If you’ve heard of Chaim Tannenbaum before, it’s probably because he’s worked alongside acclaimed singer-songwriters in the world of folk music, such as Loudon Wainwright III and sister duo Kate and Anna McGarrigle before turning out his debut solo record. If you had imagined, though, that at the age of 68 the prolific folk artist would have established a solo effort any sooner than 2016, you’d be mistaken.
With decades in the industry already footed by Tannenbaum, 68 years comes across as an interesting, and certainly off-the-beaten-path, age for a man of his musical pedigree to be turning in his official debut. At the same time, it offers up a tremendous pool of knowledge as it applies to folk music and the world about him. Tannenbaum harkens back in his performances to such venerable names as Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. From his arrangements to the overall delivery, he comes across not as a cheesy tribute act or a cornerstone to their greatness, but as a man and a musician paying homage to those that paved the way for him. In a world where folk has evolved well past the roots of people like Seeger, Guthrie, and even “nu folk” from the likes of Gordon Lightfoot, Tannenbaum’s stripped-down, earnest takes on several classics come across as nothing short of refreshing.
Clocking in at five seconds under two minutes and featuring only Tannenbaum and his handy guitar work, the opening performance of “Farther Along” may have just come across as pleasant karaoke in any other performer’s hands. In his, however, he handles the song with as much of an imbued faith in and weariness toward the world as if it had been written by Rev. W.A. Fletcher over 100 years ago. He covers Lomax with a soothing swing on “Ain’t No More Cane on the Brazos” and dishes something immediately infectious on his rendition of Peg Leg Howell’s “Coal Man Blues”. Things culminate to the point that Tannenbaum seals his authenticity as a folk artist with a heart-rending performance of his late friend Kate McGarrigle’s tune, “(Talk to Me of) Mendocino”.
Altogether, Tannenbaum is a tough one to critique. Everything that he does is so very clearly sincere that anyone with a heart who gives his music a swing will, at the very least, respect him. Whereas this very traditional form of folk music hasn’t gained much popularity since its forefathers passed on, Tannenbaum does his best to invigorate the style. Just because it’s increasingly rare for these types of arrangements to exist in modern music, that alone makes Tannenbaum a joy to listen to intently, and he has delivered one of the year’s most honest albums. For those with a true love of folk music, they can’t do much better than Tannenbaum—a performer who can stand alongside the greats.