Watching Jim Kweskin and Geoff Muldaur at Joe’s Pub a few months ago got me thinking about how I used to have a fairly pat answer when folks asked me “what is World Music?” I would answer simply “Roots Music from where you don’t live.” It was quite flexible because if you were from anywhere outside the USA, you could say that American genres like Blues, Bluegrass, Cajun, Tex-Mex, etc. were all world music. Which in my opinion, they are. Of course, since then, “roots music” has become only one of the categories under the world music umbrella.
Jim Kweskin and Geoff Muldaur have been performing —or as they would say, “uncovering” country style blues, ragtime and jug band music since the folk revival of the 60’s. Yes, these guys are long in the tooth and at this point in time I would say they are venerable.(They might shudder.) I was a real fan back then, bought their recordings, performed the music, and attended some super fun shows. I think they introduced me to the concept of funky music; laid back and incredibly hip. So I made it a point to see them when they played at Joe’s Pub this past October. I was gratified to see them both looking almost unchanged except for some greyed hair — and they both sounded marvelous. But I looked around me, and saw a sea of elderly faces like my own, and I wished that there had been some shiny, innocent faces, like mine must have been, way back then. Because this is not music for “old folks.” It’s part of our heritage and history — warts and all– as Americans, and it contains truths that need passing along, especially in these times.
The show didn’t have the pumped up energy of the Kweskin Jug Band, but instead was a program of acoustic blues duets, performed seated, most of which were discovered in private collections or public archives. They both played finger-picked guitar and occasionally switched off on banjo. The sound was surprisingly full and sweet, and along with recently dusted off and burnished songs from their new CD “Penny’s Farm” (Kingswood Records) they performed some favorites (Blues in the Bottle, Fishin’ Blues) as well as their tongue in cheek tribute to the life of a musician “Would You Like to Play Your Guitar” sung to the tune of “Swingin’ on a Star.”
So here’s two songs from that show, the classic “Fishin’ Blues” and “Diamond Joe.” It’s pure American folk music (NOT to be confused with “Americana”) lovingly presented. Is it world music? If you think about it, yes, it is.