Dave Van Ronk

Down In Washington Square

BY Jason SchneiderPublished Oct 29, 2013

As interest in the new Coen Brothers film, Inside Llewyn Davis, builds, it's no surprise that music by its main inspiration — Dave Van Ronk — would reappear. Of all the artists Bob Dylan associated with upon his 1961 arrival in NYC, arguably none had a greater impact on him than Van Ronk. As a white acoustic blues singer, he balanced Dylan's Woody Guthrie obsession by introducing material from black artists such as Blind Lemon Jefferson and Rev. Gary Davis to his repertoire, with Dylan soon recording numbers like "House of the Rising Sun" based on Van Ronk's arrangements. As a man with a huge voice, and a persona to match, Van Ronk seemed destined to remain an outsider, but Down In Washington Square is the long overdue tribute he's deserved. While his skills as a blues interpreter are rightly emphasized throughout the three-disc set, the breadth of his musical range shines through on gospel standard "Just A Closer Walk With Thee," several sea shanties and his greatest performance: folk ballad "Dink's Song." Any serious Dylanologist needs to be familiar with Van Ronk's work, and this is the best place to start. However, for any folk music fans, Down in Washington Square will offer endless revelations.
(Smithsonian Folkways)

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