Album Review

Curtis & Loretta--- Keeping the Modern Folk Tradition Alive

Curtis & Loretta - When There's Good To Be Done

When I moved to Seattle from San Diego back in '78, I knew I was leaving a stronghold of the new folk and bluegrass movement which was beginning to take hold in the southwest. SD had just begun to embrace this new movement which encompassed Modern Folk, Newgrass, Trad Folk and Dawg Jazz. Folk Life was picking up steam and concerts were being staged with the likes of David Grisman, David Bromberg, Jim Ringer, Utah Phillips, Rosalie Sorrells, and Mary McCaslin--- some oldtimers doing what they had always done, some new kids twisting the old styles into a new sound. Labels like Folk Legacy and Folkways and Rounder, among others, were filling racks at the local stores, many of them purchased as fast as they were stocked. I hated to leave because I saw and heard what was happening and was drawn to it, thanks to having grown up on Peter Paul & Mary, The Kingston Trio, The Limeliters and The Brothers Four, a staple of the Pac NW when I was a teen. I knew I was going to miss something, but I had to eat and the chances were slowly disappearing in that Southwest Paradise, and for me, it was that.

Strangely enough, I stepped from one folk paradise into another. Seattle was everything SD was and more when it came to the various music scenes and I found myself jumping from the shallow end of the pool into the deep. A local scene was well under way featuring the likes of Reilly & Maloney and Jim Page with outsiders stopping by for regular visits--- Utah Phillips, Jim Post, Ringer & McCaslin among them. Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger had always been popular there, the Pac NW having been a crucial area when it came to unions. And radio supported the scene, KZAM-FM leading a charge which featured not only local music but small independent labels. It was a magic time which spanned maybe eight years but good years they were for the acoustic-leaning.

It all came back in a rush when I received an album from Curtis & Loretta titled When There's Good To Be Done. Deja vu all over again, as Yogi once stated. They call Minnesota home but I swear they could have spawned from the Seattle of the mid-seventies to mid-eighties. Curtis Teague is second voice but prominent on mandocello, guitar, and banjo. Loretta Simonet, along with a clear lead voice, plays folk harp and guitar but also supplies twelve original stories and songs, each specific to a person or persons. These are not Loretta's stories but her interpretations and they ring true in the Modern Folk vein. You know--- that period spearheaded by the likes of Joe & Eddie and Pete Seeger and Peter Paul & Mary.

They are personal, these songs, and presented in honest simplicity. Like “June On His Mind” about a couple during the early World War II years who were too young to marry. The young man joined the Navy, promising the girl he would return. He might not have made it but for a happenstance which found him abandoning ship to help save a sailor about to drown. What went through his mind during the battle was his girl, June, to whom he was married upon returning home. Like “Where the North Wind Blows” about a Native American abandoned to the White Man's “system” and survived the horrors of discrimination and abuse until finding a home he could as easily have not found. Like “Case 9164” about life in an orphanage back when they were both prominent and notorious--- a case history put to music.

Every song tells a different story in Modern Folk tradition, each presented in Loretta's traditional style. Verse/chorus/verse and in perfect structure.  

Credit goes to the artists who added their talents to the project--- Peter Ostroushko, Pam Bowers, and Liz Ferron the most recognizable, at least to myself. Every voice and every instrument comes through with flying colors.

You don't find that many people writing songs in this tradition anymore, at least not as many as there once were. If you like music like this (and there is plenty to like), I suggest you check out Sing out Magazine's Facebook page (click here). History in folk music since 1950 and still going strong.

Curtis & Loretta's music is available from their website, www.curtisandloretta.com.