Named after that cubbyhole within Los Angeles’ Troubadour Club where Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark started writing songs together prior to the formation of The Byrds, The Folk Den Project began as an internet-only enterprise in 1995, before it morphed into a four-cd box set a decade later. 22 Timeless Tracks comprises McGuinn’s favorite selections from over a hundred tunes and clearly illustrates why he is that rarity among rock and roll stars: a musician with a legitimate set of roots he explores with as much passion as authenticity.
A number of these songs will be familiar to a music lover with eclectic tastes. The Band included "Cane’s Blues" (as “Ain’t No More Cane”) in their live repertoire. The Byrds recorded a lovely version of "Wild Mountain Thyme" on their third album Fifth Dimension, while The Beach Boys’ adapted “The John B’s Sails" for "Sloop John B" on Pet Sounds as Brian Wilson approached his creative peak.
Such points of reference are indicative of the long-standing influence of folk music on contemporary rock. Yet even more noteworthy perhaps is the autobiographical undercurrent of “Wanderin’” over and above the echo of Rickenbacker electric twelve-string that arises behind the acoustic guitar: this is not just an exercise in academia for Roger McGuinn.
And that’s not to mention the timeless topicality of the best folk music—at least in the hands of the former leader of The Byrds. There is no need to specifically mention the combination tragedy and debacle that was Hurricane Katrina while you hear the ache in his voice as the lyrics unfold to "Mighty Day:” "Down by the Riverside," on the other hand, illustrates how the folk tradition has nurtured the polemic, but Roger has been nothing if not open-minded throughout his career.
"Follow the Drinking Gourd" documents the impeccable sound quality McGuinn strove for in re-recording his original lo-fi renderings on-line: the digital format enhances the purity of the music rather than allowing it to reside in sterility. Given the pithy points of reference Roger McGuinn provides for almost half these selections including that one, notes on each the tracks would complete a well-designed colorful package that otherwise deserves to be described as deluxe.