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2nd Right, 3rd Row – Eric von SchmidtLiving on the Trail – Eric von Schmidt

Tomato Records 2052
Tomato Records 2053
Three years ago, a writer chronicled a tribute concert that honored Eric
Von Schmidt. In it, he stated the obvious: that this influential figure
folk artists from the early ’60s "is hardly a household name." I’ll admit to
own lack of knowledge in the realm of all things Von Schmidt.
But, as I listened to these two reissues of albums that originally came
out more than 30 years ago, I could hear where his influence laid down the
for others’ and did a little background work to illuminate my mind and for
others who may need it as well.
A passionate, carefree soul, Von Schmidt discovered the sounds that would
alter his life on radio programs (Hit Parade and Grand Ol’ Opry) and
through DJs who played blues tunes. The cumulative effect of these songs
be heard on both of these albums, giving the music a life that remains
Like many musicians, his attempts to impress the ladies eventually gave way
a more serious commitment to his art.
Speaking of which, Von Schmidt was an accomplished graphic artist and
painter whose desire to produce visual works would vie for his attention
throughout his life. Now, due to throat cancer robbing him of much of his
voice, he
paints and works on his autobiography.
Those who looked to Von Schmidt to lead the way in introducing them to
material from older blues and folk artists and counted themselves at one
or another as one of his contemporaries include Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Maria
Geoff Muldaur, Tom Rush, Jim Kweskin and more.
I find it particularly important to point out Dylan due to his version of
"Baby Let
Me Follow You Down," which was learned from Von Schmidt’s performance of it.
also paid tribute by placing a copy of The Folk Blues of Eric Von
Schmidt as
one of the items surrounding him on the cover of 1965’s Bringing It All
One can hear similarities between the two on Living on the Trail. Von
Schmidt’s voice echoes the (crooning) Dylan of Nashville Skyline.
especially noticeable on the albums’ opening tracks. His voice moves
beautifully like
the gliding arc of a bird during "The Carpenter’s Boy (Icarus)."
What makes it more striking is that the vocals on 2nd Right are much
rougher. In some ways, the tone emulates the contents. Living
reflects folk’s
storytelling side with easygoing turns to a little jocularity ("Fast Acne"),
while "2nd Right" has its eye focussed on society and politics, displaying a
dark-humored take on life ("If I Had a Good Dog (The Male Chauvinist Possum
Song"). It’s no accident that it ends with a verse from "My Country ‘Tis of
Thee." "Believer" becomes a slow-moving, gospel-inflected tome
against the obsessive love of riches.
Living on the Trail gives the impression of a laidback recorded
that finds such musical pals as Maria Muldaur , Paul Butterfield and The
Band’s Rick Danko and Garth Hudson joining in for a rousing good time. "Lost
in the
Woods" moves with the determination of a campfire hoedown as a chorus
emphasizes the destitute condition by repeating the title following each
line sung by
Von Schmidt.
Recorded two years earlier, 2nd Right, 3rd Row sounds like Von
dancing among the conventions of the folk genre. The material is based on
acoustic instruments, but he has a larger slate of backing musicians adding
to the songs (kazoo, tuba, clarinet, accordion, dobro). Still, nothing is
present that doesn’t need to be there. Throughout the album, Von Schmidt and
company maintain a sympathetic musical line running from the beginning to
the end.
Like Living on the Trail, the production maintains the feel of an
living room recording.
That becomes a major component and enjoyable factor on both albums. The
ability to sound as if Von Schmidt is sitting in your house, weaving his
of desolate characters, ecological distress, silly moments and covering
numbers by Leadbelly and traditional fare allows the music to escape the few
that seal it in a time period (i.e. the devastation found on 2nd
Right’s "Turtle Beach"
and the now politically incorrect "Salute to China").
The variety and spice of Eric Von Schmidt’s recorded work come through on
these two releases, giving someone a strong introduction to a name that
as well as his peers but deserves to be.

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