Cisco Houston Web Site

On CD

Best Of The Vanguard Years

Vanguard

Track Listing

  1. This Train
  2. Roll On Columbia
  3. Colorado Trail
  4. Dark As A Dungeon
  5. Hard Traveling
  6. Old Blue
  7. Nine Hundred Miles
  8. Badman Ballad
  9. Diamond Joe
  10. John Hardy
  11. Big Rock Candy Mountain
  12. So Long, It's Been Good
  13. Buffalo Skinners
  14. Pastures Of Plenty
  15. Grand Coulee Dam
  16. Hard, Ain't It Hard
  17. Pretty Boy Floyd
  18. Do Re Mi
  19. Deportees (plural, not singular)
  20. Tramp On The Street
  21. Talking Dust Bowl
  22. This Land Is Your Land
  23. Way Out There
  24. Chilly Winds

Of Interest

The liner notes are written by Ed Ward, NPR know-it-all who writes about everything and everybody. He offers a satisfactory but hardly scintillating biography of Cisco, covering the main facts, though in a confusing chronology. But compared to the crafted, almost sculpted, notes included with the Smithsonian releases, this is a sorry offering. No information on authors or composers, nothing about when and where recorded.

Review

Mark Eastman

I've been spending a lot of time listening to and reading about Cisco lately. I'm not sure where it started but I don't want to see this great American folk singer and folk hero forgotten. This along with the vastly different Folkways collection represent an excellent sampling of Cisco's solo recorded output (he recorded 100's of songs singing harmony for Woody Guthrie many of which have never been released). However, this collection is far from perfect. I still don't like the use of orchestral music and background singers on such songs as This Train which opens the album and Dark as a Dungeon (although it works and is necessary on Way Out There). And his version of Diamond Joe and Dark as a Dungeon on the Folkways collection are more stirring and far superior. Also it's incomprehensible that none of the 17 songs recorded on March 6, 1961, just weeks before his death, which appeared on his Vanguard "I Ain't Got No Home" LP are found here. True his voice wasn't nearly as strong at that point but it had a sweet, sad tone and his guitar playing was masterful. That album contained gems such as Trouble in Mind, Ramblin' Round, East Texas Red, Danville Girl, Tom Joad and Hobo Blues that I wish were included here.

But there's plenty to like about this disc. His hilarious readings of Badman Ballad (which he wrote) and the bum's view of Big Rock Candy Mountain. A nice version of This Land; the previously unreleased So Long It's Been Good to Know You. And of course, his seminal versions of some of Woody Guthrie's best songs including Deportee, Buffalo Skinners, Hard Ain't It Hard, Grand Coulee Dam, Pretty Boy Floyd, Do Re Mi and his absolutely great reading of Pastures of Plenty with a young Eric Weissburg on banjo. Two more excellent previously unreleased songs are John Hardy and Tramp on the Street (which you'd swear was sung by a country gospel singer). Cisco had a great voice, a very good guitarist that was able to use the instrument to perfectly complement his vocals and was also extremely versatle. I agree with William Adams in his assessment that a true fan of this great music needs to hear both Woody's versions and Cisco's versions, usually very different but both great.

Review

Jim Clark

I feel partially responsible for the existence of this CD. Many years ago, early in my Cisco wanderings, I wrote to Vanguard, asking them to gather their great material and release it on CD. They replied that they appreciated my interest, blah blah blah, but it was a possibility. I blew it off until I saw it featured in a Collector's Choice catalog, and bought it instantly, fearing it would disappear. But it's still available. Wow!

The final years of Cisco's life were spent at Vanguard, who released folk albums by the score back in the early 60s. For a man facing death, these recordings are remarkably assured and powerful. I revere Cisco's voice above all other folksingers. He could carry a tune, and his guitar playing was wonderful, a light and charming style that accompanied his delicate yet manly voice.

This is not a perfect CD. The arrangements on some of these selections are awful. Why they used lush strings, as if they were trying to copy Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle, is beyond me. The performances with gooey backgrounds sound hokey, almost silly. For instance, this has to be among the most unpleasant versions of This Land Is Your Land, performed in the style of contemporary Christian music, that soft, self-righteous, wheezy drab monotony.

These liner notes are fluff. Who wrote these songs? Doesn't tell us. Performance notes? Forget it. There is just the outline of his life, nicely done, but somehow surprising for a release of this type. Would a potential customer really not know most of this? And how about some explanation of why they chose what they did, and ignored what they did?

But the solo Cisco, strumming and singing, is unequaled. The man had a jaunty and daredevil attitude that comes through quite clearly on these performances. The sound is great, and hearing him perform glorious tunes in a glorious manner is delightful.

Unfortunately, there are many unnecessary duplications between this and The Songs of Woody Guthrie (at least they're the best songs.) But with the abundance of glorious Vanguard stuff that was on its Folk Song & Minstrelsy set that isn't here, one can only wonder. What a shame that an artist who recorded so much and yet has so little on CD should have the same songs in the same performances available on multiple CDs. There are, though, some great songs only available here, Roll On Columbia, Dark as a Dungeon, Hard Traveling (one of my favorites), John Hardy, Big Rock Candy Mountain, and Talking Dust Bowl, which is the third "Talkin" song of his I know, and the most poignant. Lots to like, and a little to cringe over.

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