Folk singer Ian Thomas, this year’s Press Best Of winner for nostalgia-free revival act, is on the cusp of greatness, not that many have bothered to notice. Maybe it’s that he hasn’t bothered—to change his name or practice his stage patter, jive or signify. Or maybe it’s that folk is about the only sound considered more passé these days than anti-folk. Mostly, though, I reckon it’s all the people who cringe when they hear something that sounds old. Which is brutal.
In The Art of the Novel, Kundera has a wonderful riff on the traditions that were lost in the thrall of the new. Where is, say, the Melvillian novel outside of Melville? It all got swept up after Joyce and the motley modernists hit the stage.
Dylan, finally, did the same to folk, which died for no good reason; not because it had exhausted its relevance, or what the music was capable of saying.
Which makes Ian just about sui generis by virtue of his craft and adherence to tradition, without nostalgia. After Harry Smith re-invented the past to suit his own troubled mind, it’s the only way you can play without ending up at best a high-end Ian and Sylvia.
Woody, Hank and Townes are dead. Ian, who started playing blues-based metal before falling into the new thing, is playing it right, and right now, and growing as a songwriter as he absorbs what’s come before. His first masterpiece, I think, is “Halfway Gone”:
But I know some of the deeds I’ve done, the missteps and the
And I know I’m accountable for it all
I doubt Ian will ever become a legend, nor has he earned the distinction yet; I’m looking forward to hearing him try in the years to come.
Friday, January 27
Rockwood Music Hall, 196 Allen St. (betw. Houston & Stanton Sts.), 212-477-4155; 9, call for ticket information. With Birdie Busch.