Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Generic Uptempo Folk Song: "This Little Light Of Mine"

One of the delights of the Hassilev-Daugherty-Zorn incarnation of the Limeliters (as on 2002's This Land Is Your Land PBS special) is their "Generic Uptempo Folksong," which manages simultaneously to satirize the genre, deliver an excellent example of it, and credit its most successful exponents ("the one we stole from the Kingston Trio"). [In the unlikely event that someone hasn't seen/heard this, I'm including it in an appendix below.]

As effectively as the Trio could deliver a ballad or quieter number (see the "Shenandoah/Across The Wide Missouri" discussion below - and "Flowers" of course, and many more), they set themselves apart from their host of imitators with their nearly inimitable delivery of strong, usually banjo-based fast songs with an energy approached IMHO only by the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem (in their distinctive style) and maybe CMT and PP&M on some numbers. But the Kingston's 50,000 watt performances just embodied the old saw of "often imitated, never duplicated."

Oddly, that golden Capitol T-996 that Bert mentions below does not open with one of these - "Three Jolly Coachmen" isn't "Hard Ain't It Hard" (which we know became their concert-opening staple) or "Little Maggie" on that same album. Most - but not all - of their subsequent albums, however, do open with a toe-tapper, if not always with a banjo number.

Now while At The Hungry i is often listed as the Trio's top-selling album (with no hit single but opening with generic UTFS "Tic Tic Tic") [KTOR lists [The Best of the Kingston Trio, there is no doubt that for many fans, College Concert is at or near the top of the list for either favorite album or favorite live performance album. And it, of course, opens with the Trio's stirring rendition of "This Little Light Of Mine," presented here as our benchmark for comparison:

The Trio always seemed both comfortable with spirituals, and after "When The Saint Go Marching In " (whose arrangement down to lyrics, pauses, and inflections is borrowed directly from The Weavers) had an interesting and original way with them - think about the key shifts in "Good News," or the modulations of volume in "Round About The Mountain" or the antiphony in "To Be Redeemed." They also stayed within themselves, to use the sports phrase, and didn't try to be something they weren't - like a gospel choir. For that - the roots version, I guess you could say, sounding probably a little bit closer to the way that the song actually was sung in the 19th century - here is the Sydney Ellis Gospel Quartet:

It's hard to say at this distance in time where the Trio got the idea for doing "Little Light," but certainly one of the highlight performances of the number pre-CC was by Bob Gibson as the Bob Gibson Trio (with master guitarist Dick Rosmini, whom our own Mr. Roadie knew, and legendary jazz bassist Herb Brown) at the Newport Folk Festival of 1960, the two Vanguard albums of which are personal treasures of mine. Gibson was the best damned folksinger that you may have never heard and had three albums of popped-up folk songs including a Carnegie Hall concert before the Trio hit Capitol Studio B.

No video of Bob is currently available - but Australia's Seekers are definitely doing Bob's arrangement in both lyrics and chord structure here:

For an interesting alternative take, here is Leontyne Price, one of the great American operatic sopranos of the last century:

I suppose I have to acknowledge that Bruce Springsteen did a creditable job with the song during the 2006 Seeger Sessions recording and tour - here he is in Italy closing his show with the Trio's opener:

If you do a YouTube search for the song, you will find literally scores, including many from European gospel choirs, clearly singing in a language and idiom not familiar to them in some cases.

As the Trio's version of this classic shows - they created their own idiom and performed brilliantly with in it.


The Limeliters "Generic Uptempo Folk Song":

(Yanked for CopyVio - so here are The Limeliters Who Never Were - current Lime Gaylan Taylor in the center flanked by former Limes Bill Zorn (L) and Rick Daugherty (R), currently in the Kingston Trio. Though all three had been Limeliters, they never played together until 8/10 at the KT Fantasy Camp. This one is not copyvio - this is just three guys playing a song):

And finally - I used to say that YouTube was over-populated by teenage girls lip-syncing and undulating in their rooms to various pop songs (leaving one to wonder about parental monitoring of online activity....another question).

I'm not a fan of that so this last may seem odd - but a) the girls aren't teens, b) they're in the driveway, c) the sound is surprisingly good, and d) they do a bang-up job. Here are Jenny and Kathy:

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