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Deborah Van Kleef: Press

If you’ve ever been to a local peace rally, folk festival, or anywhere else that songs of social justice are being sung, chances are you’ve heard Deborah Van Kleef’s earnest, honest voice rising above the rabble. After years of toting her guitar around the area, wearing her left-leaning politics proudly on her sleeve, she’s finally come out with her first CD. It boasts a nice blend of heartbreak and wry humor, righteous anger and playful goofiness. It includes several of Van Kleef’s finely crafted original songs, as well as material by Woody Guthrie, Malvina Reynolds, A.P. Carter and others. She shows herself to be an agile wordsmith with a slicing wit on “Talking Health Care,: a talking blues in which she takes on the greed inherent in the American health-care system. Perhaps her biggest hit is “The Great Fast Food Strike,” an updating of the 19th century ballad “The Buffalo Skinners,” this time retelling the story of McDonald’s workers in Macedonia, Ohio and their 1998 strike for better treatment. The song caught the ear of Pete Seeger, who sang it at Carnegie Hall that same year. She puts together an ambitious train trilogy in which she segues from Woody Guthrie’s “Little Black Train” to the late Cuyahoga County [Ohio] poet laureate Daniel Thompson’s inspirational poem “Train!” to James Keelaghan’s “Never Gonna Stop This Train.” Ken Whiteley’s production is clean and colorful, with guitar, bass, fiddle, washboard and “guitjo,” among other sounds. The package is attractive, with some beautiful black-and-white photographs of industrial Cleveland. Fans of Malvina Reynolds, Peggy Seeger and Hazel Dickens will find much to enjoy here.
It's a soundtrack for the hard-workin' types sprinkled along Mermaid Avenue. Local troubadour folkie Deborah Van Kleef's new CD Work in Progress is everything that folk music lovers and understudies of Woody Guthrie, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Pete Seeger and Malvina Reynolds love: rootsy, backwoods "stories of ordinary people" and their trials and tribulations. This 15-track collection blends music history and wit with a blend of the oldest of old-school styles -- jug band, country blues contemporary folk and swing. These are the kind of songs that speak to the hard-working, blue collar ethos of this region, as she champions workers, snipes at their bosses and finds moments of genuine, heartfelt flavor in the process. Talk about an appropriately-titled effort. Marquee performers like Bruce Springsteen and Billy Bragg & Wilco have paid homage to this stripped back style recently, but to hear the majesty and power Van Kleef offers in this lo-fi take on traditional music is to hear it in a pure and thrilling way.