That’s the name of the newest CD release from Phil Rosenthal, former Seldom Scene lead vocalist and long-time singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. It’s a apt title, as it perfectly describes the material and the presentation. There are 17 tracks, mixing vocal and instrumental pieces,and traditional and familiar songs, as well as Rosenthal originals, including his classic Muddy Water, originally cut by the Scene in 1973, well before Phil joined in 1977.
The track list reads like, well… a treasury of classic bluegrass and country songs.
In fact, he might have called it a Family Treasury of Bluegrass and Country Songs, as the bulk of the accompaniment is provided by kith and kin. Phil explains…
“My wife, Beth Sommers, plays bass and sings harmony with me on a lot of the songs. Our daughter, Naomi Sommers (who is a wonderful songwriter as well as singer – check out her website, www.naomisommers.com), also sings on some of the songs. Naomi started singing with me, at the age of 5, when I began recording a series of albums of bluegrass for children in 1985, just before I left the Seldom Scene – in fact, if you listen to all the albums I produced on my label, American Melody, you can basically hear Naomi grow up (she’s 31 now). Daniel Rosenthal is Beth and my son, and he plays trumpet on the album and also sings bass parts on some of the quartets. Golden Slippers, Rye Whiskey and Sail Away Ladies has all four of us singing on the choruses.
My parents, Lil and Irv Rosenthal, sing on the chorus of Some Folks Do, along with me and Naomi. My father also sang with me on some of the children’s CDs I’ve recorded over the years, and was a great singer. Sadly, he died last spring, just before the record came out.”
He also offered a nice overview of the songs he chose for this new project.
“The songs on my new CD are some of my all-time favorite bluegrass and country songs, plus some originals, including Muddy Water, a song that the Seldom Scene recorded before I was in the band, and had something to do with the band approaching me to replace John Starling when he left the group in 1977. Songwriting was part of my appeal to them, and part of the reason they asked me to audition for John’s spot.
I’ve added some new verses to some of the songs, like Down the Road (which has a verse about Beth keeping me on my musical path through the years, and also mentions the chicken farm that my parents ran when I was growing up – and a verse about first hearing Lester and Earl’s recording of the song when I was a kid), plus Old Joe Clark and Sail Away Ladies. I guess that’s part of the folk process – adding new things to older songs. But some of the songs I’ve done just the way they were written – like Some Folks Do, a little-known but wonderful Stephen Foster song, and Listen to the Mocking Bird, which has become known more as a fiddle tune, but I think sounds better when it’s sung (it’s such a great, sad song, with an uplifting melody).”
It’s likely that most readers of Bluegrass Today know Phil primarily for his work with Seldom Scene. For his fans and friends from those days, he gave us a thumbnail version of his post-Scene activities in the music business, where he has remained active and productive.
“I left the Scene in 1986, and have spent most of my time starting and running my label, American Melody. The main focus of the label was to produce good quality bluegrass and folk recordings geared especially for kids, but with appeal, I hope, for any age.
I never wanted to simplify things musically on these recordings. I fell in love with bluegrass the first time I heard it, when I was about 11, and always felt it had something in its sound that had appeal for kids, beginning with infants, so that’s why I decided there needed to be recordings directed especially to them. I’ve produced over 25 albums, many of which have won awards from various organizations, including the Parents’ Choice Foundation, the American Library Association and others, and very good reviews over the years.
Now that my kids are grown and pursuing their own musical careers (Daniel is a professional jazz trumpet player), my musical focus has gone back to more ‘adult’ music again.
I have my own recording studio, which is where I’ve produced all my American Melody albums, and where I’ve been working on the songs for the new album over the past 7 or 8 years. It’s nice to finally have finished it!
I’ve also been performing since leaving the Seldom Scene. Beth, Naomi, Daniel and I perform occasionally as the Sommers Rosenthal Band. I also do solo performing, and Beth and I perform as a duet. In the past few years Naomi and I have also toured together. We (Naomi and I) performed in Europe this past May and June, including an appearance at the European World of Bluegrass, the biggest European bluegrass festival, and will be touring the United Kingdom in September, 2010.”
You can hear audio samples from A Treasury of Bluegrass and Country Songs on Phil’s web site, and at CD Baby.