Sunday, June 16, 2019

From The Archives- Rosalie Sorrels Passes At 83 (2017) -A Rosalie Sorrels Potpourri-Idaho, Cafe Lena, Childhood Dreams and Such

*From The Archives- Rosalie Sorrels Passes At 83-A Rosalie Sorrels Potpourri-Idaho, Cafe Lena, Childhood Dreams and Such

If I Could Be The Rain I Would Be Rosalie Sorrels-The Legendary Folksinger-Songwriter Has Her Last Go Round At 83

By Music Critic  Bart Webber

Back the day, back in the emerging folk minute of the 1960s that guys like Sam Lowell, Si Lannon, the late Peter Paul Markin and others were deeply immersed in (and the former two never got over since they will still tell a tale or two about the times if you go anywhere within ten miles of the subject-I will take my chances here because this notice is important) all roads seemed to lead to Harvard Square, the Village down in NYC, North Beach out in San Francisco, and maybe Old Town in Chicago. That is where names like Baez, Dylan, Paxton, Ochs, and a whole crew of younger folksingers who sat at the feet of guys like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger.  

But there was another important strand that hovered around Saratoga Springs in upstate New York, up around Skidmore and some other colleges. That was Caffe Lena’s where some of those names played but also where some upstarts from the West got a chance to play the small crowds who gathered at that famed (and still existing) coffeehouse. Upstarts like Bruce “Utah” Phillips (although he could call several places home Utah was key to what he would sing about). And out of Idaho one Rosalie Sorrels who just joined her long-time friend Utah in that last go-round at the age of 83.

The last time I saw Rosalie perform in person was back in 2002 when she performed at what was billed as her last go-round, her hanging up her shoes from the dusty travel road. She was on fire that night except the then recent death of another folk legend, Dave Von Ronk, who was supposed to be on the bill (and who was replaced by David Bromberg who did a great job) cast a pall over the proceedings. I will always remember her cover of Old Devil Time that night -yeah, give me one more chance, one more breathe. But I will always think of If I Could Be The Rain whenever I hear her name. RIP Rosalie Sorrels 

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment