This configuration of long-time friends and mix-and-match collaborators came together as a mutual admiration society with a mission: "The material we chose had to be story songs that lent themselves to four-part harmony," says Anne Hills. So the members of Fourtold set out to make what could be described as an old-fashioned folk record - evocative songs about events and adventures, rather than innermost feelings, conveyed by an ever-shifting tapestry of glorious voices and warm, quietly virtuosic instrumentation.
Despite diverse origins, the songs on "Fourtold" seem as old as the family bible, as new as the morning newspaper. There are tales, real or imagined, of Western badmen (Ian Tyson's "Four Rode By"), epic horse races ("Molly and Tenbrooks"), witches and imps ("Pendle Hill," "The Nine Little Goblins"), doomed miners ("Ballad of Springhill"), assassination theories ("Two Men in the Building"), maidens besting murderous suitors ("Aramalee"), nautical disasters ("Run, Come, See Jerusalem"), and a new version of Steve Gillette's "Darcy Farrow," previously recorded by more than 300 singers and often mistaken for a traditional ballad.
With four world-class voices weaving rich, varied leads and harmonies on a sumptuous loom of acoustic guitars, banjo, accordion, concertina and bass (the latter played by producer/performer Scott Petito), listening to "Fourtold" is like reading a well-chosen anthology of short stories. This is folk music by inspired experts, reveling in each other's skills on an instantly classic
Steve Gillette (vocals, acoustic guitar) made his recording debut in 1968 with a self-titled Vanguard album. His songs have been covered by dozens of folk and country artists, including Linda Ronstadt, Garth Brooks, Nanci Griffith and Tammy Wynette. Along with a handful of solo records, Gillette has recorded three duo albums with wife Cindy Mangsen (to whom he was introduced by Anne Hills). In addition to performing at dozens of folk festivals and hundreds of clubs and campuses in more than 30 countries, Gillette has presented workshops and seminars on songwriting, guitar theory and record production, and his book "Songwriting and the Creative Process" was published in 1995. He has also written the title themes for many movies.
Anne Hills (vocals, banjo, percussion) is the connecting link between Fourtold's members. Born in India and raised in Michigan, Anne moved to the fertile Chicago folk scene in 1976, where she met future musical partners Tom Paxton, Michael Smith and Cindy Mangsen, cofounded the Hogeye Music folklore center and launched her own Hogeye Records label, which released her early solo albums. With Paxton and fellow singer-songwriter Bob Gibson, Anne was part of the short-lived "Best of Friends" group (which included Michael Smith on bass) in the early '80s. First recognized for her vocal purity and interpretive abilities, Anne honed her songwriting on her own records and in various collaborative situations - in duos with Paxton, Mangsen and Smith and in a sporadic but still active trio with Mangsen and Priscilla Herdman. Anne is also an author of children's books ("Dreamcatcher"), an award-winning poet, a community service activist, and a periodic participant in theater projects.
Cindy Mangsen (vocals, guitar, concertina, accordion, piano) has been described by the Boston Globe as "one of the best pure ballad singers in folk today, a wondrously clear and honest vocalist." She met Anne Hills and Michael Smith in the mid-'70s when she began performing professionally as a solo singer and member of a quintet called Ravenswood. Cindy's first solo album was released on Anne's Hogeye label in 1983. She has continued to release solo records and, like Hills, has collaborated with many other musicians, including Gillette (three duo albums), Hills (two duo albums), and Hills and Herdman (three trio albums).
Michael Smith (vocals, 12-string guitar, guitar), born in New Jersey, wrote his first songs at 15 and started playing coffeehouses while in college in Florida. Smith's best-known song, "The Dutchman," was recorded by Steve Goodman, Jerry Jeff Walker, Josh White Jr., Anne Hills, Liam Clancy, and the New Kingston Trio, while Goodman, Tom Rush, Jimmy Buffett and countless more covered other Smith compositions. Smith's solo recording career was paved by the recommendation of Anne Hills, with whom he sometimes tours and recorded "Paradise Lost and Found." In the late '80s, Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company commissioned Smith to create music for its production of John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath," which eventually moved to Broadway and won two 1990 Tony Awards. More recently, Michael and his wife have toured and recorded as part of "Weavermania!" a recreation of The Weavers' stage show and repertoire.
Check out the artist's website:
1. Four Rode By
2. Molly and Tenbrooks
3. Pendle Hill
4. Joshua Gone Barbados
5. Panther in Michigan
6. Darcy Farrow
7. Ballad of Springhill
9. The Nine Little Goblins
10. Two Men in the Building
11. I Drew My Ship
12. Run, Come, See Jerusalem