It was a timely move. Dyer-Bennet resisted the House Un-American Activities Committee’s attempt to railroad him into naming names, thus ending his access to most commercial outlets as the 1950s got underway..
The 15 recordings that appeared under his name were released by arrangement with Folkways beginning in 1955. They’re now available through Smithsonian Folkways, and the first volume absolutely vindicates Dyer-Bennet’s approach to traditional songs. Unique as he sounds, the songs are about the songs, not the voice, but only because the voice is so well used that it’s practically transparent.
The sixteen selections are collected into three groups with the hope that you’ll listen to each group as a programmed entity–a nice touch. The eight songs in the first group are melancholy Irish, English and Scottish ballads, group two’s three songs are upbeat love songs while the remaining five are comfortingly hopeful, finishing with the wistful “Lonesome Valley.” It’s an effective progression of moods.
This volume also includes a biographical essay by Dyer-Bennet’s daughter, Bonnie, and a helpful examination of the singer’s vocal technique by writer and voice teacher Conrad L. Osborne. This is also the only volume available as a commercial pressing; the rest can be bought through Smithsonian Folkways, which will custom record them for you.
Editorial update: Smithsonian-Folkways ultimately pressed volumes 1, 2, 5, and 6. The rest are available as CDRs, and some of those are also available as digital downloads. The website is here.
Volume One (Smithsonian Folkways)
– Metroland Magazine, 23 July 1998