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Album Review

RANDY BURNS
HOBOS AND KINGS

Could it be that Randy Burns has come full circle? In 1966, Burns was a Connecticut Yankee in a Greenwich Village Court, having been dropped off at the corner of Bleecker and MacDougal, as important to folkies as Haight and Ashbury was to become to the rockers. While early vestiges of the psychedelic scene were getting ready to trade their acoustic instruments for electric and set the world on its psychedelic ear, Burns was honing his chops at venues like Gerdes' Folk City and The Gaslight Cafe and The Bitter End--- venues which loom large in the history of the folk movement of that time.

Burns was luckier than most. He recorded. He signed to ESP-Disk and released a couple of well thought of albums, traded in his acoustic guitar for an electric and signed a contract with Mercury and then Polygram with his band, The Sky Dog Band. Then, after a short run and only a modicum of success, he walked away in frustration. Too many promises and promises broken--- too many ideals shattered. Sometimes you get the breaks and sometimes it breaks you. On certain levels, Randy Burns was broken.

He has recently returned to public life, reaching back into his past to release a collection of his ESP-Disk recordings in a package titled The Exit & Gaslight Years 1965-1969 and recording a new album, The Simple Things, which includes some of his best early songs. One listen and I knew Burns was back, but I had no idea until I heard Hobos and Kings. This is a much older, much wiser Randy Burns, even older and wiser than the one who so recently recorded The Simple Things.

With wavering voice and a sensitivity which would wring water out of a dishcloth at fifty paces, Burns looks both deep and back, reliving not his musical past as much as his life. As I listened the first time, song after song tugged at my insides and parts of my life I haven't thought about for years returned like they only happened yesterday. His originals, especially his laments for times past (Hobos and Kings and In the Beginning), are a time machine for those of us who had dreams and saw some of them come true while others were crushed between the train of life. Add a slew of exceptional and touching non-classics (including Donovan's Bert's Blues and Bob Morrison and Dennis Linde's The Love She Found in Me and Bernie Shanahan's Some Things Just Happen, among others) and you have a heartbreaker of an album. While not necessarily sad, the album sets a somber tone.

It is a tribute to Burns that he can make such emotions surface. My favorite quote about him was printed in Billboard: “When Randy Burns sings a sad song, he makes you ache from the inside.” Hobos and Kings is full of aches and sighs and a few fuzzy memories. It is what I want to hear when I am tired and feel worn out, when it seems hard just to breathe. It is also what I want to hear when I think of my past, good and bad. It is Randy's, yes, but it is mine, too. His music, my past. It is a good combination. It is a fine album.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

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