Susanne Barkan : Legacy

Released in October, 2007. Legacy is filled with the various musical styles that have influenced and inspired Susanne through the years.

About The ProjectAbout the SongsLyricsTo Order

About The Project

by Susanne Barkan

It all starts some place, and that place is Hampshire College where I met Randi Silnutzer. She taught me songs and guitar parts, and she let me sing with her. Together we were ‘Just One More String Band’ performing folk songs for tips; Randi sang and played guitar, dulcimer and banjo. I sang and played guitar or flute. I learned tons of songs from Randi (including Green, Green Rocky Road and Corinna, Corinna) and got me out into the world, attending folk festivals, contra dances and concerts. Eventually, our musical paths separated; I lost my heart to Celtic music, unaccompanied ballad singing and then, vocal improvisation. In the early 1980s, I walked a solo music path inspired by countless import LP’s, live concerts, trips to Scotland and by attending two Ballad Singing workshops led by Jean Redpath and, later, the Dynamic Singing workshop with Bobby McFerrin.

Whatever day-job I had, there were singing gigs on the side. I never wanted to ‘go on the road’ – I’m not good at traveling and I'm basically a homebody. It’s a good thing the Pioneer Valley had more than a few venues for acoustic music.

After the workshop with Bobby in 1988, I was offered a gig at Amherst College. Wanting to explore improvisation a bit more, I contacted the other 19 singers from the workshop. Eleven of us got together, taught each other some songs, played some improv games with the audience and had a blast. We called the event Almost Totally Unaccompanied Voices. We were very well received. I hired Charlie Hunter to create our poster. The frame art from that poster is what you see on the splash page of my website and on the cover of Legacy.

That big concert was followed by others in NYC, Ithaca NY and New Haven CT. Around 1990, four of us became a group: Caprice Fox, Mark Johnson, Paul Zimmermann and me. We did a few gigs together and then life happened; we moved on, kept in touch when we could, but the music went elsewhere and we had other careers.

And now that road leads here. Legacy includes solo work and group work, set pieces and improvisation, songs I’ve sung for over 30 years and something I learned just for this project (Somewhere Along the Road). Some songs carry a strong Scots dialect because that’s how I learned them and that’s how they ‘live’ for me. It was often the case that the actual poetry of the lyrics, the sounds that fit together, is what attracted me to learning a song in the first place, so retaining that flavor was important to me. I apologize to native Scots speakers for the clumsiness of “my accent”... it’s been too many years since my last trip to Scotland.

I made this recording because I have been dealing with cancer for a few years and it’s now in my lungs. I fear my strongest singing is behind me, but I wanted to save something from my folk singing days. These are some of my favorite songs to sing. Although I’ve been a ‘solo act’ for many years, I knew this project was something I could not do alone. I am blessed to have some especially wonderful friends with whom I adore singing. Jill, Sarah, Peter and I met in my Toast & Jam Workshops. When I told Paul about this project he said “I want to sing on your cd. I know Mark will come too. Tell me when.” Paul and Mark made the trip from Chicago (Paul) and NYC (Mark) in April. My local singing friends made room in their busy lives to do learn new songs, figure out a part, and get to the studio. Most of my singing buddies are on this recording, the rest are here in spirit.

So this little CD is full of love and hope and deep friendship.
I hope you like it.

About The Songs

My deep thanks to Jill Connolly, Mark Johnson, Sarah Rankin, Peter Wood and Paul Zimmermann for your music and friendship all these years. You make it shine. - SB

1. Somewhere Along the Road (Rick Kemp)
voice: Susanne
This song is by Rick Kemp of Steeley Span. This rendition was recorded in February 2007 when all we knew was the cancer came back. To me, the ‘someone’ of this song includes all my helpers: family, friends, cheer-leaders, nurses, doctors and technicians as well as my utterly adorable spirit guides. This song has carried me through some very dark times, may it do the same for you; may it hold you in the light.

2. Annachie Gordon
voice and guitar: Susanne, guitar tuning is DADF#AD
This muckle sang (big song) was passed along generations through the oral tradition (people singing it) and eventually was ‘collected’ (the words were written down) by Francis James Child. It’s an often told tale of lovers whose relationship is thwarted by lack of money, parental intrusion, and someone going off to sea who comes back too late. I’m glad Nic Jones recorded this, I’ve patterned my version after his. Note: “he’s bonny and he’s braw” means “he’s handsome and strong”.

3. The Weaver and the Factory Maid
voice: Susanne, Mark and Paul
I got this from a recording by Martin Carthy. We added the ‘zoom-dokka’ riffs and a ‘factory improv’ to carry things along. It captures one aspect of ‘the industrial revolution’ when young women swarmed to factory work to ‘weave by steam’. I like how the rhythm dominates the whole thing, and that it’s in 5 (listen for the feel of 1-2-3/4-5, 1-2/3-4-5)and how in this song it’s the man doing the whining.

4. Jock o’ Hazeldean (lyrics by Sir Walter Scott)
voice: Susanne
Me and a few other wandering folkies were hitch-hiking around Scotland when we wound up at a friend’s cottage in Perthshire. There we had a “lovely wee sing” and someone sang this song. I scribbled it down the next day and proceeded to sing it constantly for about a week after. I like the one-sided conversation: the groom’s father is certainly selling, but the lady ain’t buying. I also like to think of this as a balance for Annachie Gordon.

5. The Broom o’ the Cowdeknowes
voice and guitar: Susanne DADGBE
A wistful, sentimental song and another tale of class distinctions getting in the way of two people in love. This is always better when people sing along, so we did this recording at home with a group of friends joining Craig and Ben on the chorus: Kay Lyons, Lynn Marcus, Dan Post, Lynn Benander, Aldene Etter and Sarah Rankin. Thanks guys.

6. Ca’ the Yowes
voice: Susanne and Sarah
This ones in dialect, so I’ll do a little explaining here (full lyrics are available at the website). Essentially, it’s a love story told in conversation. He’s a shepherd and she works along side him. His ‘plaid’ is roughly 8 feet of wool that serves as both clothes and bed. Being ‘rolled gently in his plaid’ has rather a sensual meaning. Though it’s clear they’re poor, she wants nice things. He offers her gowns, ribbons, leather shoes and his fidelity. She makes him promise, he does and all is well. I learned this song from Louis Killen who made the characters quite real to me with his unique approach. You’ll come across it elsewhere in strict 3/4 lullabye format, light and fluffy. That’s not at all how I learned it. I’ve sung this one solo for 30 years now. This time I asked Sarah to ‘find something’. Boy, did she ever. I’m so glad we were able to do this together.

7. Heala’s Gift
voice: Susanne, Mark and Paul
We hadn’t seen each other for 12 years. But here we are, doing this project in April 2007. We closed our eyes and sang.

8. Dark-Eyed Molly (Archie Fisher)
voice and guitar: Susanne, guitar tuning is DADF#AD
Archie Fisher’s songs have a way of sounding like they’ve been around forever. This is one of my favorites; I like the way the narrator is talking himself into and out of the relationship throughout the song. Throughout this song is that vulnerability: does she, doesn’t she, does it matter?

9. My Johnny Was a Shoemaker
voice: Susanne, vocal percussion: Peter, Mark and Paul
It was really a hoot to triple track myself. I kept laughing. I hope you feel the floozy fun of a few feisty women in high bravado. I know several songs lamenting the press gangs and the awful predicament of those left behind. This one puts on a bold, brave face, so we triple-tracked me and ‘the lads’ created a vocal percussion dance band.This song gives the sense of someone quite determined to hope for the best. A brave little song, this.

10. The Grey Funnel Line (Cyril Tawney)
voice: Susanne
This song touches all sorts of emotions: frustration and loneliness to determination and resignation. Though it’s about being in the Navy, I think these feelings translate to other things as well... chemo, for one.

11. Rompsidaisy (improv)
voice: Susanne, Mark and Paul
Again, we just sang. Paul had to catch a plane so we said “something quick” and then it became a sort of ‘go markie go’ riff with Paul jumping right in and me close behind. I’m still amazed at all the places we managed to go inside those road map riffs.

12. Corinna, Corinna
voice and guitar: Susanne, DADGBE, with additional vocals by Jill Connolly
This collaboration is just one of many reasons why I love to sing with Jill. While in college, just learning songs from Randi, I asked her to teach me ‘an easy blues’ and she taught me this one.

13. Your Mother and I (Loudon Wainwright III)
vocals: Susanne and Mark
Like most Loudon Wainwright III’s songs, this one is deceptively simple. The content is harsh, but Mark’s gentle singing seems to soften the blow. Siging with Mark is always a special event.

14. Green, Green Rocky Road
voice and guitar: Susanne, DADGBE
A cute song, fun to sing. That’s reason enough, eh? Randi taught me this song, and how to play with the “D down” tuning. Again, big thanks to our chorus of friends: Kay Lyons, Lynn Marcus, Dan Post, Lynn Benander, Aldene Etter and Sarah Rankin.

15. Doodlybop (toast & jam improv)
vocals: Susanne
This riff was in my head for days on end. Do sing along, that’s what it’s here for.

16. Somewhere Along the Road: reprise
Vocals: Susanne, Mark and Paul
When I knew Paul was coming out to sing on this CD, I sent him this song and asked him to help me “bring it down to earth”. He came up with the amazingly cool idea of a Dixieland Marching Band and he and Mark got to work. I had way too much fun listening to all the rappity de bappity stuff and then all the textures and colors they brought to this. It’s not a song anymore, it’s a parade. What extraordinarily talented guys. Step off, sing proud. Thank you Mark and Paul: I can’t keep from smiling now.

To Order the CD

[no longer] online: Legacy CD on

About The ProjectAbout the SongsLyricsTo Order