Various Artists: Radio Tokyo Tapes, Vol. 3 (PVC); Dave Van Ronk: Going Back To Brooklyn (Reckless)

NOW THAT Bob Dylan is establishing himself as a born-again rocker, why shouldn’t the new wave stage a folk revival? But listening to Radio Tokyo Tapes, Vol. 3, an all-acoustic compilation from LA., it quickly becomes clear that “folk” is no more strictly defined in the City of Angels than is “punk.”

Take, for example, the Knitters, the folk alter-ego of John Doe, Exene Cervenka, Dave Alvin and D.J. Bonebreak. Although the name is an obvious tribute to the Weavers, their performance — a medley of ‘Wild Side Of Life’ and ‘Honky Tonk Angels’ — is, like the music of X and the Blasters, far closer to Nashville than Greenwich Village. Black Flag’s Henry Rollins, on the other hand, manages to get to St. Marks’ Place with ‘Al Jolson’s Bedroom’, a patricidal poem with guitar accompaniment that’s less likely to remind you of folkies than the beats.

But accuracy is hardly the point. While some of the echoes are fairly exact, like Balancing Act’s Simon & Garfunkel harmonies, Phranc’s neo-Joan Baez soprano or Revolver’s rasping Dylan impression, most of the cuts here aim for a more generalized nostalgia, turning the album into a musical dress-up night. RTT3 is no manifesto — it’s a goof, and stronger for it.

The real folkies, after all, never passed up a punchline. Dave Van Ronk’s Going Back To Brooklyn boasts some of the funniest songs you’re likely to hear this year, from the gain-through-pain ‘Tantric Mantra’ to the brashly bawdy ‘The Whores Of San Pedro’. But there’s more to this album than yocks, just as there’s more to Van Ronk than his ribald wit. In fact, this album does an amazing job of presenting Van Ronk’s stylistic range while still giving a clear picture of the performer today. And that conveys the vitality of folk far better than any of the signals emanating from Radio Tokyo. (Reckless Records: 21 Lakeview Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138)

© J.D. ConsidineMusician, July 1985

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