folk in the city

This collection runs the gamut from solo acoustic singer/songwriters to blues to alternative rock, and nearly everything in between.

For some people, the words “folk music” conjures up images of old white guys with acoustic guitars singing squared up traditional tunes. The listeners of Forham University’s WFUV (Bronx, NY) are among those who know better. Every week day they get fifteen to seventeen hours of music in a program block called City Folk.

In the industry, the genre is known as adult album alternative, but for the common people, it’s just folk music; as in music about the common person and for the common person. Stylistically, this can range from solo acoustic singer/songwriters to blues to alternative rock, and just about everything else in between.

Along with playing recorded music, the station hosts and broadcasts concerts performed at Fordham University and local New York venues, as well as in-studio interviews and performances. Since 1998, WFUV has been putting together annual compilations of the in-studio performances, and last fall they released City Folk Live 9.

This collection is music-only, which is a pity since some listeners would probably enjoy hearing snippets of the interviews as well, but the trade-off is worth it. Eighteen live tracks by eighteen very different artists and bands results in 72 minutes of music that keeps the listener’s attention. As with listening to the radio, if a particular song does not appeal to you, just wait a bit (or skip it) and something different will follow.

The performances and production are so spot-on that except for a bit of reverb to give it a concert hall feel, it almost sounds like slick multi-tracked studio production. The sheer volume of in-studio performances allows the City Folk Live producers plenty of options to avoid weak recordings while still selecting tracks from both this year’s darlings as well as long-established musicians.

City Folk Live 9 has something for everyone. My personal favorites are Brandi Carlile’s “Throw It All Away,” Rosanne Cash’s “House on the Lake,” and Alejandro Escovedo’s “Arizona.” All of the other tracks are quite listenable, including the blues and soul tunes, which are outside of my usual genre preferences. One of the advantages that a live recording has over a studio recording is the energy and presence of the musicians. This can draw in listeners who may not have otherwise paid attention to the performer.

Fortunately for WFUV, but perhaps not quite so fortunate for those outside of its listening area (and who are unable to listen online), the only way to get a copy of City Folk Live 9 is to become a member of the public radio station. It seems a small price to pay for a strong folk compilation such as this.

Track listing:

  1. David Gray, "The One I Love"
  2. James Hunter, "No Smoke Without Fire"
  3. Wood Brothers, "Luckiest Man"
  4. Rosanne Cash, "House on the Lake"
  5. Alejandro Escovedo, "Arizona"
  6. Mason Jennings, "Be Here Now"
  7. Gomez, "Girlshapedlovedrug"
  8. Nicolai Dunger, "My Time is Now"
  9. Ben Taylor, "Nothing I Can Do"
  10. Brandi Carlile, "Throw it All Away"
  11. World Party, "Is it Like Today"
  12. Sonya Kitchell, "Train"
  13. Dr John, "Such a Night"
  14. Ben Harper, "Morning Yearning"
  15. Lewis Taylor, "Stoned"
  16. My Morning Jacket, "Off the Record"
  17. T Bone Burnett, "Baby Don't You Say You Love Me"
  18. Josh Ritter, "Thin Blue Flame"