A Little Folk Music | Northern Sky Theater

A Little Folk Music logo

Assembled by Karen Mal
and Frederick Heide

In the summer of 1998, AFT veterans Fred Alley and Karen Mal decided to put together a show of original and traditional folk music to be performed during the summer season in the Peninsula State Park amphitheater.The result was A Little Folk Music, an evening of acoustic music that felt strangely intimate despite the vast canopy of stars draped over the concert.


Resorter Reporter/Door County Advocate
ERIK ERIKSSON - December 1998


AFT offers the gift of ‘A Little Folk Music’


Two for two. Following a preview last week of Fred Alley’s irresistible new recording, “The Lake,” comes a second preview disc – this time enfolding nearly the entire American Folklore Theatre crew. Its title is “A Little Folk Music” and it fully compensates for all the years of longing for just such a collection.


“A Little Folk Music” was recorded live this past August at Thursday evening folk music concerts at Peninsula Park. Initial mixes were rejected as sounding too studio-like, but the finished product has excellent sound while retaining the flavor of a live and spontaneous event. Moreover, it faithfully captures the life-enhancing level of music-making that has come to be an AFT hallmark.


I’m certain that I’ve been only one of many to call for the recorded sampling of this music. These performances have been a kind of corollary to the original shows presented by the troupe for decades now. the occasional informal summer concerts offered by Fred Alley, Fred Heide, and Karen Mal quickly came to be treasured events and, during the last several years, more extended opportunities gave increasing evidence that AFT was providing some of the best folk music to be heard anywhere.


So, what have we on this soon-to-be-released CD? Fourteen vividly realized musical cameos of joy, introspection, courage and abiding humanity. This humanity suffuses the troupe’s best work and elevates it to a plateau well above that of most folk music performance. Even the sad songs ennoble – they look at life uncompromisingly and see beyond present troubles. Each song here is unfailingly of high quality, the seven originals by AFT people not a bit inferior to the traditional numbers.


Immediately in evidence is the breadth of instrumental talent within the company. Mandolin, guitar, banjo, bass, flute, harmonica, cabasa – each one skillfully played and thoughtfully chosen to best serve the sense and sound of the material. As singers, both Alley and Mal confirm their elite status. Two beautiful voices, sensitively and expressively used. Alley’s supple, honeyed tenor is equally encompassing of “I Will Arise” and “The Mountains Call My Name.” Mal – Oh, delight! – is featured on several songs, a couple of which she wrote: Her singing of the traditional Irish ballad, “Month of January,” is exquisite, floated with that incomparably soft timbre, each quick turn in the vocal line superbly managed.


Others also contribute strong work. The winsome Chris Irwin is telling in “Do My Time,” and Laurie Flanigan incantational in “Ghost.” Lee Becker leads sturdy “Rolling Down to Old Maui” and Fred Heide pulls one up short in “Hell That I Know.” While it is inescapable that Heide’s vocal resources are somewhat diminished since the days of “Lessons Learned from the Moon,” he remains a canny stage cat who commands his audience.


AFT has always been more than the sum of its considerable parts and the truth of that is now caught compellingly on disc. More than offering very attractive singing and playing, A Little Folk Music lays claim to the heart. Projected release date: Dec. 18 (The Lake, Dec. 11).