In his concerts, Arlo Guthrie often tells a story of performing with Pete Seeger at a European folk festival. When asked to add to a series of iconic singalong songs from Seeger’s bottomless folk repertoire, Guthrie responded by leading the crowd in a version of “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You.”
This speaks to the area where folk and popular music coexist cozily, if sometimes confusedly. And it’s in this nether land that banjoist/resonator guitarist Ivan Rosenberg happily wanders throughout his most recent recording, Oldies And Old Time. Using clawhammer banjo techniques on a low-strung banjo and a resophonic banjo, along with a resonator guitar, and often chiming in with his simple, effective, and understated singing, he wanders through his own crooked road that connects the Appalachians with Tin Pan Alley.
What makes this album work so well is that he takes the same fundamental approach to traditional songs like “Red Rocking Chair” and “Waves On The Sea” as he does to “Georgia On My Mind” and “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain.” This allows the timelessness of the song itself to stand out in a musical context that is as skillfully played as it is simple and effective.
While, admittedly, it can be a bit jarring to hear one more version of, say, “Christmas Song” and “Danny Boy,” it’s pretty safe to say that we don’t generally hear these old chestnuts done as old-time numbers. And interspersed among such classics as Eddie Arnold’s “You Don’t Know Me” and Brownie McGhee’s “Don’t Pity Me” are a handful of Rosenberg’s original tunes, “Abject Woodchuck” and “Sloth Up A Gum Stump,” that are as quirky and charming as any of the standards. With the addition of his instructive liner notes for his fellow banjoists, the result is a beguiling trip through the backwaters of American music history by a very entertaining guide. (Hearth Music, 14879 6th Ave. NE, Shoreline, WA 98155, www.ivanrosenberg.com.)HK