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Meet the Inspiration Behind “Llewyn Davis” with Dave Van Ronk LP Reissue

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Inside Dave Van RonkWhen this year’s Golden Globe nominations were announced, three of the coveted nods went to Joel and Ethan Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis, a vibrant portrayal of the heady days of New York’s Greenwich Village when anyone with a guitar and a dream had a chance to be heard and perhaps “make it big.”  Oscar Isaac, a nominee for Best Performance by an Actor – Comedy or Musical, portrays the titular character, a misanthropic, nomadic folkie (and former Merchant Marine) with a proclivity for misplacing cats.  The Coens’ tale, a Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical nominee, is at turns heartbreaking, bitterly funny and all too real, particularly in the climactic sequence when a new arrival on the Village scene threatens to change the landscape forever.  The filmmakers haven’t made a secret of the fact that the movie was, in part, inspired by the life and career of Dave Van Ronk (1936-2002).  Van Ronk, the so-called Mayor of MacDougal Street, befriended young future icons like Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton and Phil Ochs, and became a key figure in the acoustic folk revival of the early 1960s.  He, too, was a sometime-Merchant Marine and struggling singer.  And like Llewyn Davis, he could often be found heckling his fellow performers from the audience at the Gaslight Café.  Now, Fantasy Records is revisiting Inside Dave Van Ronk – the 1964 album with the title that inspired the current motion picture – as a special vinyl LP reissue.

Inside Dave Van Ronk was recorded in April 1962 at the same sessions that yielded material for his first Prestige Records LP Dave Van Ronk, Folksinger.  (Both albums were combined in 1972 as one double-LP set which was in turn reissued on CD in 1989.  This disc, titled Inside Dave Van Ronk, is still in print.)    Inside was primarily devoted to traditional songs (“House Carpenter,” “Fair and Tender Ladies,” “Kentucky Moonshiner”) with the timely “Talking Cancer Blues” a notable exception.  “Cancer” took bitingly comic aim at the evils of smoking before it was in vogue to do so!  Van Ronk played six- and twelve-string guitars on the LP in addition to banjo, dulcimer and autoharp.  Though in the acoustic folk style, the album incorporated the various influences that held sway over the Brooklyn-born Van Ronk.  In his early days, Van Ronk sang with various New Orleans-style jazz bands, and elements of jazz, ragtime and especially blues informed his style.  He was also an expert talent spotter, frequently associating with the just-arrived-in-New-York Bob Dylan.  Van Ronk came to Prestige (since 1971 part of the Fantasy Records family) having recorded two albums for Folkways in 1959 and 1961; that label earlier this year also released a comprehensive Van Ronk compendium, Down in Washington Square.

After the jump: more on Van Ronk including the full track listing and order links!

Dave Van Ronk died in 2002, long before he could see many elements of his colorful life translated to the screen in the evocative Inside Llewyn Davis.  But the Mayor of MacDougal Street’s influence remains thanks to his large body of work; he continued recording right up to his death, with 2001’s Sweet and Lowdown finding the folk singer turning his attention to the likes of Gershwin and Berlin.  The wonderfully-curated soundtrack to Llewyn Davis (available on CD and era-appropriate LP) closes with Van Ronk’s recording of “Green, Green Rocky Road.”  Fantasy’s new vinyl reissue of Inside Dave Van Ronk is the perfect companion, and the perfect way to dive deeper into the career of this underrated folk giant.

You can order Inside Dave Van Ronk on the new LP or on the 1989 CD at the links below!

Dave Van Ronk, Inside Dave Van Ronk (Prestige/Folklore LP 14025, 1964 – reissued Fantasy, 2014)

LP: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

  1. House Carpenter
  2. The Cruel Ship’s Captain
  3. Sprig of Thyme
  4. Talking Cancer Blues
  5. I Buyed Me a Little Dog
  6. Lady Gay
  7. Fair and Tender Ladies
  8. Brian O’Lynne
  9. Shanty Man’s Life
  10. Silver Dagger
  11. Kentucky Moonshiner
  12. He Never Came Back

CD only also contains the entirety of Dave Van Ronk, Folksinger (Prestige/Folklore LP 13056, 1962)

Written by Joe Marchese

January 8, 2014 at 09:41

One Response

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  1. What a strange twist. More than 10 years after his death, Dave has become a cult. In the 80’s and 90’s, he might play for 20 people in a coffeehouse, and his used records might fetch $2.


    January 9, 2014 at 09:42

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