Rhythm & Views

Ken Waldman

If you haven't heard of Ken Waldman, Alaska's Fiddling Poet, you will soon. This bearded musical bard is perpetually on the road, crisscrossing America, logging infinite miles in a battered minivan, looking for the next paying gig, whether it be at a school, nursing home or loony bin. A plane-crash survivor, Waldman is a rugged, techno-savvy Walt Whitman for the 21st century. His life is itself an epic poem worthy of recognition. But his actual literary and musical production is even better.

This is a big year for Waldman, with the near-simultaneous release of two poetry collections and two CDs. Make that three CDs: All Originals, All Traditionals is a double album with 55 songs. Side one offers the originals, instrumentals written and performed by Waldman and backed up by a quartet of musicians (banjo, bass, acoustic guitar, second violin). The Alaskan fiddler's raw, Appalachian-style approach carries the melodies and is particularly effective on tunes like the shimmering country stomp of "Goldstream" and the minor-chord two-step of "Swamp Puddle."

But it's the traditionals CD, in which Waldman recites poetry over standard fiddle tunes, that really catches fire. The poems mostly chronicle life in Nome, Alaska, and when Waldman recites "Hitchhiking on Solstice: The Yukon," you can hear the blasted terrain in his voice: "In the 1 a.m. light / as odd cars pass / my thumb's shadow eclipses my body / I am arriving." And for the kids in your household, Waldman also has released Fiddling Poets on Parade, which provides welcome respite from the Wiggles. You can get Waldman's music via CDBaby.com.