Holly Near & Ronnie Gilbert,
Lifeline Extended
(1983; Appleseed, 2002)

This CD commenced life in 1983 as Lifeline. It has now been re-mastered and extended, with a new title to reflect that.

Holly Near and Ronnie Gilbert are giants of the contemporary folk scene as individuals; this CD brings them together in a live performance. With 23 tracks, two of which are medleys, this is top value and is a sort of catalogue of great songs from the middle of the last century.

The CD opens with "Harriet Tubman," and this song about a woman who helped the fight against slavery sets a theme for the album. The majority of tracks are about women, but what else should two great females celebrate.

Their adaptation of Guthrie's "Pastures of Plenty" is excellent. There is a certain Joan Baez sound to Near's voice. This is a slower than the usual version but is all the stronger for that. "Two Good Arms" is a gem of a song about Sacco and Vanzetti. These singers are never better than when they perform songs of social justice and concern. They follow the track with "Biko."

My favourite track on disc one is "Started Out Fine." It tells the tale of the tribulations of a single mother and her views on the men she hooks up with. "No More Genocide," written by Near, gives us food for thought, as the best folk music should. It recounts the death of the Indian, the rise of the Klan and the so-called God's will of starvation. Listen, learn and do something.

"The Activity Room" is a sort of day in the life of a person in a retirement home as everyone tries to get her involved. "Singing for Our Lives" is another song by Near that gives us something to sing about -- "we are a land of many colours, we are gay and straight together."

I enjoyed hearing this album. It is subtitled a "two-CD historic collection" and listening to the tracks here you are carried back through the middle decades of the 20th century. This is a lovely way to relive and be reminded of the battles and triumphs of that time. As you listen you will probably recall your own battles and victories.

The songs are not likely to set the airways alight -- the subjects are probably still too sensitive for most mainline stations -- but they are enjoyable and the CD is well worth the purchase price. You are buying history.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 12 April 2003

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