Dave Van Ronk 'Down In Washington Square' - Smithsonian Folkways

With the Coen Brothers film Inside Llewyn Davis focusing on the 60's folk scene in New York's Greenwich Village this compilation is a timely release. Van Rock, for many, epitomises the generic folk singer and over the 54 tracks featured here legitimise that description to a degree though it was a label he himself didn't see. He felt he was using a traditional fingerpicking style to play a songs he heard from a variety of sources - mostly from the 20s and 30s. More often than not it is voice and guitar that draw you into the heart of these songs. Though on occasion he gathers voices around him to deliver a hearty sea-shanty such as Leave Her, Johnny or Santy Anno. Otherwise the songs are a mix of originals and traditional blues material like Willie Dixon's Hootchie Kootchie Man, or the gospel of his friend and mentor Rev. Gary Davis' Oh Lord, Search My Heart

Other interpretations include Ain't No Grave Can Hold My Body Down, Stackalee, In The Pines and House Of The Rising Son (which was then "borrowed" by Bob Dylan whose recording was then covered by The Animals). The blues was something he understood and such original songs as Standing My My Window and If You Leave Me, Pretty Mama make that clear. Van Ronk never strayed far from his path. There was no electric conversion that may have brought him to a bigger audience. Instead he concentrated on his arrangements of a wide variety of source material that included everything from traditional tunes to Bob Dylan.

This collection includes 16 previously unreleased recordings and is annotated well giving details of the songs and their recording as well as sleeve notes from archivist Jeff Place and an essay by Andrea Vuocolo, his widow. All in all it is a worthy and well compiled and produced package to the man known as the Mayor of MacDougal Street who never had the mainstream recognition that many of his contemporaries achieved but who remained true to his vision and was a supreme singer, guitarist and writer and this 3 CD set makes he music readily available to many who may have only heard his name in passing. It is testament to a talent who, though he is no longer with us, left behind a legacy that will stand the test of any time.