A helpful note in the publicity for this compilation album suggests 'File under troubadours'. This identifies the common thread of the four ageing American folk singers represented. Another thing these male artists have in common is that you probably haven't heard of any of them.
They are diplomatically referred to as having "been around for years" but the respect of their musical peers has never been translated into record sales.
The release marks the 50th anniversary of an Elektra Records album featuring four similarly unknown artists (David Cohen, Dick Farina, Bruce Murdoch and Patrick Sky) back when the 'singer songwriter' label was relatively novel.
The Swedish label, Hemifrån, specialising in 'gut music for all people', uses the occasion to bring a new batch of 'hidden treasures' to a wider audience.
The slightly better known Elliot Murphy wrote the liner notes in which he muses inconclusively on what the label 'singer songwriter' actually means. I can't help feeling that this space would have better used for short biographical notes on each of the four artists, namely Greg Copeland from LA, Nashville-based Keith Miles, Barry Ollman of Loveland, Colerado and Austin resident Bob Cheevers.
The cover features a montage of black & white or sepia printed portraits in the style of a movie poster where the promoters are undecided who should get top billing.
There are five tracks apiece from Copeland and Miles while for both Ollman and Cheevers, four songs have been selected. These contributions are jumbled up perhaps with the idea of not giving undue prominence to one artist over another. While there may be some logic behind this track-listing, it surely would have been easier for the listener to assess each singer's style in turn if they had been sequenced separately.
The album opens and closes with songs by Greg Copeland. Wait For Me is a sleepy ballad with plaintive vocals and an Irish lilt thanks to backing from Patrick Sky and his wife Cathy on uillean pipes and violin respectively.
Jackson Browne is an even more distinguished guest on the final track. Browne produced Copeland's first album in the 1980s and he duets with him here in a live recording of Pretty Girl Rule The World which he introduces as being "like a Beach Boys song, if the Beach Boys were political".
Copeland's other songs, Roughhouse Boys, Are You Here (with David Lindsay on bouzouki guitar) and, best of all, Mistaken For Dancing, are all first rate.
Tracks by Keith Miles were all produced by Jack Sundrud who has also worked with Poco and brings the same lazy west coast spirit of that group to the songs. Sundrud also co-wrote Kerouac Days which seeks to capture the carefree spirit of life on the road.
Bob Cheevers can also boast of esteemed backing since Spooner Oldham plays piano on two of his songs: These Are My Words and Test Of Fire.
Not to be outdone, Barry Ollman's songs feature Tim O'Brien, John Fullbright and Dave Crosby's son James Raymond. Ollman's Murmuration is one of the album's standouts ; a mesmeric song about being in enraptured by a flight of starlings ("dazzling nature in formation") which reflects the artist's passion for nature and his "religion of love".
This, like all the songs in this collection, seems to hark back to an age of wonder that is now past. This is most evident in Bob Cheevers' Progress, of which the singer writes "The planet and life are moving faster than ever, things are changing as we grow older, and this song speaks to a snippet of that".
The general absence of cynicism or irony in the tunes of all four singers means that they have a gentle, easy-going quality yet also places them at odds with the 21st century attitudes. For this reason, the sentiments expressed often appear naive and simplistic.
Certainly it is hard to see any of the artists becoming less 'hidden' or winning over a younger audience as a consequence of this album. Instead, it is most likely to attract listeners of the same generation as the artists who share Cheever's belief that progress is a kind of "fool's gold".