Roger McGuinn, former leader of The Byrds and 1991 inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, combines his acoustic roots and love of technology on Treasures from the Folk Den, which subsequently became a finalist in 2001’s GRAMMY Awards as “Best Traditional Folk Recording.”
For this CD, Roger’s “studio” was a portable computer with multi-track software, and he traveled the Eastern Seaboard from Florida to Maine to record old friends and early influences Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Pete Seeger, Odetta, Jean Ritchie, Tommy Makem and Josh White Jr. in their homes, in borrowed apartments and other informal sites. These modern “field recordings” capture Roger and these musical icons performing 18 traditional songs from their mutual past in the Golden Age of Folk Music – the late Fifties and early Sixties.
The impetus for this project came from Roger’s concern that our country was losing its musical past as folk music was being pushed into obsolescence by more contemporary trends. His first step in preserving the songs and style he loved was to record and post his solo versions of favorite folk songs on the “Folk Den” page of his website http://mcguinn.com for free download each month, accompanied by reminiscences, lyrics, guitar tablature, and even evocative illustrations.
After seven years of posting, Roger decided to re-record many of the Folk Den songs for commercial release as Treasures from the Folk Den, this time enlisting his illustrious musical friends in mostly acoustic duo and trio combinations. While taping Joan Baez, Roger also had the opportunity to meet and record with one of the rising talents in the modern folk genre, Eliza Carthy (daughter of British folk deities Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson), who plays fiddle behind Joan’s vocals on the opening “Wagoner’s Lad,” “Willie Moore,” and on the instrumental “Reel.”
Among the other folk standards on Treasures are “Fair Nottamun Town” and “John the Revelator” (both with vocals by Jean Ritchie), “Dink’s Song,” “Alabama Bound,” “In the Evenin’” (all with Pete Seeger, who also improvised “Pete’s Song” with Roger for the CD), the Irish-based “Whiskey in the Jar” and “Finnegan’s Wake” (with Tommy Makem), and other songs showcasing Judy Collins, Odetta, and Josh White Jr.
Although the 1964 formation and subsequent success of The Byrds and their electrified “folk-rock” simultaneously popularized contemporary songwriters (most notably Bob Dylan) and marginalized traditional folk, most Byrds albums and McGuinn’s subsequent solo releases have contained folk-flavored songs from the past (including “John Riley,” reprised here as a duet with Judy Collins).
With his longtime interest in technology, McGuinn was an early proponent of the Internet and started posting songs on his Website in 1994. And just as his work with The Byrds always pushed the electronic envelope in exciting ways, McGuinn’s extensive knowledge and use of digital recording equipment is central to Treasures from the Folk Den. The music may be timeless, but the means behind it couldn’t be more timely.