on May 21, 2002
I've been spending a lot of time listening to and reading about Cisco lately. I'm not sure where it started but I don't want to see this great American folk singer and folk hero forgotten. This along with the vastly different Folkways collection represent an excellent sampling of Cisco's solo recorded output (he recorded 100's of songs singing harmony for Woody Guthrie many of which have never been released). However, this collection is far from perfect. I still don't like the use of orchestral music and background singers on such songs as This Train which opens the album and Dark as a Dungeon (although it works and is necessary on Way Out There). And his version of Diamond Joe and Dark as a Dungeon on the Folkways collection are more stirring and far superior. Also it's incomprehensible that none of the 17 songs recorded on March 6, 1961, just weeks before his death, which appeared on his Vanguard "I Ain't Got No Home" lp are found here. True his voice wasn't nearly as strong at that point but it had a sweet, sad tone and his guitar playing was masterful. That album contained gems such as Trouble in Mind, Ramblin' Round, East Texas Red, Danville Girl, Tom Joad and Hobo Blues that I wish were included here. But there's plenty to like about this disc. His hilarious readings of Badman Ballad (which he wrote) and the bum's view of Big Rock Candy Mountain. A nice version of This Land; the previously unreleased So Long It's Been Good to Know You. And of course, his seminal versions of some of Woody Guthrie's best songs including Deportee, Buffalo Skinners, Hard Ain't It Hard, Grand Coulee Dam, Pretty Boy Floyd, Do Re Mi and his absolutely great reading of Pastures of Plenty with a young Eric Weissburg on banjo. Two more excellent previously unreleased songs are John Hardy and Tramp on the Street (which you'd swear was sung by a country gospel singer). Cisco had a great voice, a very good guitarist that was able to use the instrument to perfectly complement his vocals and was also extremely versatle. I agree with William Adams in his assessment that a true fan of this great music needs to hear both Woody's versions and Cisco's versions, usually very different but both great.
on January 24, 2002
I love Cisco's voice above all other folksingers. He could carry a tune, at a time when the proper polical attitude or the proper color was more highly valued. His guitar playing was wonderful, a light and charming style that accompanied his wonderful voice. Then why not 5 stars? Well, the arrangements on some of these are awful. Why they used these lush strings, as if they were trying to copy Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle, is beyond me.
There is a great voice in here. There is great music in here. There is an awful lot to like. And yet I cringe on a few...
Buy it soon; I bet it won't stay in the catalog for long. I don't know why he isn't THE singer of the fifties and sixtes, but he's not. Died before he had a chance to impact the trendsetters I guess. But no one could sing as he did. And every good song is better than anyone else's.
on June 28, 2006
(Due to time constraints, this review is a mirror image of the one I did for Cisco Houston's "Best of the Vanguard Years." They are both great. Together they are stupendous.) I bought these 2 albums together a couple of months ago, and have been playing them constantly since then. Ranging from deep and serious, funny and ridiculous, to serene and haunting, the songs all reveal an incredibly modest soul. The baritone voice is a balsam for your battered psyche. With these two albums you not only get the best of CH, but also a "Best of the Folk Repertoire" from 1944 to 1963" excepting that of Bob Dylan and perhaps a few others. Aside from his haunting ballads, I especially love the kid's songs. Some of the best of the genre from that era. The albums complement each other perfectly, with no duplication.