Hearing Steve Gillette and Cindy Mangsen is really like hearing three folk acts in one. First there's Steve Gillette. Singer and songwriter, he is among contemporary folk music's most prolific, enduring and oft-covered. His songs stretch from 60s standards like "Darcy Farrow" and "Back on the Street Again" to "The Old Trail" recently recorded by Don Williams and Kathy Mattea and "Unto You This Night" recorded by Garth Brooks. His songs have been sung by dozens of other artists like John Denver, Waylon Jennings, Gordon Lightfoot, Anne Murray, Kenny Rogers, Linda Ronstadt, Tammy Wynette and a host of others. And when he sings his songs, he sings them in a gentle baritone voice, driven by a clever, ornate finger-picking style.
Then there's Cindy Mangsen, longtime Chicago folk star. She is one of the finest and most respected traditional singers working today. She has a beautifully honest voice as she accompanies herself on the guitar, banjo, English concertina or mountain dulcimer. Cindy's repertoire ranges from haunting Scottish ballads to songs by writers as diverse as Jack Hardy and Jean Ritchie with a few of her own original songs thrown into the mix. She has been performing professionally since 1976 and has appeared in concert with such performers as Pete Seeger and Dave Van Ronk, and can be heard singing harmony on many albums, including several of Tom Paxton's recordings.
Put them together and they form an ensemble sound that combines the pop-savvy groove of Gillette with Mangsen's sweet understanding of the tradition's delicate melodic demands. Since their marriage in 1989, they have each allowed the strengths of the other to seep into their sound.
Another element that held together this duo's eclectic approach is their facile, self-deprecating humor. At one point they thought about becoming the Nichols and May of folk music. The fact is, if they weren't such richly talented musicians with such an obvious and abiding respect for their music, they could very well be a hit as a novelty act, so keen and sharp are their stories and asides. Until they decide to go that route, they'll just have to be who they are: one of the most talented and entertaining three folk- music acts in one in the world.