Roger McGuinn, The Folk Den Project, 1995–2005 (April First Productions, #8370719870).
In his sermon "The Weight of Glory" C.S. Lewis wrote about "a desire for our own far off country." Elsewhere he called this desire "joy" and associated it with "the Idea of Autumn." Lewis believed that if nature does nothing in vain then this desire, for which there is no natural satisfaction, must have a supernatural object. In a word, Lewis argued that the longing for our own far off country is in fact a longing for God. And, while this desire is not simply an aesthetic one, art and literature can be occasions for it.
There are moments when listening to Roger McGuinn's The Folk Den Project, 1995–2005 that I feel a twinge of joy or its nearest next of kin. "Follow the Drinking Gourd," "East Virginia," and "Pushboat" come to mind. At other times I marvel at the way McGuinn's singing and instrumental arrangements conspire to produce such satisfying sounds. I am continually drawn back to "Silver Dagger," "Waltzing Matilda," and "Buffalo Skinners."
Since 1995 Roger McGuinn has recorded a folk song each month for "The Folk Den," a website which includes not only audio files but also lyrics, chords and commentary (see http://mcguinn.com). The Folk Den Project, 1995–2005 contains 100 of these songs. What follows are some representative categories and songs: cowboy songs ("Streets of Laredo," "Red River Valley"); seafaring songs ("Haul Away Joe," "Drunken Sailor"); love songs ("Brandy," "Gypsy Rover" ); blues ("James Alley Blues," "St. James' Infirmary"); Irish tunes ("Finnegan's Wake," "Roddy McCorley"); humorous songs ("There's A Hole in the Bucket"), as well as spirituals, some of which are quite familiar ("He's Got the Whole World in His Hands," "Down by the River Side)," while others were new to me ( "John the Revelator," Lead Belly's "Easter Morn") and made me glad that I had made their acquaintance. I listened to "Easter Morn" over and over again on Easter Sunday. There is a rich legacy here for Christians to explore and celebrate—I'd love to hear Lead Belly's "Easter Morn" in a worship service.
I find it sadly ironic that when much of our culture is rediscovering root music, some of the great spiritual root music has yet to find its way back into many churches. I hope that as a result of Roger McGuinn's work that situation will change.
The Folk Den Project, 1995–2005 is a beautifully produced 4-CD box set. On each CD, along with the track listings, is a different image of Roger McGuinn. Each of the CDs contains 25 songs, well over an hour of music. The set also includes an attractive 39-page booklet with comments on each of the songs. In some cases the commentary concerns guitar tunings. In others, the remarks are autobiographical, e.g., tying a song to McGuinn's Chicago roots or early work with Bobby Darin and the Chad Mitchell Trio. The overall impression is that this is a very personal project about which the artist cares deeply. And, his affection for these songs is contagious. One cannot listen to these CDs without feeling enriched.