Enoch Kent,
I'm a Workin' Chap
(Second Avenue, 2002)

Stereotypical folk music is gentle, peaceful and introspective, typically features someone with an ethereal voice and a mournful guitar, and prominently showcases playful dragons. Those of us who know and love the entire depth and breadth of folk music -- blue collar, played-in-the-kitchen folk music -- will enjoy Enoch Kent's I'm a Workin' Chap.

The title gives you a taste of what you're in for: the trials, struggles and foibles of ordinary people, people who are neighbors or family, people like you and me. The music is firmly rooted in the folk revival of the 1950s and '60s. Old traditional Scottish ballads like "Floor of Northumberland" and "Laird O' the Dinty Doon" are sandwiched between songs with a strong social consciousness like "I'm a Workin' Chap" and "No More Cod On The Banks."

It is no surprise that Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Stan Rogers and Ewan MacColl are alive and well and being celebrated in this music. Enoch Kent was a founding member of the Singers Club in Scotland, which also included MacColl and Peggy Seeger. His political songs work because, like Seeger and Guthrie, Kent writes and sings from personal involvement. Enoch's originals, like "My Father's Cause," come from the "kitchen table, where many of the world's wrongs were discussed, if not righted," or from first-hand experience like "The Farm Auction," a song written after witnessing the event and reminiscent of Rogers' "Field Behind the Plow."

Though the CD is strongly political, this should in no way deter anyone from listening. Its politics are the politics of the witness. Each Kent original is a strong testament of the state of the world as seen by the songwriter on that day. There is no preaching, no proselytizing and no soap box; the songs are about people, not morals or messages. The lyrics and music are enjoyable in and of themselves; Enoch is an excellent songwriter. The politics are inherent in the subjects, not artificially driven home like an Oliver Stone movie.

Musically, the album is a gem. Enoch's gravelly, single-malt voice is a perfect match for the earthy topics of his songs. Accompaniment is spare, often nothing more than a touch of guitar or fiddle (accompanists are Ian Bell, guitar; Shelley Brown, flute; Lawrence Stevenson, fiddle; and Tim Harrison, guitar). Enoch's singing commands the spotlight and many of the songs are sung a cappella, sean-nos style.

Whether he's singing about love, sex or war, Enoch's voice has the weight and authority of experience and age. Enoch's not a young man (mid-60s) but a younger man might not be able to sell the emotion of this collection. His voice rasps, rolls and growls through the songs. He doesn't smooth out any of the Scottish dialect, though he does provide the lyrics to each song with a translation of some of the more difficult Scots words. All of the ragged edges to the vocals and lyrics draw you in by the power of its honesty.

I'm a Workin' Chap is a throwback recording, a disc that combines old traditional Scottish ballads with the best of American and Canadian folk revival music. Weaving ancient ballads with originals, its power stems from its honest, personal portrayal of working life. Its beauty springs from Enoch's gruff vocals, his straightforward interpretation and the spare use of accompaniment. I'm a Workin' Chap is a marvelous recording that puts the folk strongly at the forefront of folk music.

- Rambles
written by Fred Keller
published 30 November 2002