Marti Rogers,
Plain & Fancy
(Museme, 2004)

Jean Ritchie's influence is all over Marti Rogers' music. Of course it's hard to match Ritchie's singing, which is incomparable, or her interpretations of traditional ballads, or her terrific writing. Or, not incidentally, her authentic Kentucky roots and rich family musical heritage.

Put that aside -- if you know who Jean Ritchie is, it'll be the first thing you think of when the disc starts spinning -- as you listen to Marti Rogers, and Plain & Fancy's pleasures will find their way to you. Rogers is not young. From the photograph on the cover, I suspect that, like me, she's been around long enough to have been there when the 1960s folk revival was in full flower. Her approach is the mostly unadorned one that you may remember from records on Sandy and Caroline Paton's Folk-Legacy label: spare, entirely acoustic, sweet-voiced, deeply experiment-averse.

You don't hear that sort of thing much these days. This collection of folk and folk-based songs and ballads reminds me that people other than authentic, direct tradition-carriers have made perfectly decent and honorable music that way. Rogers (guitar, autoharp, dulcimer), a Pennsylvanian, has gathered up some standards -- chestnuts to the uncharitable -- such as "Barbara Allen," "Shady Grove," "Johnny, I Hardly Knew You," "Fair & Tender Maidens" and the like, then scattered them amid a few of her own compositions (notably the striking "Lucid, the Rambler") and Richard Farina's "Birmingham Sunday" (set to the melody of the old Scots "I Loved a Lass" and quoting its riddle about ships in the forest). Her husband Tom Levy accompanies her on bass, joined here and there by multi-instrumentalists Tom and Marianne Tucker and dobroist Tom Wade, for this Tom-heavy project.

The resulting sound is living-room ambient, coming at one -- one has the impression -- from never more than five or 10 paces away. Homey and intimate, in other words, comfortable as an old, faded flannel shirt, a much-occupied couch or a beloved book you return to every few years. No reasonable listener will find anything to grouse about, except perhaps to grumble that maybe it's time to let "The Cuckoo" rest after about a zillion recorded flights.

by Jerome Clark
2 December 2006

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