“A Time For Singing” by Jean Ritchie - album review

TJR says

Issued in April ’65. There are 8 Jean Ritchie compositions (often taking inspiration from traditionals) and 4 straight traditionals. Two tracks from Jean’s back album catalogue get a reworking – “Fair Nottamun Town” (originally done on “Kentucky Mountains Songs”, 1954) and “Come All you Fair and tender Ladies” (originally done as “The Little Sparrow” on “Kentucky Mountains Songs”, 1954). The re-appearance of “Nottamun Town” is interesting. The old medieval classic has long been a staple of Jean’s. 9 years after she had introduced it via “Kentucky Mountain Songs”, Bob Dylan had appropriated the melody and structure of Jean’s arrangement for his seminal “Masters of War”. It was good to remind folks 2 years post-Dylan who was the original master of the tune! The version here hardly strays a note from the one which was produced in ’54, “enhanced” only by what sounds like some extra, superfluous, acoustic bass lines.

Golden Ring Around The Susan Girl” immediately follows. It’s an intoxicating whirler… I just love that nagging repetition on the dulcimer and Jean’s voice is as natural as snow… “Do-si-do left, you Susan girl” … “Do-si-do right, you Susan girl”… makes me smile every time. “The L & N Don’t Stop Here Anymore” is another major highlight. Jonathan Pickow (Jean's son) tells: “When Jean Ritchie was a young girl, the Louisville & Nashville Railroad had a little passenger train that ran by the mouth of the Slabtown Holler in Viper, Kentucky, where the Ritchie Family lived. When the coal mines shut down, the passenger service along with the coal trains was discontinued. It was one of the first signs of hard times. “The L And N Don’t Stop Here Anymore” is a reflection of the period.” How about this for a verse with the WOW factor: “Now I used to think my daddy was a black man, with script enough to buy the company store, oh but now he goes to town with empty pockets, and Lord his face is as white as a February snow.” Feart of a political backlash, Jean used the pseudonym Than Hall for songs such as these! Says the lady herself: “Than Hall was a pseudonym I took during the time I was writing my mining songs, (L&N, Blue Diamond Mines, etc.) My mother was living then, and “protest” was a bad word – not for me in NY, but I didn’t want anyone bothering Mom about it. I was with BMI at the time and they refused my use of my grandfather’s name, John Hall, because that was the then BMI president’s name, so I took the end of Johnathan, and became ‘Than. Around home, that was a common way shortening that name.”

First highlight on side 2 is “With Kitty I’ll Go” (Roud 3052). Of this, Jean says: “This has become one of my favourite songs of all those gathered on our travels. It is lyrical and sentimental, yet lilting and humorous, and so beautifully Irish!”.Wild Horses” is another good ‘un, as Jean says: “it has a great driving rhythm, unusual for a song of mine, but I love singing it.” The LP finishes brilliantly with another enduring Jean original, “Blue Diamond Mines”. She laughs at herself as she recalls writing the song during an excursion with her husband, acclaimed photographer and producer George Pickow: “We were driving on a big trip and we went through a big pine forest. I was singing In the pines/in the pines/where the sun/never shines, and George said, ‘Why don’t you do a song called In the mines/in the mines?’ And I thought, ‘Oh, that’s silly.’ Then later on I felt, ‘Well, that is good, that’s a very natural thing to sing.’” Ritchie hums a note to herself before launching into a chorus: “In the mines, in the mines, In the Blue Diamond Mines, I have worked my life away, In the mines, in the mines, In the Blue Diamond Mines, Oh fall on your knees and pray.”

Jean is forever untainted by commercial aspirations, and the purity just shines on through on this LP. The lovely lady sums it up best: “I believe that old songs have things to say to the modern generation, and that's why they've stayed around. That's also why I am still singing. I'm not afraid to be myself. Agents say you have to change and grow, but I believe you can sing the same songs and sing them better and grow new songs out of the old. I guess if I had to categorize myself or pin down a description of what I do, I'd have to say I'm a carrier of tradition.”

The Jukebox Rebel
15-Aug-2013


A1 [03:00] 6.3.png Jean Ritchie - One More Mile (Jean Ritchie) Folk
A2 [02:46] 8.6.png Jean Ritchie - Nottamun Town [album version ’65] (Traditional) Folk
A3 [01:37] 8.0.png Jean Ritchie - Golden Ring Around The Susan Girl (Traditional) Folk
A4 [02:24] 5.7.png Jean Ritchie - Let The Sun Shine Down On Me (Jean Ritchie) Folk
A5 [03:14] 8.1.png Jean Ritchie - The L And N Don’t Stop Here Anymore (Jean Ritchie) Folk
A6 [02:40] 5.9.png Jean Ritchie - The Cruel Sea (Jean Ritchie) Folk
B1 [02:23] 5.8.png Jean Ritchie - Movin’ On Down The River (Jean Ritchie) Folk
B2 [02:13] 7.0.png Jean Ritchie - With Kitty I’ll Go (Traditional) Folk
B3 [03:01] 7.2.png Jean Ritchie - One I Love (Jean Ritchie) Folk
B4 [01:42] 6.9.png Jean Ritchie - Wild Horses (Jean Ritchie) Folk
B5 [02:20] 5.0.png Jean Ritchie - Come All You Fair And Tender Ladies (Traditional) Folk
B6 [04:16] 7.8.png Jean Ritchie - Blue Diamond Mines (Jean Ritchie) Country




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