Unabashedly Folk. www.williamlaskin.com
Although Grit Laskin is world-famous for the guitars he builds, he has also spent the last 25 years writing and performing music. With the band The Friends of Fiddler’s Green, with Ian Robb, and as a solo act, Grit’s music has graced folk clubs, concert halls, and major folk festivals across North America. He plays tenor mandolin, Northumbrian smallpipes, concertina, guitar, and fiddle, and he has accompanied musicians as diverse as Raffi and Stan Rogers. Respected as a songwriter as well as a musician, Grit’s songs have been recorded by the likes of Pete Seeger, the Tannahil Weavers, Margaret Christl, and Rick Fielding. Grit’s album, “A Few Simple Words,” is a beautiful collection of finely crafted songs, hailed by Sing Out! Magazine as “a stunning album.” His latest recording, “Earthly Concerns” earned him still more praise. And his latest recording, “Unabashedly Folk” is a special double-CD re-release of his first two solo recordings “Lila’s Jig” and “Unmasked.”
“Even at such and early date, this is going on my list for possible album of the year. I love it. It’s a remastering onto a double CD of two earlier vinyl albums, Unmasked and Lila’s Jig.
Grit Laskin, once labelled “the nice Jewish kid from Toronto,” is an amazing man. His main occupation is that of a luthier and apparently his guitars are highly thought of . At the same time he;s been a much-recorded multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter and tunesmith for at least a couple of decades. He’s a man with a social conscience, sensitively aware of the struggles of the disadvantaged. He has a wry and sometimes hilarious sense of humour, able to see the absurd in us and in the folk tradition with gentle compassion.
He is firmly rooted in the English and Celtic musical traditions. Liberally sprinkled throughout this double-album set are reels, hornpipes, polkas and jigs played in fine traditional style. They feature fabulous sounds from Grit’s octave and tenor mandolins. He wrote many of the tunes himself, while there are also old favourites like The Road To Lisdoonvarna, Old Hag You Have Killed Me and the Mooncoin Jig. I particularly love Lila’s Jig (Lila is his mother), a beautiful, sonorous piece which I just can’t get out of my head. If you play any kind of instrument, you’ll want to get it out and join in them all – Grit’s bouncy, happy style is irresistible.
About half of the 26 tracks in all are Grit’s own songs, some serious, some very funny. You’ll love Cosmic and Freaky, a 1970s hippy take-off of that old hack Pleasant and Delightful. The Upper Class Shanty is a ripper call-and-response sea song with the response refrain, “Dow Jones!” And Macho Man is a hilarious look at the future demise of that doomed species.
On the serious side there are songs like The Life of a New Mother, The End of a Pointed Gun, Shut Off the Power and Say Goodbye (about euthanasia) and Nancy White’s sad song about the life of an immigrant, Sewing Machines. A Standout song for me is A Lucky Man, in which Grit basically tells us that that’s what he is and is suitably grateful for it. In this, as in several other songs, there are some huge harmonies from the other musicians which are quite stunning. Instruments you’ll hear played by various people are mandolins, guitars, Northumbrian smallpipes, concertinas, fiddle, piano, viola, tin whistle, button accordion, Appalachian dulcimer, flute, bodhran and bass. that ought to keep most of you happy.
This CD set is indeed Unashamedly Folk. Those of us who have a limited tolerance for electric guitars and drumkits will breathe a huge sigh of relief that real folk is alive and well, (at least in Canada).”
In Folk Us
A Few Simple Words
“Laskin’s creative talent seems boundless. He builds extraordinary guitars in his Toronto workshop, featuring perhaps the most imaginative inlay work of any luthier today. As a musician and singer, he performs solo, as part of the Friends of Fiddlers Green, and as backup on recordings by everyone from the late Stan Rogers (who owned several Laskin instruments) to Raffi. His original songs have been covered by Pete Seeger, the Tannahill Weavers and many others. And he’s about to publish a novel. Somehow, Grit has even found time -finally – to record his third album. The first two were on the Fogarty’s Cove label. A Few Simple Words is a modest misnomer since Laskin’s songs are highly literate, witty and diverse. He has always included both humor and deeply-felt social commentary on his recordings, and this one continues that pattern.
Laskin is known for his hilarious parodies of folk song genres, but on this album the humor is more restrained. Re has a funny anti-dieting song, a lively calypso about being a guitar maker, and an amusing description of learning to play fiddle. These aren’t the punch-line jokes of his earlier songs, but they all have clever lyrics and delightful performances.
On the more serious side, Grit sings about the outcasts in his community (“The Margins Of My Neighborhood”), businesses that cheerfully use free trade as the excuse to dump their work force (a rewrite of the traditional “A begging I Will Go”), and the frustration of having a healthy mind in a deteriorating body (“The Never-Ending Quickstep Waltz”). Two songs are particularly remarkable. “My Turn” describes someone who lives by his own convictions, including an interracial marriage, and remains satisfied at the end of his 80 years; set to a beautiful tune, it articulately celebrates courage and integrity. The album’s centerpiece, “In The Blood,” is a powerful ballad about a real-life court case involving a man accused of deliberately infecting three women with the HIV virus. The lyrics are largely taken directly from the trial testimony and dramatically express the frustrating ambiguity of the case. I really admire Laskin’s songwriting on these pieces, which are passionate but never strident.
Perhaps acknowledging the number of serious topics here Grit adds an amusingly self-referential song that has “Nothing To Say.” Adding further variety to the recording, he sings an exquisite love song to his wife, plays an original waltz on tenor mandolin, offers some bluesy observations on the challenges of love, and closes with a sweet lullaby for adults.
This is a beautifully recorded work. Grit’s co-producer Ken Whiteley plays more than a dozen instruments on it, always adding just the right touches. (Grit’s own excellent guitar work is also ever-present, though rarely showcased.) The sound is rich without ever seeming over-produced and without ever burying the songs themselves.
The title track notes our craving for great songs: “Just a few simple words / Joined to a simple melody / But we yearn for it with such force/It truly does astonish me.” Grit Laskin has now contributed an impressive collection of gentle, humane and intelligent songs of his own. He puts words and music together with the same skill and imagination as he does his guitars, and the result is a stunning album.” (BB)
No shows booked at the moment.