A Folk Holiday Tradition
An Imaginary Christmas In Idaho, Rosalie Sorrels & Friends, Limberlost Books&Records, 1999
The first paragraph here has been used in reviewing other Rosalie Sorrels CDs in this space.
“My first association of the name Rosalie Sorrels with folk music came, many years ago now, from hearing the recently departed folk singer/storyteller/ songwriter and unrepentant Wobblie (IWW) Utah Phillips mention his long time friendship with her going back before he became known as a folksinger. I also recall that combination of Sorrels and Phillips as he performed his classic “Starlight On The Rails” and Rosalie his also classic “If I Could Be The Rain” on a PBS documentary honoring the Café Lena in Saratoga, New York, a place that I am also very familiar with for many personal and musical reasons. Of note here: it should be remembered that Rosalie saved, literally, many of the compositions that Utah left helter-skelter around the country in his “bumming” days.”
I do not usually do Christmas holiday-oriented CD reviews but I am on something of a Rosalie Sorrels streak after getting, as a Christmas gift, a copy of her “Strangers In Another Country”, her heart-felt tribute to her recently deceased long time friend Utah Phillips. Thus, in the interest of completeness I will make some a couple of comments. I will skip the obvious Christmas-oriented material here, although the spirit of anti-Christmas at least as the CD unfold is ‘in the air’ on this CD, including a little send-up of the old yuletide season by the above-mentioned Brother Phillips (“Jingle Bells’- Phillips style). The core of this presentation is the alternative take on the various traditions of Christmas out in Idaho (“The Fruitcake” and “Christmas Eve” , out in Minnesota (“Just A Little Lefse”)and among those who live a little closer to the edge of society (“Winter Song” and Grandma”), like Rosalie and her friends.
I need not mention Rosalie’s singing and storytelling abilities. Those are, as always, a given. I have noted elsewhere that Rosalie and the old curmudgeon Phillips did more than their fate share of work in order to keep these traditions alive. Old Utah handled the more overtly political phase and Rosalie, for lack of a better expression, the political side as it intersected the personal phase. That is evident here, especially in her recitation of a note and poem written by a Native American woman in response to the lingering death of her grandmother. Powerful stuff, at Christmas or anytime, and a rather nice way to come to terms with the tragedy of death that we all sooner or later face. Listen to this fine piece.
A special note to kind of bring us full circle. My first review of Rosalie’s and Utah’s combined works together mentioned a spark of renewed recognition kindled by long ago PBS documentary about the famous folk coffee house “The Café Lena” in Saratoga Springs, New York whose owner, Lena Spenser, sheltered them at various times from life’s storms. Lena, from all reports, was something of a 'fairy godmother' to many later famous folk singers and artists when they were either down on there luck or just starting out (or both). I have my own strong ties to Saratoga, its environs and Café Lena but Rosalie’s tribute to her late friend here, “Bufana and Lena”, about the Italian version of the Santa Claus myth can stand as the signpost for what this CD has attempted to do, and what that long ago folk revival that Lena represented was trying to do as well.