David Johansen & the Harry Smiths

Editorial Reviews

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Harry Smith was the bohemian New York filmmaker who in 1952 culled his extensive 1920s record collection to produce THE ANTHOLOGY OF AMERICAN FOLK MUSIC. His inspired album turned a generation including a young and astounded Bob Dylan on to American folk music. When you think about it, David Johansen, singer and founding member of the legendary, proto-punk New York Dolls, may be the perfect person to take up Harry Smith's moniker and mission. Each sat at the fore of the New York avant-garde, and both have mined overlooked aspects of American music, be it folk or cabaret. On DAVID JOHANSEN AND THE HARRY SMITHS, the singer moves through 13 cuts that would have fit well on Smith's classic collection. Beginning with a ...
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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble
Harry Smith was the bohemian New York filmmaker who in 1952 culled his extensive 1920s record collection to produce THE ANTHOLOGY OF AMERICAN FOLK MUSIC. His inspired album turned a generation including a young and astounded Bob Dylan on to American folk music. When you think about it, David Johansen, singer and founding member of the legendary, proto-punk New York Dolls, may be the perfect person to take up Harry Smith's moniker and mission. Each sat at the fore of the New York avant-garde, and both have mined overlooked aspects of American music, be it folk or cabaret. On DAVID JOHANSEN AND THE HARRY SMITHS, the singer moves through 13 cuts that would have fit well on Smith's classic collection. Beginning with a cover of Richard "Rabbit" Brown's "James Alley Blues" which actually appeared on the ANTHOLOGY, Johansen takes on several other blues by the likes of Mississippi John Hurt and Muddy Waters, as well as traditional material such as "Oh Death" and "Delia." Brian Koonin and Larry Saltzman provide inspired guitar, mandolin, and banjo. New York's downtown jazz scene regulars Kermit Driscoll and Joey Baron contribute bass and drums, mining a deep Americana groove they previously explored with guitarist Bill Frisell. Together, the Harry Smiths create a vibe that is both controlled and dangerous, arranged yet raw. Johansen's characteristic growl is evident throughout, yet may be at its best on "Don't Start Me Talkin'," the Sonny Boy Williamson tune that he first cut on the Dolls' masterpiece TOO MUCH, TOO SOON. In the end, DAVID JOHANSEN AND THE HARRY SMITHS walks a fine line between highbrow art and musical authenticity -- Harry Smith knew what that was all about. Karl Hagstrom Miller
All Music Guide - William Ruhlmann
With this album, David Johansen embarks on what could possibly be the fourth phase of his career. His first three, of course, were his tenure as lead singer of the punk rock group the New York Dolls, a solo career as a mainstream rocker under his own name, and a lengthy stint as his nightclub singer alter-ego Buster Poindexter. Like that last manifestation, the "David Johansen and the Harry Smiths" act is one developed in New York clubs that has now spread to a recording. Inspired by the celebrated 1997 reissue of the Anthology of American Folk Music, a sprawling compilation of '20s and '30s country and blues recordings assembled by musicologist Harry Smith, Johansen and a quartet dubbed "the Harry Smiths" developed a repertoire of songs from the Anthology along with blues and folk-blues songs by the likes of Lightnin' Hopkins, Muddy Waters, and Mississippi John Hurt, and threw in songs Johansen had occasionally performed in his other careers -- Sonny Boy Williamson's "Don't Start Me Talking," which the Dolls used to perform, and "Somebody Buy Me a Drink," which Buster Poindexter was known to warble now and then. The resulting set, reproduced on disc here, is a good mixture of material effectively performed. Johansen, of course, has a gruff, deep voice well-suited to blues songs and a bravura personality that can put across some of the showier numbers. Blues purists may be offended at the idea of Johansen inventing a bluesman character to sing such songs, but, as the use of his real name indicates, this is intended to be a more serious undertaking than the essentially comic Buster Poindexter show. The singer's adoption of this material is no more or less valid than that of any other urban white performer of the last 40 years, and you can hardly dismiss this as a commercial sell-out. On the contrary, the versions are low-key and true to the originals. It remains to be seen whether David Johansen will succeed in reinventing himself yet again, but on the evidence of this album, there's no reason why not.
Rolling Stone - David Fricke
Smith would have approved of Johansen’s own research -- the Lightin’ Hopkins covers; the murder ballad "Delia," sung by Johansen with exquisite languor. That Johansen sounds so in love and at home in tunes and tales nearly century old is also a testament to a central enduring lesson of Smith’s Anthology: American music is an oral tradition, not a recorded one.

Smith would have approved of Johansen’s own research -- the Lightin’ Hopkins covers; the murder ballad "Delia," sung by Johansen with exquisite languor. That Johansen sounds so in love and at home in tunes and tales nearly century old is also a testament to a central enduring lesson of Smith’s Anthology: American music is an oral tradition, not a recorded one.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 3/28/2000
  • Label: Chesky Records
  • UPC: 090368019622
  • Catalog Number: 196
  • Sales rank: 222,337

Album Credits

Performance Credits
David Johansen & the Harry Smiths Primary Artist
David Johansen Indexed Contributor, Guitar, Harmonica, Vocals
Joey Baron Percussion
Kermit Driscoll Bass, Didjeridu
Brian Koonin Guitar, Mandolin
Larry Saltzman Banjo, Guitar
Technical Credits
Jim Jackson Composer
Bob Dylan Arranger, Composer
David Chesky Producer
Sam Hopkins Composer
Bernice Johnson Reagon Composer
Richard Brown Composer
Norman Chesky Executive Producer
Brian Koonin Producer
Hank Medress Executive Producer
Sandy Palmer Grassi Engineer
Lisa J. Marks Legal Advisor
Kate Simon Cover Photo
Lisa Hershfield Artist Development
Barry Wolifson Engineer
Traditional Composer
Nicholas Prout Engineer, Mastering
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