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The Simple Things

If you want to know what the New York folk scene was in the sixties, Randy Burns can tell you. If you want to know what life was like in the Village, how Bleeker & McDougal became more than a street corner or how the music scene jumped from Dylan and Ochs and, yes, Burns, to a rock & roll free-for-all, Burns can tell you that too. He was there. He opened more shows at the Gaslight Club on Mcdougal in Greenwich Village than you can probably count, he recorded albums for ESP-Disk' (his Song For an Uncertain Lady album, released in 1970, is an undiscovered classic) and signed with Polydor Records for a decent run.

His band was called the Skydog Band and while I am sure they were great on some nights and just good on others, I never heard them live. My experience came only through the few albums they released. For a time, I began my days with a loud blast of Life's Begun from their Still On Our Feet album. When I was in Seattle, I inhabited the Blue Moon Tavern occasionally and had many deja vu moments, the atmosphere of the Blue Moon reflecting that of the bar/tavern in which they took the album jacket photos.

Only my good friend Gary Haller at the House of Records in Eugene knew of my attachment to . In my days there, he would save the used albums as they trickled in, usually radio station promos, for Burns was little known on the West Coast and received little if any airplay. When I would visit Eugene in later years, we would talk of our guilty pleasures: Ramatam and Cat Mother and, of course, Burns. The music was attached to the times and those times were good.

Those times are long past, I know, but the memories are there and I am happy to say that so is the music. God knows where Burns had been keeping himself, but he has resurfaced in New York (if he had ever left) and is again (still) playing. The proof is in the grooves--- the grooves of his latest album, The Simple Things. It won't be his latest for long, though, as he is readying a newer album for release as I type, but we'll address that when it is on the street. Right now, let us focus on simpler things.

It didn't take me long to float back to the past when I put The Simple Things into the player. The music coming from the speakers carried me back to simpler times and, like I said, very good times they were. I had heard most of the songs before--- in fact, Seventeen Years On the River was my second most loved track from Still On Our Feet--- but not like this. The Skydog Band was not present, of course, and the music had changed in its presentation, but Burns' voice was unmistakable and his presence was as big as ever. It wavers ever so slightly more than before, but only an iota and I cannot say that it doesn't add to the music. His phrasing is solid and these are undoubtedly his songs.

He sings from the heart, for he loves the music he writes and performs, and he sings from the soul. These are love songs of a sort, a look back to the old days, and they were good times for him, too. You can tell. There is a drama to the songs, a theatrical presence, if you will. The band is just a band, I guess, but much bigger than you would expect. They are orchestral in their presence if not in their instrumentation and the big moments are stage moments and every bit as monumental as if written and performed for Broadway.

Burns rolls through his classics and not so classics on the album: Sad Irish Tunes and Rock and Roll Slowly and Jesus and the Late Night Girls and Canadian Dancer and others you have probably not heard but should. He ends it all with Waiting For an Old Friend, a song much more than just its lyrics or its music. It is a look toward what folk music was, maybe, and a lamenting look at the people who, along with Burns, made that music.

I am getting old, I know. I remember those folk days, though I experienced them from afar. But I, too, lament the passing not only of time but the passing of friends and family and those who made the past personal. This album reminds me that though I am not unhappy with the present, I owe so much to the past. And it is good to know that I'm not alone. Randy Burns is there remembering right alongside me.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

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