DAVE VAN RONK
DOWN IN WASHINGTON SQUARE (3CD)
Smithsonian Folkways (SFWCD40213)
The availability of CDs by Dave Van Ronk is among the most often raised enquiries from Red Lick customers.
Listening to this new collection of recordings made for the Folkways label between 1959 and 2001, it is easy to see why. The 54 tracks herein demonstrate a musician equally comfortable, confident and convincing in a number of idioms - folk, blues, jazz, skiffle and just about anything else he chose to try. Furthermore, he developed such a vast repertoire of songs and range of guitar techniques that it is not just enjoyable to listen to him but also an education. No wonder he acted as a musical mentor to so many younger musicians on the Greenwich Village music scene through the years, most notably Bob Dylan in the early 1960s.
This set draws on albums released during the period but also to be found within the near-three hours of music included across these three discs are 16 never before released studio recordings and live sides.
The 40 page booklet is also an added bonus to the great music, providing as it does not just introductory notes to the man's qualities, charms and talents but also a song by song summary. This means you can not only listen to Dave's beautiful rendition of, say, Oh, What A Beautiful City, you get to find out that he learnt it from Rev Gary Davis, that the classic ballad Betty And Dupree was about South Carolinian bad guy, Frank Dupree, and so on.
This exceptional compilation has been timed to co-incide with the release of Inside Llewyn Davis, a new movie about a fictional folk musician struggling in Greenwich Village in the 1950s and is believed to have been based loosely around Van Ronk's published memoir of the time, The Mayor Of MacDougal Street. I'm not sure that the movie will be any good but anything that raises his profile and re-awakens interest in his great body of work, much of which is beautifully presented here, is just fine with me.
Review Date: January 2014