Fred & Irwin Silber, editors,
Folksinger's Wordbook
(Oak Publications, 1973;
Music Sales Corp., 2000)

I'd known Madelyn for an hour or so before she pressed a copy of Fred and Irwin Silber's Folksinger's Wordbook into my eager hands.

She was a friend of a friend. During a brief visit to Madelyn's house, we discovered a mutual love for music. Seeing me absorbed by this particular volume, she generously insisted that I borrow it for a while.

And then, to ensure its good care, she inscribed a curse inside the cover: "May the sidhe call he who misuses me!"

Believe me, I've taken good care of it ever since. However, I also never returned it -- shortly after the book's loan, Madelyn moved from Maryland to Oregon. By the time I managed to track down her new address, she'd moved again. No forwarding address. That was more than a decade ago.

So if you're reading this, Madelyn, I've taken good care of your book. And hey, if you ever want it back, e-mail me!

The book in question was already battered when it came into my possession. Water-stained, with well-turned pages, I believe it was already well used when Madelyn bought it second-, or possibly third-hand. But that just goes to show how absorbing books like this can be.

Folksinger's Wordbook has the lyrics to more than 1,000 folk songs. No music, sadly, although it does contain notation for chords. But wow, what a great collection of words!

The table of contents is 13 pages long; the alphabetical index in the rear is 10. Subject headings range from "Bile Them Cabbage Down" (hoedowns, jigs and reels) and "All Over This Land" (songs of green places, big cities, mountain ranges, waterways and prairies) to "The Farmer is the Man" (songs of renters, hayseeds, sharecroppers and workers on the land), "Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms" (pretty self-explanatory, don't you think?) and "Murder Most Cruel" (songs of cruel mothers, jealous lovers, quarreling brothers and other bloody ballads).

Those are just a few of the 39 separate song chapters. Songs are drawn from all over the world, too -- lots of American songs, plenty of Ireland and Britain, plus a scattering of French, Yiddish, German, Mexican, Canadian, Australian and more.

If it's lyrics you want, chances are pretty good you don't need to look much further than Folksinger's Wordbook. Just make sure that, if you borrow a copy, you know how to return it to its rightful owner. (And no, you can't borrow mine!)

Fortunately, this long out-of-print volume is coming back into print this year. It's about time, I say -- treasures like this should not be left buried for long.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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