Previously Unreleased Dave Van Ronk Album Coming Next Month
Now that the media hubbub surrounding the Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis - based loosely on the life of Dave Van Ronk - has settled down, the time is perfect to take a closer look at the real Dave Van Ronk. Regarded as a pioneer of the folk-blues movement that took over Greenwich Village in the late 1950s, Van Ronk could not be tied to just one genre. He moved from ballads to jazz to rock. His finger-picking style of guitar playing is still studied and emulated. And, in 1998, after 50 years of performing music, the Mayor of MacDougal Street was still mesmerizing crowds.
Live in Monterey was recorded at Monterey, Calif.'s Carleton Hall, the album works both as a retrospective and an introduction. The 16 tracks include traditional numbers, blues classics and originals, touching on every aspect of what makes Van Ronk revered by musicians of every generation. The album features just Dave, his voice and his guitar. That's all that's needed.
"Dave's voice is a wonder," writes set co-producer Rick Chelew (who recorded the set) in his liner notes, "going from a delicate, almost feminine whisper to a powerful frightening growl that would make a punk-rocker shut up and listen - sometimes within the same song."
Fellow Greenwich Village folk denizen Happy Traum, who also contributed liner notes to Live in Monterey, observes: "Those of us who had a chance to know Dave Van Ronk were treated to a larger than life, contradictory, ultimately lovable personality. He was generous, opinionated, sharply intelligent, hypercritical, hospitable, cranky, an unapologetic Trotskyite communist, a sci-fi aficionado, a musical polymath with wide-ranging tastes, a darn good cook, and a friend, mentor, and teacher to many a young, aspiring guitarist."
"At one point in his career," Traum continues, "Dave would surely have liked to become famous, but he lived his life and made his music on his own terms an settled reluctantly for being a 'legend.' The irony is that none of his peers, no matter how commercially successful they became, were dubbed 'The Mayor of MacDougal Street,' had a Greenwich Village street named after them, or are remembered with such affection."
Yes, there have been other live Van Ronk releases, but all live performances are not equal, and it was a stroke of good luck that tape was rolling in this old Monterey church when the artist, in fine form, played an extraordinary set. "As soon as Dave started to play it was clear that this was one of those rare occasions …," says Chelew. Van Ronk's widow Andrea Vuocolo, who attended countless Van Ronk shows, concurs, recalling it as "a particularly strong performance."