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Various Artists

Brand Spankin' New

(Vanguard; US: 28 Sep 2000)

I like 99 cent samplers. That’s a small risk to become acquainted with new artists, and a small price indeed to pay for Patty Larkin’s searing ballad, “Burnin’ Down.” This tune, carried like smoke on a breeze by acoustic guitar, mandolin, and drifting electric slide guitar, erupts like a fire on the mountain and sweeps relentlessly towards the home. In recounting her tale of escape, Patty gives practical advice mixed with considerations people can’t help having in prolonged emergency situations. Among other things, have a healthy respect for real danger, don’t take risks for trifles, but she also advises not to throw out either the baby or the bath water.


That song resonated in me despite the fact I live in one of the safest countries in the world. Our economy is flourishing, medical advances assure increasing longevity, and the Cold War is history. The military draft has been gone so long, young folks don’t know it ever existed. Things have never been better. In psychological and sociological theory, personal safety is the most basic foundation upon which all good things are built. Once personal safety is assured for increasing numbers of individuals, a society is “safe.” Then all the good things that have been building for those privileged individuals in theory combine and they in turn work to improve the society and make it safer and better for still more people.


A lot of people have it pretty good, but how safe do they have to feel? People seem to fear that as safe as they are, they still have to face nature. I think that’s why there are television programs like Survivor and best selling books that metro dwellers read on how to extract yourself from all sorts of scrapes, from what to do if your parachute fails to thwarting a bear attack to surviving an avalanche. I suspect such fears have been simmering like the cappuccino on the tables of cafes for the past decade or so until a comedian tapped into them for his best seller.


When I flew down to the city where I bought this record, I happened to be on the same commuter flight as the Arson and Bomb squad, all identified by their patches. Once we touched down, the silent man I sat next to showed his relief in landing safely and shared he had been a tail gunner. Given his age, I presumed he had served during the “big one.” The pocket in front of my seat held a consumer magazine offering death-defying contrivances, including a personal oxygen helmet for aviation and home fires, designed to give 20 minutes of air to help insure survival.


So it would seem that the unconscious public mind is preparing for surviving whatever coming conflagration is imagined coming, when hell’s a-popping like hell. There are a lot of clever merchants tapping into this free-floating anxiety and giving it form, but we can’t all have such cumbersome defense mechanisms. That’s why I took a risk and bought a record of artists I’d never heard.


This sampler showcases eight new artists, and I am happy to have been introduced to Patty Larkin. For slightly more money, you can get twice as many records on a new low-priced collection called Route 50: Driving New Roots for Fifty Years. Celebrate Vanguard’s 50th anniversary, get 2-1/2 hours of music by Vanguard artists old and new.

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