Nu-Folk. What is it? Is it the British Invasion in reverse? There’s a lot of evidence that London is once again the capital of the distinctly American music form known as folk. But what’s in a name? We have here right on this continent as much a claim for the rebirth of acoustic based heartfelt music with a purpose as any. What’s clear is that “It’s all over now baby blue” as far as the recording industry is concerned and folk music is the best chance we have at reclaiming music as a people’s medium. Folk music is a way of communicating radical ideas and helps the powerless gather the great courage needed to fight for survival against the mechanical button pushing future that awaits us if we don’t do anything. A call to arms is at the center of this movement and if it isn’t is should be. This is the time to put away your electric guitar and crossover to the acoustic side. On July 25th, 1965 at the Newport Folk Festival Bob Dylan with a ragtag band made up of musicians from The Butterfield Blues Band that only knew two songs that they rehearsed the night before played to an astonished crowd an electric version “Maggie’s Farm” which started a trend that has maybe now finally come to an end and run its course. It’s time to realize that by playing electric folk music today’s musicians would be giving in to the corporate powers simply by being held hostage to using the electricity that they spew out at alarming rates considering the plight of the planet that we’re ravaging while we’re reveling. Aren’t we consuming the dirty resource while we’re playing electric instruments that’s precisely at the center of the endless power struggle between the haves and have nots? The corporations do have great power over us but the times are changing and we really need new folk heroes to lead the way. “Unplugged” was the good old eMpTV’s way of circling the wagons around their monopoly but they’ve long since given up that pipedream to American Idol and that ilk. All they seem to care about now is celebrity pregnancy and to titillate you with dumbed-way-down vacuous reality shows about people who don’t know the first thing about folk music. Who will lead us out of the musical darkness we’re now in and how will they use this powerful medium of the people to help guide us away from the precipice of the ultimate corporate takeover that will swallow us up if we don’t take decisive action?
The Dala girls are great candidates. I saw them perform last May 21st, 2011 at The Sanctuary in Chatham New Jersey and they brought out the big names with their angelic voices that are so perfectly matched that they will undoubtedly be forced to stay together for life. As an acoustic duo treasure from Scarborough, Canada they are just one of our great hopes for the future of the music we know as folk. Why? Because they sing “Ohio” like they mean it and they know exactly what side they are on. Because they sing “Girl from the North Country” like it was always their song. It was Canada after all that brought us so many great folk artists like Joni Mitchell. They performed “Both Sides Now” as if it was written just for them to sing. It’s also songs from the great American folk songbook that they play like North Carolina’s Loudon Wainwright III’s “One Man Guy”. Amanda (Da) who dedicated the song to her father in the preamble and told us a great story about him packing her lunch hippie style (one raw carrot) and not allowing music at the dinner table. Since they played music all day long they needed to take a little break for their nourishment. She loves her father’s free spirit and gives him full credit for helping shape her mindset that will always be faithful to the values of the previous generation instead of rebelling against it. Why? Because those values he gave to her are universal and bridge any generation gap. Amanda also has a wonderful stage presence and is a true star in the sense that she commands your attention without demanding it. She also plays the ukulele, guitar and glockenspiel. Sheila (La), the other side, showed us great musicality and the ability to soar to great heights with her voice. The two played one solo number each and could stand on their own very nicely but it’s the duo that sets off the sparks. They ended the show with Mancini’s “Moon River” and fellow countryman Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon”. Both these songs conjure up great notions of the vastness and power of nature in the North American continent that should be cherished and protected. They also have a great Smothers Brothers like repartee on the stage even when addressing a serious issue.
Mel Lyman, the self proclaimed avatar and charter member of The Jim Kweskin Jug Band, is credited with being one of the people who helped calm the crowd down after Dylan’s Judas moment at Newport and restored the folk faithful to its purpose. He unfortunately went on to create a weird commune on Boston’s Beacon Hill that was infamously highlighted on national TV in 1970 by two blissed out cult members who were unknown stars in the Antonioni movie called Zabriske Point, Mark Frechette and Daria Halprin. They had an extremely strange appearance on The Dick Cavett Show to promote the film and both curiously said that they simply lived to serve Mel Lyman. Well that sort of thinking helped put an end to the hippie-folk movement. Why should anybody support or join any movement following a musician when musicians are much better suited to be guides and spokespeople not leaders that we blindly follow? Maybe that’s what Dylan was saying all along: Don’t follow me because I’m doing my own thing but try to listen to a little of what I say and maybe you’ll learn something you can use to help the world be a better place.
These Dala girls are very cute and they do not quite have the transformative presence of a Joan Baez singing “Joe Hill” at Woodstock but they could be at the forefront of something new. They could deliver the message that needs to be heard and they have the bright clear voices to do it. They had a short song about Global Warming and they should flesh that one out but at least they showed that they care about the things that need to be dealt with if we are going to save the planet and save ourselves from corporate dominance. They probably are as good an example of what‘s out there on the road going town to town singing their hearts out. Their voices are golden and without the slightest bit of affectation which in today’s warble-y world of nothing but female vocal gymnasts without a cause is thankfully a new direction. If I hear one more baby-voiced singer espousing the virtues of a car in a commercial who is nothing but a folk singer wannabe without anything to say who was raised on nothing but Portishead, or the numerous others who all sing in that same old fashioned fake twang, I’ll stop watching TV all together and listen to some real music in my vast collection. If we can just give up our electricity maybe we have a chance and just play music around the proverbial campfire.
”Time will tell who has fell and who was left behind when you go your way and I go mine.” Maybe Bob was trying to tell us something when he went electric that day, he went his way and we followed but we all benefited by an increased awareness of seeing things his way which was universal in its day. The rock and roll movement was back then. Now the time is clearly upon us and we’ll need to step away from the amplified noise and embrace the acoustic music. This is truly the meaning of Nu-folk. Community breeds creativity and makes us stronger. Steve Gabe, 8/4/2011