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Lonesome Traveller

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Album Review

The idea behind this 27-song compilation seems to have been to cherry-pick Lonnie Donegan's most artistically credible performances, highlighting, in the words of the back-cover blurb, "his skills as an interpreter of traditional American roots music." So while there are a few hits here (including the title track), his big skiffle hits are mostly absent, as are his novelties like "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour (On the Bedpost Overnight)" and "My Old Man's a Dustman (Ballad of a Refuse Disposal Officer)." Instead, this favors relatively obscure tracks from LPs, EPs, and B-sides, from the mid-'50s all the way up to the mid-'60s. Donegan's style is still too derivative, and the arrangements too dated (not to say occasionally corny), for these recordings to exert as much of a hold on modern listeners as those of, say, Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie, to name two of Donegan's biggest inspirations. Still, there are some surprises here for those who dismiss Donegan as a mere popularizing entertainer, if only in the versatility of the material. There are some 1960 U.S.-recorded pop/rock sides produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller (who also wrote one of them, "Sorry, But I'm Gonna Have to Pass"). Some arrangements tentatively employ electric guitar and drums (such as a 1959 version of "The House of the Rising Sun"), and while these aren't exactly folk-rock, they do show that Donegan had an idea to combine folk material with electric amplification long before folk-rock became a craze in the mid-'60s. There's rather commercial sounding calypso in the covers of Mickey & Sylvia's "Love Is Strange" and "I Wanna Go Home," better known to rock fans as a variation of the folk song adapted by the Beach Boys on their 1966 hit "Sloop John B." There's even a 1965 Dylan cover ("Farewell [Fare Thee Well]"), as well as the occasional track that sounds good on its own terms, like his 1963 rock-ish full-band cover of the folk favorite "500 Miles Away from Home." This stuff's been reissued so many times over that it's hard to say exactly who might be snared by this attempt to group it under a vague concept, but it's not a bad sampler of some of Donegan's better work, though it shouldn't be picked up in lieu of a greatest-hits or best-of compilation. Note, however, that this version of "Rock Island Line" is not the original mid-'50s hit, but a different 1956 recording that wasn't issued at the time.


Born: 29 April 1931 in Glasgow, Scotland

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

To look at Lonnie Donegan today, in pictures taken 40 years ago when he was topping the British charts and hitting the Top Ten in America, dressed in a suit, his hair cut short and strumming an acoustic guitar, he looks like a musical non-entity. But in 1954, before anyone (especially anybody in England) knew what rock & roll was, Donegan was cool, and his music was hot. He's relatively little remembered outside of England, but Donegan shares an important professional attribute with Elvis Presley,...
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Lonesome Traveller, Lonnie Donegan
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