Bethany Yarrow,
Deep Folk (self-produced, 2003)
reissued as
Rock Island (Little Monster, 2003)

When you listen to Bethany Yarrow, you quickly realize that this is not your father's folk music. Bethany, daughter of Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary fame, has taken the influences of traditional folk music and combined them with elements of current popular music. Her musical path has been similar to that of Eliza Carthy, daughter of British folk legend Martin Carthy.

On Deep Folk, Bethany takes traditional folk tunes and gives them a modern sound. Traditional instruments have been mostly replaced by the use of sampling and other studio wizardry. While the results may not appeal to traditional folkies, Bethany gives these songs a modern, unique twist and does it well.

Her vocal style shares characteristics ranging from Sarah McLachlan to the sexy soulful styles of Sade. On the more traditional side it's reminiscent of the powerful folk and blues of Odetta.

Deep Folk opens with the traditional songs "Black is the Color" and "Pretty Polly." Bethany's treatment maintains the melody but gives them a more rock-oriented sound. "Rock Island Line" features a more uptempo, hip hop-style rhythm including a sample of Leadbelly. "She's Like the Swallow" has a nice, ethereal sound with various studio effects working nicely with the haunting lyrics and melody.

Bethany's reworking of Odetta's "Another Man Done Gone" gives the song a bluesy-reggae beat combined nicely with her powerful vocals. The version of the traditional song "The Unquiet Grave" maintains its nice Irish flavor in a much more uptempo fashion.

One of the CD's best tracks is "Pretty Horses." While the song's beautiful melody is maintained, it gets treated to a reggae beat that meshes very nicely. On the more traditional-sounding side "The Cruel War," featuring Bethany's father singing with her accompanied only by a cello.

Deep Folk contains two original songs: "Oh Baby" is a bluesy, soulful-sounding song whose lyrics are based on the Rev. Gary Davis's "True Vine." The second is a beautiful pop-like song called "Come to Me," which has a definite McLachlan quality to it.

It must have been interesting growing up in a house so full of musical influences. Bethany Yarrow's music might not appeal to the same people who listened to her father's music, but she succeeds at giving these songs a modern twist, and in turn introducing them to an audience who might otherwise ignore them. Deep Folk is a thoroughly enjoyable CD.

- Rambles
written by Dave Townsend
published 30 August 2003

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