Si Kahn’s sadly overlooked 1997 bluegrass classic, Been a Long Time, gets a reboot nearly 25 years after it was originally issued, a belated attempt to make up for that fact that it languished in obscurity due to the lack of promotion, marketing, and airplay accorded the original release. Produced by banjo virtuoso Pete Wernick and featuring a veritable who’s who of prominent session players — among them, fiddler and vocalist Laurie Lewis, mandolin player Tom Rozum and bassist Todd Phillips — it’s nothing less than one of Kahn’s most essential efforts, wholly informed by its timeless trappings and true sense of esoteric grassicana.
Those that are familiar with Kahn’s hallowed history, a trajectory that extends back nearly half a century and includes his work as an activist and environmentalist, ought not be surprised by Kahn’s reliance on a traditional tapestry. Working men and women, and all those struggling to overcome any odds stacked against them may find common cause with Kahn’s own humble origins. To his credit, he makes each of these original offerings sound like familiar standards, borne from a devotion to the music of Appalachia, and all the other places that offered America’s early immigrants the chance to sow the seeds of essential American music. Whether it’s the affable uptick of Going Down to the Old Home Place, the low-key gait of First Time Lover, or the steady stride and easy ramble found in Tarpaper Shacks and Long Way To Harlan, Kahn manages to caress each tune with a tenderness and tenacity that imbues an emphatic imprint.
On the other hand, there’s not a single note that’s wasted. The arrangements may be spare but the picking is precise, as well as driven and decisive. So too, the music is adroitly executed, and the the enthusiasm is obvious. Dancing With the Johnson Boys comes across like an old English folk tune courtesy of Bonnie Carol’s hammered dulcimer and the pluck of its fiddle and mandolin. That good-natured notion is also found in Brown Lung Blues, a miner’s lament that belies its up-tempo trappings. Grandma shares a sweet serenade and makes for a touching tribute. Likewise, the soaring a cappella harmonies of the album’s final entry, Where the Song Never Ends, offer an ideal ending nevertheless.
Indeed, as the title suggests, it has been a long time since this wonderful album got the attention it clearly deserved early on. All these years later, Been A Long Time remains one of Kahn’s most indelible efforts.