Migrant Mother is the title of a famous photograph by Dorothea Lange. That photo and its subject and its creator inspired a play of the same title written by Ken White. The play debuted in January of 2017 (though apparently a shorter version was put on in 2014), with music performed by Andrew Durr. Now that music is available on Time Frame: Songs From The Play Migrant Mother. This is a folk album sort of in the original folk tradition, covering some well-known and beloved songs, songs from the Dust Bowl era. But Andrew Durr delivers some unusual, intriguing takes on the familiar material. Joining him on this album are Ray Vazira on percussion and keys, Janet Baltzo on keys, Steve Ashman on electric bass, John Ady on acoustic bass, Kevin Pallotta on drums, Narayan Baltzo on trumpet, Jeffrey McFarland-Johnson on cello, Patrick Durr on harmonica and backing vocals, Alexandra Durr on backing vocals, and Melissa Dawn on spoken word vocals. The disc’s liner notes were written by Ken White.
The album opens with “Hard Times Come Again No More,” a song that predates the Dust Bowl years. This version by Andrew Durr is delivered honestly without adornment, and features some nice work on harmonica. There is also some excellent, passionate vocal work, and I love the backing vocals. “Many days you have lingered around my cabin door/Hard times come again no more.” That’s followed by a lively, fun number, “Are You making Any Money?” This playful tune features some delightful work on piano, as well as more good work on harmonica. “Make fun when you could make trouble/Make mistakes, but they pay double/Say, honey, are you making any money?/Because that’s all I want to know.” Then we get a good rendition of “Pastures Of Plenty.” Any album of material covering this time and subject must include at least one Woody Guthrie song. It just wouldn’t be right otherwise. This rendition of “Pastures Of Plenty” has a more serious, somber tone, and a power. Toward the end, the snare drum takes on the feel of a march for a time.
“Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” is one of the most famous songs of the Great Depression. It was written by Jay Gorney and E.Y. Harburg. As presented here, it has a darker folk vibe, which is quite fitting for the lyrics. I really like the way Andrew Durr tackles this one. He starts to belt out the lyrics toward the end, giving a passionate and raw performance, fully invested in the song. Another well-known song from that time is “Pennies From Heaven,” written by Artie Johnson and Johnny Burke. The version here begins with some vocals delivered basically as spoken word, and sounding like an old recording, or like they’re on a radio or perhaps even from over a phone. Then the musicians come in, and the song takes on a sweet, warm folk vibe, with more good work on harmonica. That’s followed by “Who’s Been Polishing The Sun” a fun, bouncy, peppy folk number, with yet more lively, wonderful work on harmonica.
“The Way You Look Tonight” is a song that gets in my head quite often. I’ve heard a lot of different renditions over the years, but I’ve never heard a version quite like the one on this album. It is sort of folk, but has a strange, cool jazzy feel. I like it a whole lot, especially the work on piano. Andrew Durr follows that with an equally unusual rendition of “Keep On The Sunny Side.” He establishes a darker, more serious vibe, fitting the song’s first line, “There’s a dark and troubled side of life,” much more than its second, “There’s a bright and sunny side too.” I’ve never heard the song approached this way before. It has more of a “House Of The Rising Sun” vibe, or perhaps even “Death Don’t Have No Mercy.” Listening to it, you get the feeling that it is probably impossible – or at least incredibly difficult – to do as the song says and “Keep on the sunny side of life.” Then “Will The Circle Be Unbroken?” begins a cappella, before the guitar comes in. This version is folk, with a gospel element in the backing vocals, and sounds wonderful. The album ends with “Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries,” a fun, playful version that even includes some whistling and then kazoo and then horn. So there! I love it.
CD Track List
- Hard Times Come Again No More
- Are You Making Any Money?
- Pastures Of Plenty
- Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?
- Pennies From Heaven
- Who’s Been Polishing The Sun
- The Way You Look Tonight
- Keep On The Sunny Side
- Will The Circle Be Unbroken?
- Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries
Time Frame was released on CD on November 9, 2018 through IAC Records.