Quintessential folk hero Derroll Adams (1925-2000), a Portland, Oregon native, spent his formative years on car back-seats listening to country and oldtime music on the radio, then after army and navy service moved to the West Coast, went to art school, got into folk music, married three times, held down an assortment of disparate jobs, studied zen and the art of banjo maintenance… His life intersected variously with (among others) Pete Seeger, Guy Carawan and Odetta, then Ramblin’ Jack Elliott – with whom he toured and recorded for a number of years. In the 60s he became a guru and icon to British folk and pop musicians (Wizz, Ralph, John & Bert, Donovan and Rod) before sliding into alcoholism.
Recovering with the aid of longest-lasting partner Danny, he made a triumphant comeback at 1972’s Cambridge Folk Festival then came down to Bristol to do some recording with Belgian multi-instrumentalist Roland van Campenhout, Danny and Wizz. The resulting “long lost zen banjo album”, Feelin’ Fine, released on cult label Village Thing, has always been hailed as his finest. Frustratingly, its tapes vanished for many years, only now resurfacing for its first-ever reissue courtesy of Ghosts In The Basement, specialists in well-packaged and expertly annotated archive releases. Appropriately, the original album’s dozen tracks are here topped up with six cuts from Derroll’s next-but-one (Belgian, 1977) album Along The Way, whose serene demeanour perfectly complements that of the earlier record while also reflecting its title.
These recordings are filled with the very essence of Banjoman: that characteristic, unmistakable deep purring, mesmerising drawl of a voice, entirely in tune with, and both propelling and being propelled by, the contours and rhythms of the chosen songs. Derroll selects his very best material, embracing childhood favourites and others from folk tradition, Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers as well as Tucker Zimmerman’s Oregon and five of his own compositions including the gentle epics of his “zen trilogy” Mountain, The Sky and The Valley. Derroll’s vocal presence, the company of sympathetic musicians like Maggie Holland, the “deceptive softness” of his banjo playing and the relaxed surroundings – all combine, with masterful producer Ian A. Anderson at the helm, to produce an unrivalled “special ambience”. Everyone involved was Feelin’ Fine and havin’ a good time, that’s for sure.
A splendid, landmark reissue. Get it while you can!
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