Album: Various Artists

A Mighty Wind - the album, Columbia
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The Independent Culture

Parody has always been something of a double-edged sword, in that the more accurate a spoof is, the more likely an audience is to take it at face value and miss the joke altogether. Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer got the balance exactly right with This Is Spinal Tap, but this folk-music parody of theirs is a much subtler matter to perfect.

The problem is the dull, grey, earnest quality of pre-Dylan folk music itself. With Spinal Tap, the heavy-metal parodies had to be as pompous, overweening, sexist, egotistical, infantile and posturing as metal itself, an exaggerated state of delusion that offered hugely entertaining possibilities. By comparison, folk music is a much more restrained, polite culture.

So, while these parodies of such as The Kingston Trio (The Folksmen), Ian & Sylvia (Mitch & Mickey) and The New Christy Minstrels (The New Main Street Singers) are unflinchingly accurate, they're actually so deadpan dead-on that it's hard to hear the joke. Indeed, it is questionable whether you would even want to: after all, would you choose to listen to a real New Christy Minstrels album?

As with Spinal Tap, it's the quality of the songwriting that ultimately redeems the project, as each song puts to the sword a specific genre cliché. The sea-shanty gibberish of "Fare Away", the hilarious anti-war tragedy of "The Ballad of Bobby and June", the bogus sentiment of the coal-mine disaster ode "Blood on the Coal", the cringingly patronising calypso patois of "Loco Man" (which also provides an acci-dental drug reference à la Peter, Paul & Mary's "Puff the Magic Dragon") - all these are neatly stitched up and sent packing.

The dour "Skeletons of Quinto" is a masterpiece of turgid protest doggerel: "The toil and sweat and tyranny/ The fascist jeu d'esprit/ Will only serve to keep us down/ And raise the bourgeoisie."

The New Main Street Singers offer a particularly scary evocation of the way that late-1950s folk music involved a dubious notion of rusticity filtered through the suburban sensibilities of the Eisenhower era: there's a terrifying, crazed bonhomie to their "Main Street Rag" and square-dance nonsense number "Potato's in the Paddy Wagon", while their biblical sing-along "The Good Book Song" hints at the yawning purgatory of countless happy-clappy services to come. Mitch & Mickey's doomed romantic balladry is suitably glutinous but less appealing, while The Folksmen's self-righteous, beardy wholesomeness is perhaps best experienced on "Never Did No Wanderin'", a contrary take on folk's` hobo obsession, picked out in ludicrous mythic hyperbole: "My daddy was the son of a railroad man/ From west of hell/ Where the trains don't even run."

The really scary thing about A Mighty Wind, though, is that after only a couple of listens the songs have begun to worm their way into my consciousness, just like the Spinal Tap songs before them.