The Best of the Rest: Si’s Personal Picks from The Europe Sessions (2019)
“This fatly tracked sampler culled from the recent 5 cd box set of his European recordings finds Kahn at 75 still full of piss and vinegar knowing how to present it in a way that’s never strident or preachy. An American songwriting treasure that’s more Pete Seeger than John Prine, especially vocally, it’s smart to accept the invitation to celebrate with him and really take care of your folkie, singer/songwriter sweet tooth. A solid set that really makes you wan tot dig in and have it all.” – Midwest Record Review
Best of the Rest is the companion volume to Si Kahn at 75: The Europe Sessions, the five-CD box set Strictly Country Records is releasing in honor of Si’s 75th year. Best of the Rest is Si’s third CD this year – the first two being Vivian Nesbitt & John Dillon’s The Songs of Mother Jones in Heaven (the soundtrack of the musical written by Si) and It’s Dog’s Life by Si & The Looping Brothers. In Si’s 75th year he not only is celebrating his long career as a songwriter and performer – with six straight No. 1 albums in these past 12 years, but also his decades-long work as a civil rights, union, and community organizer.
The 20 songs Si selected for Best of the Rest span many of the themes that flow through his acclaimed writing. Si writes not only from what he knows, but what he has seen—working class lives from both female (“In the Spinning Mill”) and male (“Rack ‘em up Eddie”) perspectives. Si shares his observations from those who have been in war — returning veterans in “Moose Lodge,” “When the War is Done,” and “Cam Rahn Bay.” “The Senator,” about Jesse Helms, and “The Gap” exemplify how his humor belies his serious message. Autobiographical songs like “I Have Seen Freedom,” “Sixteen,” and “Lady of the Harbor” demonstrate his ability to use his own family experience to explore broad issues such as immigration.
Best of the Rest includes four songs from each of the five albums that Si recorded in Switzerland, Germany, and the Netherlands: In My Heart (1994), Threads (2002), We’re Still Here (2004), Thanksgiving (2007), and Aragon Mill: The Bluegrass Sessions (2013). Artists on these albums include the Kruger Brothers, before they moved to North Carolina, Germany’s The Looping Brothers, Liz Meyer, and blues great Scott Ainslie.
1. Down on the Merrimack River (2.16): up-tempo ballad floating on Jens Kruger’s banjo playing
“Threads,” the title of the CD on which this song appears, are those that connect North and South, slave and free, immigrant and native born, field hand and mill hand, cotton field and cotton mill.
2. Sailing to Alaska (3.35): up-tempo ballad perfectly rendered with the Looping Brothers
When the herring shoals disappear from the coast of Sweden, young fishermen go to Bristol Bay, Alaska to fish for salmon and fall in love.
3. The Senator (2:19): slow a capella ballad recorded live in Holland April 1993
What if former U.S. Senator Jesse Helms had gotten pregnant?
4. In the Spinning Mill (2:59): up-tempo ballad featuring the Kruger Brothers
Young women mill hands resist pressure to have sex with their boss as the price of keeping their job.
5. Moose Lodge (3:34): slow ballad with the Krugers’ almost classical playing
At the end of the Korean war, young soldiers find they really can’t go home again.
6. Rack ‘Em Up Eddie (2:19) slow ballad made poignant by Si’s solo performance
In a local pool hall, a young man deserted by his lover takes out his frustration on his friends.
7. Wigan Pier (2:55): slow ballad taking its name from George Orwell’s classic book about British coal mines The Road To Wigan Pier
“Across the pond” at different times unemployed Army veterans in the U.S. march for jobs and out of work coal miners in England lament the loss of good times.
8. Rock Me, Roll Me (4:03): mid-tempo love ballad featuring the Looping Brothers’ rolling rhythm A love song for our son Gabe Kahn.
9. My Old Times (4:56): mid-tempo ballad from the musical Some Sweet Day, for which Si wrote the songs. A Southern preacher’s daughter goes North and returns an organizer for the Southern Tenant Farmers Union.
10. Lady of the Harbor (5:06): slow ballad drawn from his family history
For my mother’s father Simon Hirsh Aronson, after whom I’m named. The chorus is from the poem by the young Jewish socialist poet Emma Lazarus written on the base of the Statue of Liberty.
11. I Have Seen Freedom (4:04): slow ballad with harmonies by the Dutch duo Ygdrassil
A look back over 50 years to my work as a volunteer in Arkansas with SNCC during the Southern Civil Rights Movement.
12. Sixteen (2:47): mid-tempo love ballad featuring an emotional solo performance
My favorite love song, written for Elizabeth Minnich, my best friend for 60 years, my beloved partner and spouse for 40
13. To Hear Doc Watson Play (3:07): up-tempo ballad re-recorded with Looping Brothers
Where would our music be without Doc Watson: “If I had a gold watch and chain/I would pawn them any day/I’d walk across the Blue Ridge Mountains/To Hear Doc Watson play” Featured on NC Gold Album.
14. The Gap (3:02): up-tempo humor featuring the late Liz Meyer’s harmony vocals
On the slaughterhouse floor, a worker wonders what the CEO of the company does every hour that justifies his making hundreds of times every hour what he does.
15. Curtains of Old Joe’s House (2:31): slow ballad with Si’s spartan guitar accompaniment
In a little Southern town in the 1950s, a closeted gay male couple learns the price of hatred.
16. When the Morning Breaks (3:53): mid-tempo song of love and leaving featuring fiddling by Ulli Sieker’s of the Looping Brothers
A couple who’ve moved to a paper mill town to find work mourns the loss of their mountain home.
17. Gentle With Me Darling (1:58): mid-tempo song of lost love, solo from April 1993
Long after their partner leaves them, a deserted lover fails to find solace in the arms of someone new.
18. Cam Ranh Bay (3:00): up-tempo emotional breakdown featuring Scott Ainslie
Listening to the fireworks on the Fourth of July, a Vietnam veteran thinks of his son fighting in Iraq and breaks down.
19. When the War Is Done (2:25): mid-tempo ballad with Ainslie on guitar
“Those who fight the battles/Are not those who make the laws/But bravery is still bravery/Even in an unjust cause.” What will happen to the rest of us when the war is done?
20. Here Is My Home (3:01): Slow call and response song with three-part harmony
A hymn to friendship and the music that brings and holds us together.