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BEN TRAVERSE - Old Time American Music 

BEN TRAVERSE - Old Time American Music 
Earthwork Music EW7302 

Ben is a singer and multi-instrumentalist with his roots in the Michigan music scene, who came to folk song through an after-school programme celebrating Alan Lomax’s 1938 folksong recordings in Michigan. Here he releases an album of traditional American folk songs “performed in the spirit of early Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie recordings – raw, minimal editing, and a live feel.”

The songs are standard fare for this kind of release – Black Jack Davey, Silver Dagger, Lazy John, Shady Grove – and are indeed accompanied simply, with one vocal line supported by guitar, clawhammer banjo or autoharp. There’s no overdubs or multi-tracking - this is as you would hear him live – and the album is all recorded, performed and arranged by Ben himself. His voice is well suited to the material, though sometimes perhaps lacks the depth, or edge, that often comes with these songs. That may well come over time; he’s still fairly young.

Lyrics and notes on each song are found on his website, with links to other versions of the songs and notes about where the lyrics have been published – he’s done his research. The recordings from which he has learned show that he is drawn to modern protagonists of this music as well as older sources – as it should be – and he has listened widely.

Have I heard better versions of these songs, or more accomplished playing? Probably. But that isn’t really the point. This is a well-researched, well-sung collection, from someone who is passionate about “preserving musical traditions from years gone by”, and it does exactly what it says on the tin.

Fiona Heywood


This review appeared in Issue 145 of The Living Tradition magazine