Mason Sebastian of Shady Side is a capable musician who has for some reason decided to make his living playing traditional folk music in the age of rock 'n' roll.

Toward that end, he has just released an album, "By Request," featuring songs of the British Isles and Australia, produced in Edgewater and completed in Washington. A veteran of previous recordings with other groups in the early stages of his career, this marks his recording debut as a soloist.

In terms of the material, "By Request" is an unconventional work. The material is beautifully presented by Sebastian's clear and evocative style of singing, accompanied by his excellent guitar work.

But the choice of material is rather downbeat. It includes several sad songs, including "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda," and "The Year of the Drum," by Australian songwriter Wendy Joseph about the Australian experiences of World War I.

There are also several traditional Irish ballad laments such as "Only Our Rivers Run Free," and "Four Green Fields."

The singer explained his choice of material, saying, "There's a melancholy about the Irish. It's something you find in all island peoples. Of course, it goes deeper than that (for the Irish because) they're a people who have never known total freedom."

He picked the Australian songs primarily because, "I love Australian ballads," and because he was especially impressed by composer Joseph.

"This is going to sound rather sexist," Sebastian said, "but female songwriters don't usually write war or anti-war songs. You don't think about women going to war -- although they do, especially recently (as in the Persian Gulf)."

In the hands of a less capable performer, "By Request" could have been a truly depressing waste of time, material and effort. But while one might have wished for a livelier first effort, this is a very good piece of work.

Happily, Sebastian promises his next solo album will be "more up-tempo and all original."

Originally slated for release in April, Sebastian said that the creation of "By Request" had been dogged by "all kinds of problems. We accidentally erased the master tape, and there were other mishaps."

But in terms of his music, Sebastian is a technically and artistically accomplished singer and musician who clearly understands his material. The album has been executed with a beautiful economy and clarity that makes it surprisingly enjoyable.

Concerning his music choices, Sebastian explained, that when he recorded the album, he had been playing a number of clubs that specialized in British and Irish music, where these songs were frequently requested.

Originally from Minneapolis, Minn., the lanky and mustachioed singer moved to Annapolis from New England in 1988 after performing on the folk music circuits of the region and the Midwest.

He fell in love with Annapolis, and one of its residents, Peggy O'Brian of Eastport. So he moved and began re-establishing his career.

The couple settled in Shady Side, in South County because it's quieter and safer than Annapolis, Sebastian said.

"I love the water, and I wanted to get out of the city. It's cooler, nicer and quieter here and more conducive to writing than having the police stopping by to ask where the gunfire was coming from, the sirens and the cocaine being sold outside my window," Sebastian said.

"I get along with my new neighbors."

In fact, he has just finished a new song, entitled "A Walk in the Shady Side," in which several of his neighbors are mentioned.

Copyright The Baltimore Sun 1990

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