So the other day at No Depression someone raised the question, “What is Folk Music?” Well, the question has been floating around inside my head for the last several days and while I don’t have any definitive answers, here’s my take on it! I guess when I think of pure folk music I think about artists who performed older traditional songs, like Pete Seeger and The Weavers, or Jean Ricthie, maybe throw in an Elizabeth Cotton, Woody Guthrie, and “Doc” Watson. But in the 60s after the rise of “folk” groups like The Kingston Trio, The Chad Mitchell Trio, and The Limeliters, folk music took a swing to the left and maybe turned a little inward as a new group of musicians arrived on the scene. This group was lead by Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Phil Ochs, singing side by side with artist like Tom Rush, Tom Paxton, Eric Andersen, Jerry Jeff Walker, Paul Seibel, Dave Van Ronk, Fred Neil and many others. These were the folks that shaped my “Folk” world, and their music was my “Folk University”. Just a man or woman with a guitar commenting on the human condition. Many times they were political comments particularly with Ochs and Paxton but often they were touching songs, moving songs with “heart” and “feelings” and songs that made you think! Songs like Tom Paxton’s Cindy’s Crying”, Paul Seibel’s “Louise”, Fred Neil’s “Dolphins”, Tom Rapp’s “Rocket Man” or Och’s “Flower Lady”. The way I like to refer to this music is that it’s “Folk’s Music”, music by folks and about folks! To me there’s nothing better than a good story song about someone, like Harry Chapin’s “Mr. Tanner” or Jerry Jeff’s “Stoney”. Now all this is leading up to the artist that I’ve been listening to for the last couple of days Ron Hynes and his latest album Stealing Genius. Ron Hynes is a great Canadian folksinger hailing form Newfoundland and he has been writing great folk’s songs for the last 30 years. One of them “Sonny’s Dream”, has been recorded worldwide by many artists, and was named the 41st greatest Canadian song of all time! And to think, I just heard of him (once again my bad!). But like they say “better late than never!”
I’m not going to bore you with his biography and his list of accomplishments, you can read them here at his website. But I will say from his website that:
Ron Hynes’ songs have been covered by dozens of artists worldwide, including Emmylou Harris, Christy Moore, Mary Black, Denny Doherty, Murray McLauchlan, Valdy, John McDermott, Terry Kelly, Prairie Oyster, The Good Brothers, Shaye, The Cottars and most recently, classical soprano Hayley Westenra.
Stealing Genius is a collection of fourteen well crafted songs. After reading the notes about these fourteen songs in the liner notes you can see that Hynes takes his craft seriously and gives each song a lot of thought and care, and oftimes bases his songs on the works of others he admires,(ah, maybe that’s where the title Stealing Genius comes from genius!) in this way he reminds me a lot of Tom Russell. While all of the songs are great, I do have my favorites and they include: “My Father’s Ghost” a touching story song about loss of a father at sea, “Judgment” a song about Robert Ford and the shooting of Jesse James, and I guess if I hadn’t known he was Canadian I would after I heard the song “Sawchuk” about the great hockey goalie Terry Sawchuk. Sandwiched in between these great songs are other songs about life, love and loss of love. So if you are like me and never heard of Ron Hynes go find his music at the usual places, Myspace, Sonicbids, Facebook, and Amazon and once again I have some older albums to check out!
Here’s Ron with a performance of “House” from Stealing Genius