This new album by Bongos frontman and New York City mainstay Richard Barone is both a labor of true love and an incredibly detailed and painstakingly researched history lesson. Sorrows & Promises: Greenwich Village In The 1960’s is Mr. Barone’s take on songs that were conceived, written and first performed during that golden age of folk music in New York’s Greenwich Village starting in the late 1950’s. Some of these songs you may know (certainly The Lovin’ Spoonful’s classic “Did You Have To Make Up Your Mind?” is one); most you will not. The idea was to create a musical map of the Village during this time through these songs and Mr. Barone has stunningly hit an absolute home run with the design and execution of how this album would flow.
I’ve listened to Mr. Barone’s work since his first recordings with The Bongos, beginning around 1981 and he has his own style. Thus, with this album, he’s taken these (some lost) classics and put his own stamp on them, breathing new life into these wonderful songs. Case and point (and quite surprisingly/interestingly), Buddy Holly’s “Learning The Game” – there was a period where the late legend lived in Greenwich Village and was beginning to explore further musical areas, beyond the boundaries of his established rock & roll sound; subsequently, he moved to New York for a while before his fatal plane crash. Lyrically, it’s a somewhat sad song, yet Mr. Barone, through his appoach and spirit and feel for the song(s), makes it far more upbeat and somehow hopeful. Another ’50’s star, Dion, also decided to move in a more contemplative, serious lyrical direction (not many people realized he was quite an accomplished songwriter) and the track chosen by Mr. Barone, “The Road I’m On (Gloria)”, a highly personal break-up song actually features the legend himself, in as fine a vocal form as ever and makes this one of the most moving moments on this album. And one of my own favorite songs by anyone, The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind?” is a little bouncier and light-hearted than the Spoonful’s own version – and sure enough, Spoonful mainman John Sebastian (one of my favorite singer/songwriters ever) appears here on harmonica and doing the one vocal line the late, great Zal Yanovsky delivered on the original version. Downright perfect. The stark, warm beauty of Fred Neil’s “The Other Side To This Life” is simply that – stripped down with just Mr. Barone’s vocals, which are tailor-made for this song and his delicately picked acoustic guitar makes this another very high point to this record that frankly has no valleys. And Eric Andersen’s “Close The Door Lightly When You Go” is perfect – with its arrangement and the accompaniment, vocally, with another favorite of mine, the incredible Allison Moorer.
To dissect each song would do this album an injustice, as there are 12 tracks on this labor of love; I think the key things that need to be said are these: get a copy and listen to it, end to end. If what I think may happen, does, you’ll fall completely in love with what you hear. And you will want to seek out the original versions. Which you will then be taken with. And that, in turn, will hopefully lead you to look deeper into the history of a true American musical artform. If you’re a fan of Richard Barone, well, you know that yet again, he’s delivered. And delivered mightily.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED – ESSENTIAL LISTENING
Sorrows & Promises: Greenwich Village In The 1960’s is available now