Published May 27, 2016Thirsty for a bona fide folk record? Look no further than Chaim Tannenbaum's debut album.
Tannenbaum cut his teeth with the likes of Kate and Anna McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright III (who called Tannenbaum his "musical conscience"), backing them up on their recordings and in concert, but until now, he's never released an album of his own. For years, he stuck to his academic day job (teaching philosophy at Montreal's Dawson College) and dabbled in music when opportunities arose; now, at age 68, Tannenbaum has finally stepped up to the plate.
Folk music seems to have gone through an identity crisis in recent years. Bands with the faintest hint of a banjo pass their music off as "bluegrass," and anyone who writes their own material tends to refer to themselves as a "singer/songwriter." This rebranding seems aimed at distancing themselves from the music of artists like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, seen by some as overly earnest and cliché. Tannenbaum's record is a passionate embrace of the very thing they're all running away from, and in his capable hands, it's anything but dusty.
Beautifully arranged with horns (C. J. Camerieri, Marcus Rojas, Wayne du Maine), harmonium (Dick Connette) and accordion (Will Holshouser), these songs are warm and full without straying from that delightful folky simplicity. They run the gamut, from old traditional numbers like "Coal Man Blues" and "Mama's Angel Child," to "(Talk to Me of) Mendocino," penned by his long-time friend, the late Kate McGarrigle, to poetic originals like "Brooklyn 1955." And with the exception of the rowdy (and slightly grating) final track, "Paddy Doyle," the album has the soft, comfortable feel of an old sweater, led by Tannenbaum's sweet, gentle tenor and sincere delivery.
It's unapologetically folk music, and it's all the better for it. (StorySound Records)