News & Reviews


The Zebra and Midlife Rocker: Joel Rafael

By Steve Houk

Ever’body might be just one big soul,
Well it looks that a-way to me.

Joel Rafael - Zebra
Joel Rafael - Midliferocker

Those are Woody Guthrie’s words from “Tom Joad,” a ballad he wrote based on the main character in “The Grapes of Wrath.” And that one lyric might just perfectly encompass folk music in general. One big soul, everyone talking about things that shake their inner self, things that either need change, or need to remain the same.

Joel Rafael has his own description, one that you just might hear Guthrie saying himself.

“(Folk music’s) kinda like a stream that runs along,” Rafael told me from his home in California. “It gets drier in some places along the way, you’ll see a creek bed, you don’t see any water, but the creek bed is there, and maybe the water is down under the water table somewhere under the ground, and then further down the creek bed all of a sudden it pops out of a little spring somewhere, and there’s a flow and it gets bigger, goes down the hill, picks up speed. That’s how I see folk music down through time.”

Joel Rafael is an admitted and reverent disciple of Guthrie, and for years has been one of America’s most intimate and lasting interpreters of his work. He is also one of those longtime American folk music treasures that might fall just under your radar, well, unless you’re an aficionado of the genre, or someone like Jackson Browne, Joan Baez, Emmylou Harris, David Crosby, Graham Nash or Kris Kristofferson, who are just a few of the many music luminaries who deeply respect Rafael and have shared the stage and the studio with him over the years. Rafael is someone whose music embodies what folk music is all about, meaningful and stunning stories about people, places and events that stay with you long after you’ve heard them. Rafael brings his songs and those of his mentors to DC in a rare solo performance at the Mansion on O on June 2nd to benefit the O Street Museum Foundation...

Read More at The Zebra

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