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Five & Twenty Questions

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Album Review

Five & Twenty Questions, 24-year-old Mark Spoelstra's third album, marked a creative leap for him. Following his two albums for tiny Folkways Records, Mark Spoelstra Recorded at Club 47 Inc. and Songs of Mark Spoelstra with Twelve-String Guitar (both 1963), it was his first LP to be released by a big independent label, Elektra Records, and it found him making the changeover to original material that had become the dividing line between the older folk singers and the new crop of topical singer/songwriters who were his peers, such as his friend Bob Dylan and his labelmates Phil Ochs and Tom Paxton. The title song, which led off the disc, was in a sense Spoelstra's version of Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind," a philosophical, questioning song that pointed to the need for social changes. Elsewhere, Spoelstra, who had been raised a Quaker and become a conscientious objector, and who was fulfilling two years of alternative service when he cut this album during a brief vacation, deplored war, notably in "White Winged Dove." In the record's longest song, "Ballad of 12th Avenue," he examined the murderous effects of poverty much as Dylan had in "North Country Blues." But if he had taken up many of the lyrical themes of the topical folk movement, Spoelstra remained a traditionalist when it came to the music, accompanying himself on the 12-string guitar in recognizable strains of folk-blues. Indeed, with three instrumentals mixed in among the songs with lyrics, he seemed less concerned with the message than he was with the music, and his originals tended to sound like traditional tunes. He probably wasn't destined for widespread commercial appeal with such an approach, even before Dylan turned folk into folk-rock later in 1965 and left singers with acoustic guitars in the dust, since his alternative service prevented him from promoting the album. But it represented tremendous growth for him as an artist.

Customer Reviews

Five and Twenty Questions

He made a statement with this album that, to many of us, years ago struggling with youth and a passion for the 12 string, tried to follow. Myself, along with so many others, hijacked this record and played it over and over; trying to absorb what Mark was writing and singing, and hoping to create our own "Five And Twenty Questions" which opens the album. "On the Road Again" had the swagger of Woody and young Bob Dylan, and fit the coat of Jack Kerouaks' "Dean Moriarty" that we wore over our pretentions. The fact that Spoelstra felt the call of Christ in his life years later was evident in the simple pureity of such songs as "Just a Hand to Hold" and "Somebodys Gonna Miss Me". Raised a Quaker, Spoelstra did not duck responsibility but chose alternative service as a conscientious objector rather then fighting in Vietnam. Several of his songs have been covered by other performers, such as Harry Belafonte ("My Love is a Dew Drop") and Janis Joplin ("Magic of Love"). Spoelstra passed away in 2007. He had made several records before this first "big name recoding company" disc and the production is sure and straight forward with his steady guitar playing and smooth voice. It is one of the best of his recordings.


Born: June 30, 1940 in Kansas City, MO

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '00s

In the wake of Bob Dylan's breakthrough success in the early '60s, countless other similarly styled folk artists followed, including singer/guitarist Mark Spoelstra. Born on June 30, 1940, in Kansas City, MO, but raised in California, Spoelstra eventually relocated to New York City, where he began playing at coffeehouses and clubs (often performing as a duo with none other than Dylan himself). Shortly after the dawn of the '60s, Spoelstra was signed by Folkways Records, issuing a pair of recordings...
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Five & Twenty Questions, Mark Spoelstra
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