Years ago, as a new parent, I was looking for songs that would engage my daughter without the insipidness that comes with much children's music. I learned quickly that Raffi was usually a good bet, and a Raffi record became a sure thing when Ken Whiteley was involved. This was my introduction to the Whiteley family, and led me to learn more about Ken and his brother Chris and their Original Sloth Band. More recently I've been drawn to Chris's own daughter Jenny Whiteley, who I just learned sang in the chorus on Raffi's “Baby Beluga.”
Jenny Whiteley's newest recording is The Original Jenny Whiteley. For readers who listen regularly to the roots music of the American south -- Appalachian string bands, bluegrass, jug bands -- many of these songs will be familiar. I particularly like Whiteley's versions of “In The Pines” (recorded by Mike Seeger, Hazel Dickens, and Roscoe Holcomb among many others) and “Stealin' Stealin'” (Johnny Young, Memphis Jug Band). Her version of “Groundhog” ranks right up there with classic recordings by Doc Watson, Frank Proffitt, and Pete Seeger.
Whiteley's original tunes are steeped in tradition too. “Banjo Girl” is a favorite and reminds me of many traditional fiddle-banjo tunes that might be heard at any gathering of old time musicians. The lyrics are simple and memorable making it good fodder for a singalong. The call and response adds an enjoyable kick to the song.
The standout on the record is “Log Cabin In The Sky.” It's performed with primarily Whiteley's banjo and vocals along with a touch of harmonica, and the banjo work here is superb. Many readers are probably most familiar of the recording of this song by The Incredible String Band. ISB's Mike Heron wrote the words and put them to an older tune, the “Cowboy Waltz.” I think I learned that tune from Skip Gorman; it's also been recorded as an instrumental by The New Lost City Ramblers, Woody Guthrie, and others. Regardless of the sources, Jenny Whiteley's version quickly became my favorite version. The balance and musicality is spot on. Throughout the summer I would find myself singing “Winter is nigh let us fly…”
Whether you've been listening to versions of these songs for decades or if these are brand new to you, there is much to enjoy on this record. The traditional songs, the original songs, and the contemporary covers combine to make this a new favorite of mine. - Greg Harness