Folk fans will rejoice at these recent releases by two legendary UK balladeers and guitar whizzes. Admittedly, one of these troubadours might bristle at being characterized as a "UK" artist -- political folkie Dick Gaughan represents those in Scotland who are still a bit leery of the Union Act of 1707, which created the United Kingdom as we know it today. Gaughan's unrepentant lefty-socialism forms the heart of his new album, which includes modern material by Phil Ochs and Si Kahn, alongside traditional songs that remind us how the heritage of rebellion and dissent trails back over the centuries. Musically, this is one of Gaughan's strongest releases in years, with stripped-down acoustic arrangements that highlight his skill as a guitarist and allow his passion and sincerity to win listeners over. The persuasive fervor with which he tackles Woody Guthrie's Dust Bowl ballad, "Tom Joad," is worth the price of admission alone. Another landmark event is the release of Unearthed, a 2-CD collection of archival live and studio material by Nic Jones, one of the most revered and elusive figures of the English folk revival. In the early 1980s, Jones' career was cut short by a crippling auto accident, and all but one of his classic albums have remained out of print for decades. At last, Jones has prowled through his attic and compiled the master tapes of various BBC and folk club outings, recordings which perfectly capture the resonant vocals and dazzling guitar work that were his trademarks. Unearthed gathers dozens of outstanding performances, including several tunes such as "The Jukebox As She Turned" and "Warlike Lads of Russia" that have spent the last few years bouncing around the Internet as Napsterized MP3s, the only form in which fans could hear these haunting ballads. This collection is a prized plum for Jones devotees or the perfect introduction for initiates -- and certainly one of the most significant, satisfying trad-folk releases of the year. Stateside distribution is spotty, so try Down Home Music (in El Cerrito), or contact Jones directly at Mollie Music, 52 Newland Park Drive, York, England YO10 3HP.
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