Damn, folk music is a beautiful thing. Hudson Valley guitar slingers Steve Kirkman and Fred Gillen Jr. grasp this fact in a fundamental way; they wrap their arms around it in a big bear hug. Hope Machine began as a “friendly tribute” to Woody Guthrie, but somewhere along the way it became something more. It became an extension of Woody’s ideas and attitudes—with Kirkman and Gillen taking the wiry little wonder’s spirit forward into the now. Sure, they cover “Pastures of Plenty” and “Deportees” here, and they rock up “I’ve Got To Know,” but, with the aid of pickers like Abby Gardner, Matt Turk, and Lisa Gutkin, they create new songs, too.
Gillen’s “Sing Sing Sing” embodies a sentiment Pete Seeger, who is given more than one shout-out on the album, would second; Kirkman’s “Folk Singer” is wise enough to poke fun at itself and every other shlub with a six-string and a dream; and “Martyrs of the Native Nations” turns “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” into a newfangled anthem for old heroes. Gillen and Kirkman have perfect voices for this kind of stuff—tuneful without being too flavorful, plainspoken without being bland. The backing is sweet, tasteful, and tangy enough to bear repeated listenings—especially Gutkin’s whispering fiddle on Scott Urgola’s “My God.” It’s good to know that, with Woody gone and Pete recently turning 90, there’s someone ready to carry it on. Hope Machine is a beautiful thing. www.hopemachine.com.