Bringing talent to a broad mix of music
by Jeanne' McCartin

(Below are excertps from an article published in the Portsmouth Herald, 7/12/05)

 

Randy Browning has a liberal vision of folk music. If you throw in blues, traditional, celtic, ragtime and contemporary singer-songwriter, you start to get a feel for how he looks at the genre.

"Folk is a beautiful thing. It's a kind of collaboration across generations, across cultures - through time. A melody that might have been played in Scotland in 1600 can find its way across the ocean and to the Appalachian Mountains, and into common use today, through a long series of different interpretations. It's a living history."

Browning recently won the "New Folk Award" at the 34th annual Kerrville Folk Festival, a national songwriter's competition held in Texas. It's a well-deserved win, according to Mike Morris, another local musician who performed at Kerrville.

Browning himself seems careful, doesn't go on too much, like an old seaman cautious not to call up spirits that might make waves. But the award could open doors, especially outside the area, he acknowledges. "It doesn't mean people will be banging down our door, but they might be more willing to take a chance on us (Browning and his partner Brett Kinney perform as the folk duo 'Late Bloomers'.) We were offered some house concerts and folk gigs at the festival, so we're making plans to tour a bit outside New England."

It's not a promise of fame and fortune. No one goes into folk music for money. "Not the smart ones, anyway" says the New Hampshire native now living in South Berwick, Maine. Even musicians who are highly respected within the field and internationally known just make a living. The point, says Browning, is most of us are simply in it for the culture and love of the music. "There's not many folkies trying to be the next big thing on MTV. "

The folk community itself is part of the payoff. Help is always there. Egos are few. It's also actively involved in social and progressive political issues. Many of the venues and performers take part in events to bring awareness or funds to organizations trying to make things better, he says.

And then there's the audience. Those listening tend to really appreciate what they hear. "Much of the audience is likely to sing or play an instrument themselves. The better the folk concert, the less of a dividing line there is between the audience and performer."

His songs tends to be story songs, including the occasional piece that touches on social issues. "Not the great protest or labor songs like Pete Seeger or Utah Philips would sing, but it's nice to think we all carry a little piece of that legacy. It's a small but important part of what we do."

"Style-wise, it varies. The songs I write myself are mostly roots-based, with subjects all over the map; anything that makes an interesting story. When my partner Brett and I collaborate, we often write instrumentals that have a newer, more modern acoustic sound. We also like to experiment with traditional tunes in new arrangements. Overall, it's fairly diverse."

They're a far cry from 'Kumbaya.' "Some people think of Folk music as strictly the Kingston Trio. That's all they may have been exposed to through the media. They might not have had the chance to hear a great string band or a jug band, or acoustic blues, or celtic. There's so much great music out there.

His current favorites are Taj Mahal, Randy Newman, and Doc Watson. Some of his lesser-known faves are Martin Simpson, Eliza Gilkyson, Greg Brown, Tony McManus and Kate Rusby. It's an eclectic mix. That's folk, and that's what he likes about it.

 

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