Hoots, hits and history
In the decades since it was broadcast in prime time, circa 1963-’64, the ABC commercial folk concert series “Hootenanny” has certainly been referred to often enough, in tones alternately nostalgic or mocking. Clearly, more people know that artists such as Dylan and Baez boycotted the show because of its continued post-’50s political blacklisting of Pete Seeger and others (and, very likely, its general “too clean-cut and showbiz to be hip” ambience) than have ever actually seen the shows or can recall them well if they did. That situation is remedied with the release of the 3-DVD set The Best Of Hootenanny (Shout! Factory).
The visual quality is better than might be expected, given that off-screen film kinescopes of some episodes are all that remains. Host Jack Linkletter’s presentation of the various campuses visited, of the music, and of the acts is as slick as you’d imagine — but the performances themselves yield some surprises.
There is some political material: The Chad Mitchell Trio takes on the John Birch Society, and activists such as Judy Collins and even Miriam Makeba show up. There are more folk-exploring numbers from country music refugees than you might expect: Flatt & Scruggs, the young Dillards, the Carter Family, Johnny Cash, even Eddy Arnold. Some quality folk acts, such as Doc Watson and Ian & Sylvia, can be seen in their young prime — and yes, also more than a few of the Serendipity Singers/Limeliters/Journeymen “Mighty Wind” groups (the Journeymen featuring future Papa John Phillips), though actual “Kumbayah” stuff is heard only during unctuous, set-ending sing-alongs.
Some of those new Greenwich Village comics do ever-so- slightly edgy stand-up — Bill Cosby, Woody Allen and JFK impersonator Vaughn Meader among them. There’s no clue that there’s a rising new topical songwriter movement, or that hard blues is part of the folk scene. The “Negro artists” presented are in the very polished Belafonte-style folk concertizer mode of Leon Bibb or the duo Joe & Eddy, except — and it’s quite an exception — for the appearances of such genuinely great, room-shaking gospel divas as Clara Ward and Marion Williams, rarely seen on screen at all.
You can spend more quality time with Doug and Rodney Dillard and band on The Dillards: A Night In The Ozarks (Varese Sarabande), John McKuen’s rarely-seen 1991 “home movie” of the original lineup that did so much to popularize bluegrass, and to evolve it and country rock while they were at it. The video is mostly, simply and sweetly, the band playing their classics on the old home porch where many of them got written. The Dillards’ dad is there to add clogging lessons, and there are interviews with the musicians and with residents of Salem, Missouri, their hometown.
There’s some serious, touching blues documentation on Ten Days Out: Blues From The Backroads (Warner/Reprise), a film in which blues-rock guitar slinger Kenny Wayne Shepherd and producer Jerry Harrison (ex-Talking Heads) capture what turned out to be end-of-life performances from such accomplished and important artists as Henry Townsend, Etta Baker, Gatemouth Brown, Cootie Stark, and Neal Pattman, as well as Kansas City shows by survivors of the Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters bands. However thrilled or not you may be by Shepherd’s own post-Stevie Ray theatrics, he’s a supportive backup (sometimes along with Vaughan’s old band Double Trouble) for these legends, and a sympathetic interviewer, This one’s worth it just for B.B. King’s philosophizing on musicians’ lives.
While it’s a bit heavy on time-killing, canned intro banter from host Dennis Weaver, there actually is video gold to be found on 50 Years Of Country Gold (S’More Entertainment), a compilation of performances culled from Academy of Country Music shows of around 1980. They’ve got Merle Haggard and Ernest Tubb dueting on “Walking The Floor”, enough said — but also Merle singing Jimmie Rodgers in brakeman’s clothes, Loretta Lynn nailing Patsy’s “She’s Got You” at the Longhorn Ballroom in Dallas, and offerings from the Carter Sisters, Don Williams, Mel Tillis and Waylon Jennings.
There’s a lot more varied Waylon, mostly from his 1970s heyday, on Waylon Jennings: Nashville Rebel (SonyBMG Legacy), a separate, single-DVD “companion” to the recent CD box set of the same name. Highlights include a 1974 set from Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert; a top-form, hard-edged set from a few months later (“Lonesome, On’ry And Mean”, “Ramblin’ Man”, etc.) simply shot by Cowboy Jack Clement; and much of the excellent full-tilt 1978 Opryland show previously released only on the 1991 VHS The Lost Outlaw Performance. If not quite career-spanning, this one’s the best Waylon video collection to date.
Emmylou Harris and Mark Knopfler worked up their recent CD over seven years, off and on; the new DVD of their limited tour together, Real Live Roadrunning (Warner Bros./Nonesuch), shows the pairing to maximum advantage — after they’d had more direct playing time together, and backed by such (additional) aces as Stuart Duncan, Richard Bennett and Dire Straits keyboardist Guy Fletcher. In addition to polished, lively versions of the songs from their collaboration, they update some of their individual hits (“Song For Sonny Liston”, “Boulder To Birmingham”), and both play on a couple of the most beautiful guitars you’re ever gonna see. There’s a bonus shorter live CD included.
Emmylou’s previous Brit tourmate, Elvis Costello, reappears onscreen in similar fashion with his latest live collaborator, New Orleans R&B hero Allen Toussaint, on Hot As A Pistol, Keen As A Blade (Hip-o/UME). They perform their recent co-written songs with their respective bands combined, but the highlights are from some imaginatively reworked versions of numbers from their individual catalogues. Costello’s rock turn on Toussaint’s “Fortune Teller” and the Toussaint rearranged, horn-laden “I Don’t Want To Go To Chelsea” are especially effective.
More new DVDs of interest include:
Marah: Sooner Or Later In Spain (Yep Roc). The Bielanko brothers et al. begin their first DVD — taped mainly in Mataro, Spain, a year ago — with “Amazing Grace” and “Uptown Girl” quotes, then blast and rasp their way through songs from across their multi-year roots-rock repertoire, especially numbers from Sooner Or Later. A live CD is included.
Bobby Darin: Seeing Is Believing (Hyena). A way better intro to Darin’s genuine versatility and finesse, from all across his career, than that well-intended Kevin Spacey movie, this DVD features twenty Darin performances, with an interesting emphasis on the roots-music influences in his pop. There’s a sexy, extended duet with Bobbie Gentry, and turns on “Proud Mary”, “Polk Salad Annie” and even “Got My Mojo Working”, as well as his hits, from “Splish Splash” to “If I Were A Carpenter”. This one will surprise newcomers.
Van Morrison Live At Montreux 1980/1974 (Eagle Eye). Van on video has been rare; this 2-DVD set offers two full, quite different shows. For the ’74 outing, Morrison plays acoustic guitar and a bit of sax behind a small R&B-oriented combo; familiar tunes such as “Foggy Mountain Top” are in the minority as he tries out numbers meant for the eventually aborted LP Mechanical Bliss. The later show is both more fun and more riveting, with lively, soulful turns on “Tupelo Honey”, “Listen To The Lion” and “Wavelength”, and bigger band backing.
loudQuietloud: A Film About The Pixies (MVD Visual). A good companion to the recent acoustic Pixies DVD, but more than that. This is a skilled, quietly revealing piece of filmmaking that examines, and shows, an idiosyncratic set of band members reuniting reluctantly from very different lives, awkward with each other at best offstage, but with affection for the influential music they make together.