Carolyn Hester,
We Dream Forever
(Crazy Creek, 2010)

For the past 50 years -- since Buddy Holly's producer, Norman Petty, produced her first album -- Carolyn Hester has been one of the giants of traditional folk music. She was one of the folk revival singers who took traditional music out of the mountains and into the cities, convinced that music could help change the world. One of the great interpreters, Hester has a beautiful, smoky soprano that rings clear and pure, a voice that is at one and the same time strong and sweet, innocent and knowing and has always had the ability to find the great songs, whether they were public domain traditional tunes or freshly composed by her contemporaries. Among the singers whose careers she has helped kick off are Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Nanci Griffith.

On her new album, We Dream Forever, Hester continues to show that she is still a major figure in American folk music. The song choice is wonderful, mixing an impressive number of fine covers to original material. Among the covers are Kate Wolf's "Brother Warrior," Dylan's "Boots of Spanish Leather" and Irish songwriter Tommy Sands' "Age of Uncertainty." All of the performances are strong and honest. Although her voice is still one of the wonders of the age and she can sing the slats off of a barn, Hester has always emphasized that the song is more important than the singer; she has always used her voice to showcase the song rather than, as so many performers do, using the song as a vehicle for the voice.

Still mentoring, this time she showcases her two daughters, Amy and Karla Blume. They accompany her, singing harmony, and each gets to take the lead on a song. Karla contributes "Even Star," an Edgar Allan Poe poem that she set to music, while Amy sings one of her sister's originals, "Love to be Deceived." The album closes with Hester singing a song she has been associated with for all of her career, Ed McCurdy's anti-war piece, "Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream."

We Dream Forever shows us an artist at the peak of her powers, one who in no way caters to the demands of the music business but instead continues to do what she has done for her entire career: to go her own way, to remain her authentic self and to make important music.

review by
Michael Scott Cain

17 July 2010

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