By Greg Cahill
There’s an ancient wisdom to the songs of Chaim Tannenbaum.
After five decades behind the scenes, Tannenbaum has quietly become a folk-music legend, of sorts. This expert multi-instrumentalist has been a longtime collaborator of the Wainwright-McGarrigle family (including Kate and Anna McGarrigle, and Loudon, Rufus, and Martha Wainwright), dating back to the mid-1960s.
He’s appeared on more than 20 albums, but has never released an album of his own.
At age 68, he’ll release his self-titled debut on May 27 via StorySound Records.
The whimsical acoustic guitar and fiddle duo “Coal Man Blues” is reminiscent of the old-time folk-jazz popularized by Leon Redbone.
Tannenbaum’s relationship with folk’s first family began with Kate and Anna McGarrigle when they formed a band together called Mountain City Four while they were in high school together. Chaim then met Loudon in the early ’70s in Loudon after he and Kate were married (Chaim was earning his Ph.D. in philosophy at the time). They became fast friends and the three of them even used to busk together on Portobello Road.
Over the years, Tannenbaum has regularly performed, toured, and recorded with the Wainwrights and McGarrigles, even occasionally producing, while taking time off from his teaching assignments.
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Loudon Wainwright III has called him “my closest musical cohort and confidant, a tough but fair and perceptive critic of my work, and in a way I consider him my musical conscience.”
Tannenbaum now resides in New York City, having retired after almost 35 years of teaching philosophy at Dawson College in Montreal.
Asked by Tablet Magazine in 2011 if there was any relationship between his life as a philosophy professor and a musician, he responded that there is no link whatsoever: “I may as well be two unrelated people,” he quipped.