Autoharp Quarterly Fall 2020

PK Dwyer - Music To Dance To
By Nan Bovingdon

     What is Busking? Music shared in its most natural form, perhaps. Out there on the street, in the park, at the outdoor market, down on the corner--the performer's offering to people passing by or stopping to watch and listen.
     A shy player myself, when I see someone "out there among 'em" making music for sheer enjoyment, particularly if they're inventive, entertaining, musical--I start digging for bills.
     What busking usually doesn't have is a studio, recording gear, and engineering, a way to remember what happened after the magic moment.
     This is why I was immediately interested in the new CD, Music To Dance To, by PK Dwyer, a long time Seattle and Pacific Northwest street performer/busker/festival star.
     According to information on his extensive website--(website? In other words, he's a professional, not just a friendly guy who decided one day to go out and play on the corner), "PK Dwyer's long love affair with Busking began in the 1970s, performing on the UCLA campus and the streets of Los Angeles. He is a year-round busker at the Pike Street Market and Farmers' Markets throughout the Puget Sound area, and at a variety of quirkier arts and music festivals. He tours, performs, and plays out roughly 300 dates a year."
     His face adorns so many music and arts announcements and posters, one reviewer referred to him as festivals' poster boy.
     His CD's go all the way back to the mid '70s, when he recorded with over a dozen accompanying players, up through this current offering, with only himself on guitar, harmonica, and vocals, a more natural arrangement for a true, old-style market place busker. Early work speaks of expertise, experience, and musicianship, but who can stand on a corner of the market with 18 other musicians?
     "Music To Dance To" features all original compositions, except "The Busking Life" by the legendary Louvin Brothers, with a little help from PK and his wife, Carol.
     The title song is a lively waltz, with lots of autoharp and engaging natural vocal, in the old folk singer style. Reminiscent of some of the old Folkways albums, before 'pretty' came along.
     "Pledge Drive," with the request/demand, "Put your hand in your pocket, pull out a bill...Stand on your head, let the coins fall out" is a blues with lots of harmonica and slide guitar--a good-natured but firm reminder to fork over some change and folding money. It sounds old except for the line, "You can always find me on Spotify."
     The harp is rough and basic compared to some of the solo playing we've become accustomed to, but rhythmic and appropriate to the lyrics and style of a Busker, who is probably on the move even when stationed in one spot.
     "I Married Well" immediately reminded me of Dylan's thumping guitar and singing a rock and roll pattern, funky and fun. ("Can't feel my fingers, can't feel my toes...I coulda been lonely, but I Married Well.")
     "The Busking Life" features lots of interesting autoharp. The lyric is a defense of a life some friends say is a wasted one, "But what is a friend who wants you to fail?" And he LOVES the freedom, travel, and hard work of "The Busking Life."
     "The Welfare Song" and "Higher Wage" are about the dignity and genuine needs of the traditionally down and out. "Why don't your lift me up with a higher wage, why don't you raise me up with a higher wage, why don't you cheer me up with a higher wage? That's just what's needed in this day and age"
     The harmony and semi shouted vocal on "Higher Wage" and interlocking guitar and harmonica on "The Welfare Song" ("being on welfare is a 24 hour job") are as interesting and varied as the messages delivered.
     The collection ranges from gentle and pretty waltzes, like "The Gods Are Watching Over Us," to bluesy slide guitar and harmonica duets, all played and sung--and mostly written--by the one-man band, busker PK Dwyer.
     It's very different from material submitted for review here previously, but different in a welcome and exciting way.


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