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Hamptons Life

Mar 24, 2009 4:57 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Caroline Doctorow channeling Richard and Mimi Farina

Mar 24, 2009 4:57 PM

In spite of the many changes in the recording industry over the past two decades, singer and songwriter Caroline Doctorow still believes in the album as an art form.

It’s helpful to understand that perspective when considering her latest release on Narrow Lane Records, “Another Country: The Songs of Mimi and Richard Fariña.” How else could one interpret or understand all the creative threads that Ms. Doctorow wove together to come up with this part tribute, part original work that has been garnering critical acclaim and lots of air time on different radio stations?

And seeing the new release as more than a collection of random cuts strung together also helps to explain how the notion of putting together the harmonious elements of a larger composition in an album of the Fariñas’ songs could start germinating more than 25 years ago, take root in 2003, and then take a mere two weeks to record once it came time to put the vocal and instrumental brush strokes on the figurative canvas of digital recording.

This weekend, Ms. Doctorow will be performing in celebration of the release of the new album at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett, on Saturday, March 28, at 8 p.m. Beyond the release itself, there is a lot to celebrate: In February the album reached number 6 on the Roots Music Report folk chart, and rave reviews from critics and DJs have propelled it to unprecedented air time for the Bridgehampton-based indie artist.

“Another Country” features an impressive roster of guest artists, including Grammy-winning folk singer Nanci Griffith providing harmony vocals, and Lovin’ Spoonful founder and pop/folk legend John Sebastian on harmonica.

Other contributors and colleagues on the disc include: Maura Kennedy, acoustic guitar and vocals; Happy Traum, the creator of the Homespun Tapes music instruction program, on acoustic guitar; Eric Weissberg, the composer of, notably, “Dueling Banjos” for the movie “Deliverance”; and producer Pete Kennedy on a wide range of instruments—including electric sitar, guitars, bass, mandolin, organ, electric piano and drums.

The album also includes a tasty and cheerful 31-second cut, “Celebration for a Grey Day,” featuring two very special “guests,” Ms. Doctorow’s daughters, Graylen (14) and Annabel (almost 11) Gatewood, on mandolin and harpsichord, respectively.

At its core, the album is a retrospective of the songs of 1960s folk icons 
Mimi and Richard Fariña, the husband-and-wife team who recorded two albums of Mr. Fariña’s songs before he was killed at age 29 in a motorcycle accident in 1966, the same year his novel, “Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me” (Random House), was published.

Aficionados of the ’60s folk music scene in Greenwich Village will likely remember that the Cuban-Irish American Mr. Fariña was on a track that paralleled the rise of another upstart songwriter, Bob Dylan, when he died. His spiritual and literary ties to the Beats, coupled with an uncanny ability to integrate hipster slang with the archaic language and musical forms of ancient English and Scottish folk songs, provided Mr. Fariña with a unique springboard for his lyrical imagination.

His wife, Mimi—the younger sister of folk legend Joan Baez and founder of the Bread and Roses group that brings live music to people who are institutionalized—brought her own bona fides and distinctive creative voice to the recording of her husband’s songs.

Explaining her motivation for making the new album, Ms. Doctorow said in a recent interview at the Golden Pear in Bridgehampton that “Richard and Mimi have been my muse: I met Mimi when I was 10,” after Mr. Fariña had died. Ms. Doctorow traced her personal connection to the Fariñas to the fact that her father, the author E.L. Doctorow, had edited “Daybreak,” a collection of dreams and essays by Mimi’s older sister, Joan Baez.

Ms. Doctorow enjoyed a friendship with Mimi up until the time of her death, in 2001. In 2003 she released “Carmel Valley Ride,” an album that she calls a “song cycle,” featuring Mr. Fariña’s “Swallow Song,” a cover of Bob Dylan’s “I Want You,” a Taj Mahal tune, and original songs by Ms. Doctorow, including “Memory Tattoo.”

She took the title for the album from the motorcycle ride in Carmel Valley that ended Mr. Fariña’s life. And in “Memory Tattoo,” the songwriter said, she was “looking back on a figure that becomes mythologized after death. I tried to imagine Mimi’s point of view, looking back.”

After the release of “Carmel Valley Ride,” Ms. Doctorow said she started to work out a plan to make an album of Richard’s songs but wound up putting out another album of mostly original work, “Follow You Down,” in 2006, before moving forward.

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