Our Side of Town

Lucy Kaplansky, Storyhill, Ray Bonneville, The Wailin’ Jennys, Greg Brown, Jimmy LaFave, Lynn Miles, Cliff Eberhardt, John Gorka, The Pines, Eliza Gilkyson, Jorma Kaukonen, Peter Ostroushko, Bill Staines, Robin & Linda Williams and Meg Hutchinson — that’s a fairly powerhouse collection of contemporary American folk singers and songwriters, and each is represented on Our Side of Town. The pictures they paint of twenty first century America on this collection cover both the hard and the good, the joyous and the confusing sides of how things go day to day, as true to life songwriters must.

Ray Bonneville starts things off with his dark, bluesy, and yet hopeful impressions of struggle and resilience and New Orleans in I Am the Big easy. Things aren’t so bright in Greg Brown’s America, as he describes in the vividly imagined Cold+ Dark +Wet, but love and joy and the possibilities of all that soar as Jimmy LaFave celebrates in Hideaway Girl. Lucy Kaplansky bring in hints of the Celtic touch to American music in the arrangement of her song Over the Hills, while Peter Ostroushko stirs in another flavor on Baghdad Blues. John Gorka speaks of the joys of music with When You Sing, and Robin and Linda Williams look at the joys of connection as they close out the seventeen track disc with Together All Alone.

Our Side of Town is a celebration, and a snapshot, if you will, of the music being offered by Minnesota based Red House Records as it marks its twenty fifth anniversary. It also works as a snapshot of the American story at this moment, personal interweaving with political, big themes being played out in the moments of everyday life, hope and joy holding out possibilities for a future beyond present struggles. That may make it sound as though the music on Our Side of Town is preachy or didactic. Not all: it’s just stories, told in some very fine voices. Eliza Gilkyson’s Borderline, while a tale that captures a certain moment in a relationship really vividly, is worth listening to for her singing even if you don’t care at all about the story, while Guy Davis, regardless of lyric, is going to draw you in and carry you along with groove on It Takes Love to Make a Home. It’s a good package, worth the listen both musically and lyrically. Red House Records is a small label, but one that’s clearly willing to take chances, and one that knows how to survive. It will be interesting to see what the next twenty five years brings at the label. Meanwhile, this is a good listen on its own and a fine introduction to the work of a wide range of artists.

Kerry Dexter is the.former folk music editor at VH1.com and a contributing writer at the folk and world music magazine Dirty Linen. She also writes about music, the arts, and creative practice at the award winning blogMusic Road

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