‘Spider’ John Koerner ‘What’s left of Spider John’ (Hornbeam) 4/5

American folk singer-songwriter was one of the original pioneers of the folk revival movement back in the 1960s alongside Joan Baez and Buffy Saint Marie and is interestingly a true contemporary of Bob Dylan who even moved to the same part of the United States in Minneapolis from New York and thus had a personal connection with the iconic singer from the latter’s early days. Koerner made his name primarily as part of the Koerner, Ray and Glover trio that recorded two seminal albums for the Elektra label during the early 1960s. Moroever, when touring the UK at the same time, Koerner played the legendary Les Cousins venue in London along with Davy Graham Bert Jansch and Martin Carthy. During the 1970s, Koerner briefly retired from folk music altogether, but returned to perform a few years later and had to ovecome some formidable obstacles in order to perform the music he loves, not least of which was heart bypass surgery.

If one had to make any parallel at all, then it might be with another singer of the same era, Rambling Jack Elliott. In terms of influences Spider has taken in some of the clasici folk-blues singers such as Jesse Fuller and gospel-blues singers of the calibre of the reverend Gary Davis, both of whom Dylan and others have regularly been regularly inspired by. On this new album by Koerner, the selection of songs, the majority of which are originals, are essentially a mixture of traditional numbers, some of which were composed way back during the 1960s. A particular favourite of this writer is ‘Creepy John’ which is actually a re-working of a song on an early album ‘Blues, Rags and Hollers’ for Elektra. Here the blues feel is embellished by some delightful fiddle and a lovely bassline. Elsewhere historical references abound as on the gold rush in California on ‘Acres of clams’. Another early composition which works especially well in its new format is ‘Good time Charlie’ which has a spoken intro with Spider on harmonica and a rip-roaring country-folk tune it is too. Rounding off a deeply melodic album and consistently agreeable listening experience is some outstanding packaging which may just be a contender for album cover of the year. It is beautifulltyillustrated with a lush gatefold sleeve that immediately conjurs up a truly bygone era and there are notes on every song on the album contained within which simply makes the reader’s/listener’s experience all the more enjoyable. Hornbeam are to be commended for such a fine release and Spider John Koerner is in excellent form throughout.

Tim Stenhouse