365 Days of Album Recommendations – Jan 4

Dave Van Ronk – Folksinger


Of all the music and musicians to come out of the whole 60’s Greenwich Village thing, Dave Van Ronk was, for me, the greatest discovery of all.

Yes, of course Bob Dylan, but honestly, he didn’t start making his truly great music until he left that scene. And yes, Phil Ochs, but honestly, his was a finite accomplishment—a great accomplishment, but one inevitably boundary’d by the issues and eras that drove him.

Dave Van Ronk, on the other hand, meant the world to me from the moment I discovered him, and still means the world to me today, and he was and is the true proclaimed Mayor of MacDougal Street.

His accomplishment was and is simply gargantuan. His influence on me is immeasurable. When my first album came out on Blind Pig Records, and the Tom Waits comparisons started rolling in, I just kept thinking to myself, is NO ONE going to mention Dave Van Ronk? Isn’t it totally obvious???

Pardon my mention of race here, but it must be said that there are just not a whole lot of white folks who have ever done this sound right. Lots of great guitar players, but so few great singers. And even when the guitar playing is great, it’s usually TOO great. All the right notes, and none of the sloppiness. None of the grease. None of the funk. None of the physicality. None of the mistakes-turned-magic. And when the slop IS there, it’s self-conscious; intentional. As to singers, there just ain’t many. Too few who truly inhabit their own throats, who sing as if they’re about to expire. Who just let it rip. Who don’t need a bloody microphone to put a performance over. Who understand WHY you hold the first syllable long and loud …

Dave Van Ronk had it all. He played the guitar right, and he sang right. Not all his albums showcase this to good effect, mind you. A lot of his material was too “folk” for me. But this album, Folksinger, is virtually flawless. “Mr. Noah” and “Chicken is Nice” I could probably live without, but the rest is just incredible. “He Was A Friend Of Mine” is just heartbreaking, and pathotic, and perfect. Van Ronk’s version of “Motherless Child” here is just impeccable. “Come Back Baby,” “You’ve Been A Good Old Wagon,” “Stackerlee”; all just phenomenal. And then there’s “Po’ Lazarus.” Just a staggering masterpiece.

Recommended track to start with: “Motherless Child”

Why that track? It’s just got all the Dave Van Ronk things.

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