Tuesday, August 05, 2008

by ericbkk #4

Cisco Houston - 2 Albums

Cisco Houston was a balladeer and folksinger whose life and songs bridged the generations. Guitar in hand, he travelled all over America, absorbing the sounds of his time, translating those sounds into folksongs.
In 1961, at the age of 42, Cisco's life was cut short by cancer. But the tragedy of Cisco's death made many people realize how fine a singer this troubled man from Colorado (sic) really was.

"Passing Through" (1963?)

Liner Notes:
by Cisco Houston

A folk song is a way of singing out the news---of a wedding, a murder, good times or bad times, good people or bad people. It is one way of making a record of memorable things that happened. In the days before newspapers, and among people who could not have read them even if they had existed, the folk song was a kind of chronicle and running commentary on the times. Many folk songs have lived for hundreds of years, while nothing is more dead than yesterday's newspapers. The folk songs and story ballads were not the most accurate kind of history, of course, because once the event, whatever it was, had been recorded, generations of singers went on elaborating and changing the song - smoothing it out, or shaping it up to suit their own ideas of how the event might have happened. Often, the event which started the song was blurred or lost as time went on. The song then took on its own independent life. Aristotle said in his poetics, that art is truer than history because it shows what should have happened, rather than simply what did happen. It is true to its own inner necessity rather than to the accidental historical event. In this sense, the song is certainly true, because however much the actual event which inspired the song might be changed, the song was always a true record of the attitudes and feelings of the generations.

01. It Takes A Worried Man
02. Stewball
03. Red River Valley
04. Barbara Allen
05. Down In The Valley
06. Children Go Where I Send Thee
07. The Cat Came Back
08. East Virginia #2
09. Little Dogie #2
10. Mole In The Ground
11. Old Blue
12. John Henry
13. Trouble In Mind
14. Passing Through

Somehow, several years after Cisco's death, Folkways scraped together a few unreleased tracks on wildly varying quality and put them inside a package with the ugliest LP cover of all time. With this was a bizarre biographical paragraph (Colorado???) and a short piece of Cisco's prose taken (and slightly modified) from The Cisco Songbook.
Well, Dr. Logsdon took three tracks from this LP for his Folkways Years CD, and I would certainly agree they are the best. But there are a couple of other interesting performances as well, that show a very tender Cisco. His performances of the old-time American folk songs of Down In The Valley, Barbara Allen and Red River Valley are wonderful. Spare, simple, with a quiet guitar to keep time, they sound as they would have been sung next to a campfire.
Unfortunately, the LP is padded with duplications of material Cisco recorded on other LPs, and in most cases the performances are essentially indistinguishable from the earlier versions. The guy must have recorded hundreds of songs, why two versions of Git Along Little Dogies? : ~ Jim Clark

Acknowledgements to Uncle Gil's Rockin' Archives blog for these files.

"Cisco Houston Sings the Songs of Woody Guthrie" (1961)

What can I say? If you love Cisco, you must own this. If you like Woody, you must own this. If you enjoy folk music, you must own this. One can quibble as to whether some of these performances were "over-produced" or not, but the bottom line is that Cisco is in fine voice, his guitar rings out true, the songs are some of Woody's best, Cisco was in on the creation (uncredited) of several of them. Some people just can't warm up to Woody's own voice and pickin', and for them, these versions by Cisco were essential to forming an appreciation of Woody's genius. : ~ Bill Adams

Track Listing

Pastures Of Plenty
(My daddy flies a) Ship in the Sky
Grand Coulee Dam
Sinking of the Reuben James

Curly Headed Baby
Ladies Auxiliary
Taking It Easy
Hard, Ain't It Hard

Jesus Christ
Buffalo Skinners
Pretty Boy Floyd
Philadelphia Lawyer

Old Lone Wolf
Talking Fishing Blues
Ranger's Command
Do Re Mi
Blowing Down That Old Dusty Road


192 kbps

There are five performances on here that should be on any collection of Greatest Folk Performances: Pretty Boy Floyd (compare this to Joan Baez's shrieking version available on The Greatest Songs Of Woody Guthrie); Buffalo Skinners (if this doesn't sound like a 100 year old song I don't know what does); Do Re Mi (the classic Depression song, sung by a guy who sounds as if he knows firsthand); Deportees (the essence of folk music, the downtrodden and abused); and Sinking of the Reuben James (which makes the loss of life a tragedy but not a maudlin spectacle.) Other fine songs are here, but these alone make it worth far more than its modest price. Cisco was the definitive interpreter of Woody's music, not just because they were friends for many years, but because he gets inside these tales. These are not performances as songs are currently performed, with some god or goddess acting as if they are downtrodden, rough-and-tumble, or broke. No, these versions live and breathe Woody's emotions, and the emotions of millions of Americans who loved their country, worried about its policies, bravely fought its wars, and looked forward hopefully to a better world a comin'.
The notes reproduce the original notes from the LP, capturing Cisco's heartfelt appreciation of Woody. A good man describing another good man. One line especially worthy of note:
"Nowhere in Woody's work will you find the 'I was born to lose' whimpering so common to commercial hillbilly tunes." These are tales of the hard working, patriotic, and staunch people politicians claim to care for but Woody and Cisco truly knew and loved. : ~ Jim Clark

Cisco Houston is sometimes more remembered for his association with Woody Guthrie than for his gift as a folksinger. His smooth, deep baritone was interpreted by many folk purists as "commercial," thus inauthentic, and unlike Guthrie, he preferred interpreting other writer's songs as opposed to writing his own. Released two years after Houston's death, Cisco Houston Sings the Songs of Woody Guthrie finds the singer once again stepping out of the limelight to pay deference to his famous friend. The surprising thing to anyone unfamiliar with traditional folk music, however, is how enjoyable and accessible this collection is. Indeed, Houston's vocals on classics like "Deportees" and "Buffalo Skinners" are much more pleasing musically than Guthrie's dry, Oklahoma rasp. If one compares Houston's take on "Pastures of Plenty" with Guthrie's version on The Asch Recordings, for instance, Houston's version comes across as more inspired and more respectful of the lyrics. While this comparison would not hold true on Houston's versions of "Pretty Boy Floyd" and "Do Re Me," his interpretations are more than proficient. Perhaps the best way to understand his contributions to folk music is to understand him as a prophet of sorts, a John the Baptist spreading the word about another great folksinger who -- because of Huntington's chorea -- could no longer sing his own songs. Cisco Houston Sings the Songs of Woody Guthrie is a lovely tribute to a friend by someone who understood the significance of his music. ~ Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr., All Music Guide

Fiddle & mandolin accompaniment by Eric Weissberg of "Duelling Banjos" fame in the movie "Deliverance".

Thanks to Merlin in Rags blog for these files.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The source for all this material is www.ciscohouston.com. If posted elsewhere, it is swiped from there. Read it at the source, where there is a lot more!

06 August, 2008 19:44  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The file "Red River Valley" in Passing Through is corrupt. Can anyone repost?

07 August, 2008 07:57  
Blogger ericbkk said...

As anonymous says, most of the information about these albums came from ciscohouston.com.
It wasn't particularly easy to get info about these albums from almost half a century ago, and I'm grateful to the site for having the info which I was looking for, and I realize it was somewhat ungracious of me not to acknowledge the assistance I got from the excellent site, so belated thanks to ciscohouston.com for the useful info about CH, and if you want to know more about the artist, this site is the one to visit.

07 August, 2008 13:48  
Blogger ericbkk said...

Red River Valley Repost:



08 August, 2008 14:37  
Blogger illuminator said...

Hello and a 1000 thanks for these wonderful tunes. Appreciate it alot. Do you know if it's possible to find the album: "The Best of the Vanguard Years" anywhere on the web?
Been looking for it a long time. Cheers/Cisco-fan

13 June, 2009 21:42  

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