Real Contemporary Folk Music – A Living Tradition
We each hear old sayings throughout our lives from previous generations. Too often we shrug them off without giving them a second thought, but as we age ourselves – and, hopefully, grow somewhat wiser, we recognize the truth in them. Two of these sayings that come immediately to mind when I think about the wonderful music that Larry Kaplan has produced are ‘Patience is a virtue’ and ‘Good things come to those who wait’. Fans of Larry’s music know the truth of these. His first album (Worth all the telling) was released in 1994, his second (Songs for an August moon ) in 2014. Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait another 20 years for this new album – it’s a treasure, filled with wonderful songs. There’s more than a touch of nostalgia here and there, but that gives it an even stronger touch of the human nature and spirit – we all reminisce from time to time. Many of the lyrics recall days gone by, leaving the listener with a feeling that, at least in my case, I can honestly describe as heartwarming and comforting.
The opening song, ‘Waiting for the glue to dry’, exemplifies the expressions mentioned above, related to the work of a luthier and the time and patience that are intrinsic to the profession. The process simply cannot be rushed, and those who want positive results have to understand that. The song celebrates genuine pride in dedicated craftsmanship, and the philosophy and attitudes described here can apply to any work…including songwriting.
Any follower of Larry’s music would be right to expect songs dealing with sailing, and the sea, and they’ll be rewarded here with ‘The sea ran high’ (a poem collected by the late E. Gale Huntington and set to music by Larry), which relates the story of a shipwreck that killed all but one of the crew. Larry returns to the ship at the center of one of his most beautiful songs (‘Song for the Bowdoin’, on his first album) in ‘Reunion’. In the notes, he describes revisiting her, not on a journey (although he has sailed on the restored vessel), but just sitting alone, ‘looking at her in her berth’ and remembering. It comes across very much like one old friend sitting with another – and I have a feeling that’s how it felt to him. It’s a beautiful song, very moving in its depth and honesty.
There’s gentle humor here as well – ‘Dr. Einstein conquers the sea’ relates an incident in which Albert Einstein attempted a solo sail on the Connecticut River, illustrating that genius doesn’t always win when nature is involved. Actually, nature usually holds the upper hand. ‘Baseball’ and ‘Fishing hole’ harken back to the days of our youth, the activities and adventures we experienced – not necessarily part of any curriculum, but equally, if not more, important to our growth.
That’s not to say that contemporary, more serious subjects are left unaddressed – the album’s penultimate song, ‘Beacon’, is a passionate plea for global unity among the people of the earth in the face of all the forces that seem bent on destroying the planet. We can only hope more people will listen. The title is an apt metaphor for the guiding light upon which sailors rely. The song wonderfully reflects, without mentioning his name, the work of Pete Seeger, and is a fitting tribute to his tireless efforts. A couple of songs were inspired by Larry’s days going to school in New Orleans. ‘Same damn river’ recalls the time he spent watching the Mississippi boat traffic. ‘The wrong side of the Gulf wind’ vividly paints a picture of someone far from home, longing for the day when he can return.
All but three of the songs on the album were written by Larry. ‘Down by the Salley Gardens’ is a song most of us have no doubt heard many times. The lyrics were collected by W. B. Yeats, and Larry’s guitar and arrangement are perfectly framed by the wonderful accompaniment by Grey Larsen and Abby Newton. The words to ‘New Year’ are from a poem by Cicely Fox Smith.
I have to also mention that the sound quality on this album is superb, including the one live track. There is both clarity and body to the recording, the two being as perfectly balanced as I’ve ever heard. The engineering is of a level that ‘gets out of the way’ of the music, allowing the songs to shine through as if Larry were sitting in your living room playing for you. This is living, breathing folk music from the heart to the hearts of the listener, shared as it was meant to be shared. The songs here are thoughtfully crafted, performed skillfully and with honest feeling by Larry and his immensely talented friends. There is history and humanity and depth here just waiting to be heard. Treat yourself and give Furthermore… (and his other two albums) a listen. I think you’ll find yourself returning to it again and again.
All three of Larry’s releases are available from Folk-Legacy Records and as CDs. CDBaby has Furthermore… available as a CD or a download. iTunes and Amazon have Furthermore… available as downloads, and Amazon has the first two available as CDs.
Indulge yourself. You’ll be glad you did.