Grit Laskin,
Unabashedly Folk
(Borealis, 2000)

Unabashedly Folk is a double CD re-release of Grit Laskin's first two albums, Unmasked and Lila's Jig, with the addition of two previously unreleased tracks from the same time period. Both of the albums are excellent, and well worth releasing on CD -- as a first-time listener to Laskin, I could see why fans have been lobbying for so long to have his earlier albums available in CD format. Laskin is an incredibly talented individual -- as a singer, as a songwriter and as a musician.

Simply looking at the number of instruments he plays is impressive. Laskin, from Toronto, Canada, can be heard playing long-necked and tenor mandolins, Northumbrian smallpipes, guitar, concertina, tin whistle, button accordion and Appalachian dulcimer. Oh yeah -- and he does some vocals, too! Laskin is joined by Paul Mills, Ian Robb, Garnet Rogers, the Friends of Fiddlers Green (chorus), Ann Lederman, Brian Pickell, David Parry and wife Judith Laskin.

Laskin has been described as a "thinking person's songwriter," with which I would definitely concur. His albums are full of spoofs on traditional music, songs dealing with social and political issues, tongue-in-cheek humour and well-composed, catchy tunes. The liner notes for this album include the original introductions and notes as they were written, and are full of Laskin's witty and dry humour. I often found myself snickering (or even loudly guffawing) at his notes and lyrics, or tapping my toes to a snappy beat.

Laskin has a strong, rich voice which reminds me of Stan Rogers. (Ironically, Laskin was the first person besides Rogers to record on his Fogarty's Cove label.) Laskin's spoofs and parodies are daring and clever -- "Cosmic and Freaky," "The Photographers," "A Fair Maid Walking" and "Macho Man" all had me in stitches. Laskin has a wonderful talent for voicing the things that people usually keep to themselves.

Many of Laskin's songs had a much more serious side to them as well. He is able to sing about such a variety of subjects, and do it well. "The End of a Pointed Gun" is a political song about murdered Israelis in the 1972 Olympics, which was set to the melody of a traditional Israeli folksong and could be related to any country ravaged by war. "Shut Off the Power and Say Goodbye" was, in Laskin's words, "...a plea for right to die with dignity when nothing stands between life and natural death but massive assemblages of cold technology." "The Oldest Man In The World" ponders what enables the men of mountain villages in Russia to live so long. Laskin also does a heartfelt rendition of Nancy White's "Sewing Machines," about clothing sweatshops in Toronto.

Laskin has great talent in the instrumental department as well, both with traditional tunes and his own compositions. The set of "The Lady On The Island/High Road To Linton/The Mooncoin Jig" highlights Laskin's musical prowess, and is played with energy and finesse. Laskin's own compositions are excellent, and well in keeping with the traditional style he was aiming for. "The Reversible Polka" is an upbeat tune with A and B parts which harmonize when played together. "The Beginner's Waltz" (thus named as it the first waltz he had written) had a strong rhythm to it, and a good, danceable tune, while "The Old World And The New" was a nice tune, and well played by Laskin on the mandolin. The set of jigs which included "Lila's Jig" was well arranged, catchy and had some great harmonies. "Beans In The Grinder" is a wonderful jig, too. Laskin says that his wish in writing dance tunes is that people will add them to their repertoire ... well, as soon as I am talented enough to play it, this one's going in mine!

There were a few songs on this recording that particularly caught my fancy. "Life on the Rolling Sea" had a great melody, and the chorus ably assisted his clear, crisp voice. Garnet Rogers' fiddle stood out, and did some excellent harmonies with the guitar. "Where Does Love Come From?" was a pleasant, thoughtful song, and "A Fair Maid Walking" with its traditional tune and not-so-traditional lyrics had a laudable sound.

What more can I say about this album? If you like Grit Laskin, traditional folk music, original dancin' tunes, or witty parodies, you're likely to enjoy it! The two albums re-recorded for Unabashedly Folk were definitely worthy of a repeat.

[ by Cheryl Turner ]

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