Everything Possible

Fred Small

Flying Fish Records, 1993


REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


You've probably never heard of Fred Small, which is a shame. A man who Pete Seeger has called "one of America's best songwriters", his sporadic and low-key career has stretched across three record labels and seventeen years; despite my fondness for his work, I've only managed to locate two of his six extant CDs. His music is brilliant, heart-felt, and touching, emotional without being manipulative, and his single voice asking for diversity and understanding is seemingly cynic-proof.

A former Phi Beta Kappa at Yale and the holder of a law degree from the University of Michigan, Small quit law in 1980 in order to concentrate on his music career. In 1996, he entered Harvard Divinity School to become a Unitarian Minister. In between, he committed to CD some of the best folk music around, and my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Everything Possible documents both how good the music was and how well his audience responded.

Small has two distinct voices. The satirist and humourist comes out to play on "Hot Frogs On The Loose" and "The Marine's Lament: Or The Pink Peril", and his sense of humour is devastatingly biting and deeply amusing. The spoken interlude on "The Hug Song" turns a Raffiesque children's song into an interesting commentary on our society. But on another level, Small is a balladeer, a bard, pointing out injustice and wrong in the tradition of Tom Paxton and Phil Ochs. The disk's opening track, "Guinevere And The Fire" is a haunting, gut-twisting indictment of racism, "Too Many People" starts out funny then turns serious on the subject of overpopulation, and "Smile When You're Ready" is a bittersweet advisory for those growing up misfit. The title track is a touching lullaby to a child who needs to hear that whatever they do in life is all right, and the spoken intro ("This is a song no one ever sang to me as I was growing up") made me use it as a lullaby for my children. Sure, sometimes he becomes a touch too saccharine, especially on "Friends First" and "Rodney King's Blessing", but his clear voice and honest emotion at least means -he- believes everything he says, and in protest music that's nine-tenths of the battle.

Two special notes have to be made in closing. One, this is the best sounding live disc I've -ever- heard; you're right there, and the crowd sound is clear without being overpowering. Kudos to small Chicago label Flying Fish for the marvelous sound. Two, "The Other Side Of The Wood", track four on the CD, is magnificent. I can't say anything else, just listen to it yourself.

You may have trouble tracking Fred Small down. Make the effort; he is one of the best songwriters out there today, and is the worthy heir of a long tradition of guitars and messages.

"You can be anybody you want to be, you can love whomever you will, You can travel any country where your heart leads, and know I will love you still, You can live by yourself, you can gather friends around you, you can choose one special one," And the only measure of your words and deeds Will be the love you leave behind when you're done..."

--"Everything Possible", Fred Small

Rating: A-

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© 1999 Duke Egbert and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Flying Fish Records, and is used for informational purposes only.