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Album Review

Niles, John Jacob – “I Wonder As I Wander ” – [Tradition]

ArtCrimes   12/19/2007   CD, Country

John Jacob Niles ???I Wonder as I Wander: Carols and Love Songs???

Niles had a long career, some 30 years or more, devoted to the discovery and transformation of traditional song, mostly from the Appalachians, but also drawing on British and French sources. Using his eerie, wailing voice and his homemade mountain dulcimer, he ends up sounding very little like the plain folk that he learned some of these songs from, and more like something he???d invented all on his own ??? something a bit like what Tim Buckley would be doing much later, with his expressive, jazzlike phrasing. The highly stylized vocals make it difficult to tell a traditional song from one of his own compositions, and in some cases they are hybrids, with new verses written to expand a fragment of traditional verse. This would prove to be influential for folk artists to come, including Bob Dylan, who often used traditional song as raw material for his own inventions.

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