Snakefarm - Songs From My Funeral

Songs From My Funeral

Snakefarm

RCA 07863 67687-2

Kneeling Elephant Records
17835 Ventura Boulevard, Suite 310

(distributed by BMG)

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Michael Gasser (migas@compuserve.com)

Snakefarm's Anna Domino did a few New Wave inspired records back in the eighties. She is said to have been an important influence for trip hop bands, namely Portishead. Now you may ask what has this kind of music got to do with folk? On this album Anna Domino and her husband Michel Delory have taken the liberty of assembling ten well-known folk tales, deciding that it was high time to lose the Kingston Trio approach to these tunes. These are songs that no one from the acoustic scene seemingly dares to cover anymore. And it must be ages since I heard a new version of John Henry. The British mag FRoots did an extensive article on Snakefarm and praised them highly, not something they do very often with music from the States.

And I think they were right - this CD sets new standards. The music is refreshing. I wonder whether all those years ago when Dylan plugged in his electric guitar at Newport, people felt a similar change is going to come. Of course it just might be that this album will have no further impact, but I believe this will not be the case. It is radical, yet respectful. At last the banjo meets the computer. And hey, they don't seem to hate each other, and they may even have a future together. Until recently I wouldn't have thought it possible to add so much new life to these old chestnuts. It has to be said, though, that some of the tunes are hardly recognizable anymore. This Train That I Ride is probably best known under the title 500 Miles (in the version from Hedy West). It comes along full of loops, a pumping bass and snarling drums, with just the basic melody remaining unchanged. To my knowledge the only other musician who has ventured into a somewhat similar direction is Beth Orton, although her approach is much softer. Snakefarm's delivery of Rising Sun is quite remarkable too, with acoustic instrumentation, an upright bass and flamenco-inspired guitar accompanied by cool beats. If you're into the folk revival of the early sixties (Joan Baez, Odetta, etc.), then you may well know all these murderous ballads. They received new treatment back then, and they get a different treatment today as well.

In case you regard Joan Baez' version of Banks Of Ohio as sacred, then avoid this record. But should you possess an open and adventurous mind for contemporary folk music, then this might be just the CD for you. I think it's a very exciting idea that Snakefarm's version of This Train That I Ride might be played on a dance floor near you. Once again folk music is reaching out to a new audience.

Track List:

  • St. James
  • Rising Sun
  • This Train That I Ride
  • Frankie And Johnny
  • Laredo
  • John Henry
  • Black Girl
  • Tom Dooley
  • Banks Of The Ohio
  • Pretty Horses
All songs based on traditional ballads.

Edited by Roberta B. Schwartz
(rschwartz@oeb.harvard.edu)

Copyright 1999, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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