Last Forever

(Nonesuch)

On Last Forever, songwriter/musician Dick Connette has created an ambitiously inclusive historical document as well as a beautiful collection of songs stemming from the traditions that comprise the musics of this country. Like any historical document, the vision is somewhat narrow, at least in its interpretation, which is sort of a necessary limitation if the artist is to avoid a diluted and over-generalizing point of view. Thanks to the instrumentation, the delivery maintains a distinctly European flavor despite the Bo Diddley beat of "Nursery Rhyme" and the lead and fade of Leadbelly's "Ain't Goin Down to the Well No More." While this lends the hammer dulcimer -- and banjo-laced folk arrangements and British-type ballads an authentic and engaging familiarity, it puts a hollow ring on "Poor Lazarus," Connette's sojourn into field hollers. Still, the strong points of this album easily overpower this minutia. The emphasis is on the storytelling, which is a thread that links all traditional American music. Sonya Cohen, a local artist connected to these forms through a long line of Seegers, provides the perfect voice; not perfect in the operatic sense of a pure and flawless tonal range, but perfect for this project. Her singing is just limited enough to be charming for that reason, and emotionally evocative enough to convince us of the importance of the Prodigal's return in the first song and to convey the surprisingly sultry sway that ultimately makes "Poor Lazarus" a joy to listen to. Too authentic to be revisionism, too original to be solely documentation, Last Forever is a wonderfully complete reminder of the places and people that give birth to the music we love and call our own.

(4.0 stars) -- Christopher Hess

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