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CD Review: Live from the Old Town School of Folk Music

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One-hundred-and-twenty-seven cuts here — a live digital box set — featuring the greatest names in folk music is served up as a fundraiser for Chicago's renowned Old Town School of Folk Music. Everyone's here, from Pete Seeger to Jean Ritchie. Songwise this is a huge sourcebook from "Stewball" to the "Frog's Wedding," from "Methodist Pie" to "Maple Syrup Time." The set list is astoundingly thorough with surprises galore.

Where else you gonna find Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, the Mekons' Jon Langford, even Peter Case? Old standbys like Utah Phillips and Malvina Reynolds are represented as is Joan Baez doing a gorgeous version of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." I loved hearing Rambling Jack Elliott, a couple of Doc Watson specials and even three acoustic tunes by Steve Earle. A personal favorite is Steve Goodman's rousing version of "The Twentieth Century is Almost Over."

On the negative side, aside from Bruce Molsky and Tim O'Brien, hardly any trad string bands are represented, nor did I hear North Carolina's Elizabeth Cotten. There were too many hackneyed yawners, like "The Cuckoo," "Home on the Range," "Polly Wolly Doodle," "Wake Up Little Sparrow," "Red River Valley" and too many Odetta cuts. But there's plenty to like — or loathe — depending on your tastes. There's Donovan doing "Mellow Yellow" and "Colours," Taj Mahal when he was fresh, Dan Hicks, John Hartford, Merle Travis, a veritable who's who of the folk world. Here's a musical gold mine, suitable for today's difficult and desperate times.

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