Family and John Galusha, as well as the source versions, if you like, of so many well known American folk songs." "in 1999, myself and my brother Gerret, who's a film maker, got together and spent the year going through all the recordings my parents made. He lives in Portsmouth, New Hampshire; I moved there for the project and have lived there ever since. It proved important to us in different ways. It brought him back into the music; it refreshed my memory of what my folks have done. As a result, many of those songs became part of my repertoire."

"We deliberately picked out the things we thought were the best sounding. There's a lot that's more significant than some of the things on the CDs but, again, as with recording and performing on stage, a CD has different requirements to a reference archive. Many of the recordings were just fragments, perhaps a verse to capture a tune; partly that was the result of the cost of making recordings and the physical issues that arose from having to take equipment to remote places. My folks were aware of the need to save money on the cost of discs." "When he was first collecting, my father didn't make mechanical recordings. He transcribed words and remembered and then wrote out the tunes. He later went back and recorded many of the people he'd met on earlier trips, including some truly great singers and musicians. Out of that came two CDs Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still, which is an anthology of various singers, and Nothings Seems Better To Me, which focuses on recordings by Frank Proffitt and his North Carolina neighbours."

On Jeff's new CD, there's a photo that reminds us that he was involved in the making of those historic recordings. "Involved is something of an overstatement," he says, "though certainly I was there for some of them. The CD has a photo of me with John Galusha. He was a logger from the Adirondacks, born in 1850. And there's me as a three yearold. In my opinion, he's one of the most influential singers. He had a distinctive way of ending the line by speaking it. That's something from the Irish tradition and John was fifth generation Irish. Vic Smith once played me a recording of a Northern Irish singer using the same technique. I find its survival in the States fascinating."

We move on again to talk about another current project Jeff's live shows with Matthew Crampton. "Matthew's the person behind the restaging of Peter Bellamy's The Transports, of course. This show is based on his book, Human Cargo, which tells the history of slavery in its many forms through folk songs. He came to see me at Sidmouth, where I was presenting a multimedia show on my parents' work. He chose me to be the other half of the Human Cargo show, which he wanted to perform around the country, having done it with friends locally in London."

Did that present Jeff with the task of learning a lot of new songs for the show? "Fortunately not. Matthew has a very flexible, responsive approach. It's not like working to a script. Every show is different. There might be something fresh from the headlines. He always has local elements which he researches for each show stories about local people who had connections to the slave trade; slave owners; abolitionists; victims of slavery. In the same way, he worked with the material I was already able to offer. I wouldn't have been happy to learn and perform songs that I wouldn't have sung under any other circumstances." "Essentially, I went through my repertoire and said, 'Here are the 30 or so songs that make reference to struggle, future, hope and so on.' Naturally, they are mostly religious songs because when people didn't have a lot of hope in this realm, they went to church; they aspired to something better beyond, a future land and a future world where things would be redeemed. Matthew took those songs and wove around them the stories he wanted to tell, whether they be from 1600 or 1830 or the present day. He is very good at that, that particular skill of spotting relevance and context and connection. He's a master at writing transitions."

"So, the connection is not about the song illustrating the stories or the stories introducing the songs. The way it works is that Matthew will tell a story or a collection of stories, all factual of course, about oppression or suffering or struggle or, of course, of triumph over adversity. Then we step back to the music which very often, though not always, is about hope when all those trials will soon be over." Does that fit in with the concept of coded messages within religious songs about escaping the bonds of slavery? "Not in any literal sense. It's not a viewpoint I personally subscribe to. I can see where it's coming from, of course, and I'm sure in some cases it may have been true, but to speak about coded messages and so on assumes a level of connection
and collaboration that couldn't possibly have been there. We are talking about people from a huge range of backgrounds when people speak of being of African origin, they forget what a vast and varied place they are talking about, then as now."

"Those people had different traditions, different cultures, vastly different beliefs, totally different languages. I've just read a history of the banjo by Laurent DuBois. He makes the point that the concept of Africa as a single entity is an American one. There was no Africa in the 1820s, just a vast land mass full of separate nations, tribes; even relatively nearby villages need not have contact. Africa was a purely geographical concept. In the same way, the banjo was not one instrument that came to America, but a rationalisation of many different instruments from across the continent. The notion of African culture as one thing is a construct."
"On top of which, once Africans became slaves in the US, slave owners were at pains to avoid communication and voices of dissent from the outside. Slaves had no religious training till the 1850s either. That first happened when white folks started to take them along to hear visiting Methodist preachers or attend Camp meetings. I suspect it was in the belief that Christianity would make them better people, and also make them accept their earthly lot in the hope of a heavenly future. They probably also knew that a message of salvation through suffering kind of fitted in with the way they operated. It was definitely hope beyond the veil of tears, beyond this life, rather than beyond the Mason Dixon line." "I think the other view is too postmodern. Of course, all songs are capable of having secondary and tertiary levels of meaning, which is one reason we relate to folk music that isn't from our time or place. But the simple fact is there was not the level of communication between slave communities to permit it to happen."

On the subject of shared cultures, Jeff's album includes a version of a well known hymn, Beautiful Life, which he performs in an Amish style not the way we are used to hearing it. How important is style in his approach to performing traditional music? Does he see himself as a sharer of styles? "That's a huge topic, of course. It's partly because I am consumed by sense of traditional styles. Style, in that context, means something different from how people normally perceive it, The first reference to local 'folk styles' I know of was by Charles Seeger during the Depression. He was trying to reintroduce music back into rural communities which had been devastated or disintegrated. He believed you could take a folk song in an urban setting and enable people to reclaim it. He passed that spirit on to his son. Mike Seeger. Aside from people who had become known from within the tradition, like Leadbelly or Jean Ritchie, The New Lost City Ramblers, which Mike formed, was the first act to try to perform folk music for a wider, urban audience with a sense of preserving traditional rural styles."

"Mike's step brother Pete had grown weary at this point of doing precisely the opposite of that with The Weavers 'Singing folk songs in a suit and tie', as he put it, literally and metaphorically. This is an American thing, particularly, because the recording of traditional singers was a late phenomenon over there. People like Alan Lomax and my parents were almost too late on the scene to capture it sonically." "The situation is different in the UK where sound recordings of traditional singers stretch right back to 1906. If a British folk singer wanted to hear how a rural singer had done a song, there were examples that spanned the decades right back to the invention of recording. Revivalists like Martin Carthy, Nic Jones or Peter Bellamy could go back and hear how a song had been done before deciding how they wanted to do it."

I'm reminded of something that Almeda Riddle said to my parents: "You have to get behind the song." By that she meant you should not let your performance or personality get in the way of a song. The song is the message, not the singer."

I've just realised what a range of topics we've covered. How on earth am I going to sum this up? "I have a quote," offers Jeff. "It's from David McCullogh, a singer my brother once interviewed on film: 'It's our job to make history as interesting as it was."'
www.jeffwarner.com

Around Kent Folk

Vic Smith

From the regularity with which Jeff visits these shores over many years, it is obvious that this very talented American is something of a Anglophile. Looking through the packed UK tour schedule of his visits here, it is clear that the feeling is mutual because there always seems to be clubs and festivals lining up to engage Jeff to play and sing for them.

It is also with a British label that he has found a happy relationship. All of his recent recordings whether they be solo albums or collaborations around a theme have been for Doug Bailey and this one finds him in sparkling form.

He manages to sound fresh, innovative and interesting even on much heard standards such as My Dixie Darling and Train On The Island and he derives strong support from his two British guest musicians, particularly when his banjo and Ben Paley's fiddle are knocking sparks off one another.

As usual, a good proportion of the songs included here are drawn from those collected by his parents Anne and Frank whose search for songs on the Eastern seaboard in the post‑war years proved so successful. Three songs that the Warners collected from John Galusha from the Adirondack Mountains are sung with particular affection here.

Around Kent Fok

Bob Kenward

Once again from Jeff, this is the real deal. He's chosen well in his accompanists, Ben Paley and Alice Jones, and tracks ranging from My Dixie Darling through Tenting Tonight, Jordan Is A Hard Road To Travel sit comfortably side by side with fun rarities like Girls They Go Wild Over Me. Jeff's gentle banjo style captures beautifully his mantra that 'the song's the message', and Ben's ability to capture the feel of a particular and appropriate era is vital to this. Alice, too, underpins the lyrics with harmonium and piano, adding variety in parlour style. Americana players will welcome the insights into presenting historic songs beyond bluegrassing; Jeff's many fans in Kent and Sussex will find this a thoroughly enjoyable and listenable 17 tracks, as ever crisply recorded by Wild Goose. And please do read Jeff's interview in Living Tradition 125- it's a gem!
Bob Kenward

Folk London

Brian Cope

A regular visitor to these shores from his home across the pond, Jeff Warner is a treasure trove of songs and stories from his native home, seventeen of which are offered up for our enjoyment on this, his latest CD and enjoyable it most certainly is. Jeff was fortunate in accompanying his parents, Anne and Frank Warner, on some of their folk song collecting trips in North Carolina and New York State's Adirondack Mountains as both a boy and later as a teen. A picture of a young Jeff with Mr and Mrs John Galusha is reproduced in the accompanying booklet, (and a wonderful picture of Jeff with John Galusha and Flash the dog, can be found in his parents publication) which helps put the songs in context. It is, in many ways, astonishing how much has changed in a comparatively short space of time, songs often collected from singers whose songs were their "main sometimes only music". Early exposure to these rural singers seems to have made a lasting impression, for Jeffs relaxed and warm style radiates authenticity.

On this album only four of the songs are taken from his parents collection, three from the singing of John Galusha Lass of Glenshee a lovely Scottish song which somehow made its way to the lumber camps of the American north east, Jamie Judge the tragic story of a young woodsman who died in a log jam, and the popular song recalling the Californian gold rush camps Days of '49. Bony on the Isle of St Helen, collected from 'Tink' Tillett is the final example from the collection and the only song Jeff has chosen to sing unaccompanied. The remaining 13 tracks form a wonderful eclectic mix of traditional songs, including two, A Frog He Went A Courting and Gypsum Davy, collected by Cecil Sharp, modern material, music hall tunes and gospel songs all splendidly accompanied by Jeff on banjo, guitar and English concertina, ably assisted by Alice Jones on vocals, harmonium, piano and whistle and Ben Paley on fiddle. Having opened with the lively foot taping Jordan is a Hard Road to Travel from Uncle Dave Macon, Jeff slows the tempo with the lovely gospel song Beautiful Life, which follows and then on to Tin Pan Alley hit Girls They Go Wild Over Me.

This varied and diverse selection is carefully and thoughtfully arranged ensuring listening pleasure from start to finish whilst apparent homespun simplicity hides some deceptively complex musical arrangements. Familiar material like the Carter Family's My Dixie Darling and Civil War classic Tenting Tonight nestle comfortably alongside the less familiar old timey Train on the Island and the wonderful Smiley Burnette's It's My Lazy Day. The disc, ornamented with a picture of Conestoga Wagon, comes with an informative 8 page colour booklet.

Those who have enjoyed Jeff's live performance will doubtless be pleased to know that the famed jig doll makes several guest appearances on this exceedingly fine CD. Brian Cope