(Strange Attractors Audio House)
Folk music is difficult to define these days, since every
yahoo with an acoustic guitar as primary musicmaking tool gets labeled “folk.”
And while the “music for folks” cliché sounds banal, it’s also got a point,
y’know? But if you think of folk as music that carries on a tradition that
pre-dates the use of electricity, then Sharron Kraus is one of the 21st century’s greatest practitioners. On The
Woody Nightshade, the Oxford native not only has a perfect feel for a
haunting, acoustic sound that evolved little over the course of centuries, but
she writes original music in that vein.
Especially significant is that Kraus isn’t pretending she’s
living in the 18th century when she picks up guitar and pen – she
writes tunes that reflect the world she lives in now, even when the tunes use
non-contemporary imagery. “Evergreen Sisters” may sound like a poem from the
1800s, but its criticism of those who thoughtlessly plunder the earth’s
resources under the assumption that future generations will deal with the
consequences rings true now. “Story” reminds us that quaint notions of destiny
or fate don’t determine the way we live our lives, despite the religious forces
that constantly try to convince us otherwise.
Most of Kraus’ messages, though, aim straight for the heart
of the human matter. She deals with relationships from a mature, realistic
perspective, rather than a dewy-eyed romantic one. “Once” ponders a burning
romance that’s cooled to a deep friendship, and misses the heat from before.
“Teacher” contemplates how the affairs of youth repeat themselves in maturity.
“Rejoice in Love” celebrates its subject from a tempered perspective, advising
“Rejoice in love/But don’t rely on it/Fall in love/But don’t be surprised when
you fall out,” before concluding “I would rather not live with a lover/I’ll
live with friends/And together we’ll look after one another.”
Kraus’ jangling acoustic atmosphere sounds piped in from
another century, but it never hits the point of preciousness – this is a sound
she loves, not one she feels bound to by tradition. Her husky soprano, so much
like her forebear Sandy Denny’s, also helps keep the material germane. And
that’s the key to the artistic success of The
Woody Nightshade – this isn’t about representing folk as a museum piece,
but as a timeless, living tradition that’s as relevant now as it has ever been.
Sisters,” “Rejoice in Love,” “Once” MICHAEL TOLAND