Sunday, June 21, 2009

Concert Report: Spider John Koerner @ Studio 99, Nashua

On the first of June I received the latest monthly email newsletter from Village Records, a wonderful place for finding new music. While scanning the newsletter during lunch, I noticed mention of a new live Koerner & Glover CD. "Oh," I thought, "I'll have to remember to check into that later, and also double check on whether Spider John is going to be playing on the east coast this summer." With that I returned my attention to work.

Around 8pm that night, Spider John Koerner just happened to pop into my head again. I thought I'd go to his web site to see what's up with the new CD. While doing that I looked at his concert calendar and, I'll be darned, but it says he is playing in Nashua, NH the very next night, June 2nd! Woah, if not for the Village Records newsletter, and if not for remembering it later in the day, I'd have missed this completely. Serendipity.

Any hey, what's this? A new music venue in Nashua? Who knew? Studio 99 is nestled in the fourth floor of one of the old mill buildings on the Nashua River. It isn't easy to find, and parking can best be described as, uhhh, creative, but it's just the kind of place I love. Unpretentious and welcoming. Old wooden floors and brick walls, with glimpses of the river out the window. The nice folks running the place appear to be having a good run at offering a full schedule of open mics, jam sessions (jazz, blues, folk/acoustic, and bluegrass), and concerts. I'll be keeping my eye on their calendar.

Spider John Keorner @ Studio 99, Nashua - photo by Tom Spine

Spider John, if you are not familiar, is a traditional American folk and country blues musician. Based out of Minneapolis, Spider John was an early influence on Bob Dylan — back before he was, well, Bob Dylan. Oft quoted is this excerpt from Dylan's autobiography, Chronicles, Volume One:

"With my newly learned repertoire, I then went further up the street and dropped into the Ten O'Clock Scholar, a Beat coffeehouse. I was looking for players with kindred spirits. The first guy I met in Minneapolis like me was sitting around in there. It was John Koerner and he also had an acoustic guitar with him. Koerner was tall and thin with a look of perpetual amusement on his face. We hit it off right away. ... When he spoke he was soft spoken, but when he sang he became a field holler shouter. Koerner was an exciting singer, and we began playing a lot together."

Dylan correctly captured one essential aspect of Spider John - his now signature style. Part field holler, part ragtime, part country blues, part American roots, it's instantly recognizable as Spider John. I tried to find something on YouTube that would really showcase him, and this was the best I could come up with:

The show in Nashua turned out to be darn near a private concert. There were only fifteen of us in the room, and that included the event staff! Sixteen, if you count Spider John! I owe the poor turnout to the newness of the venue, its off-the-beaten-path location, perhaps a little lack of advertising, and it being a Tuesday night. While half of me wanted the room to be packed, the other half was thrilled at the intimacy.

Before the show I asked Spider John if he minded if I took some non-flash photos, and he said that was fine. So I also felt less self conscious than normal taking some shots. I have posted the six shots I am happiest with on a Flickr photo set.

Spider John Keorner @ Studio 99, Nashua - photo by Tom Spine

Spider John played two sets plus an encore, for what must have been close to two hours of music (I seem to have not noted time in my notebook). We got a slew of traditional songs, his own songs, and a few by Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly (Huddie Ledbetter), and others. Two songs into the first set I was as happy as I could be, when we were treated to one of my favorites, Acres of Clams, a traditional song about the settling of Puget Sound; John sings what is known as the "Lay of the Old Settler" version of this song. When he finished and our applause died down I couldn't help but tell John that I loved that song!

We were treated to songs and stories of old British racehorses (Stewball), the California gold rush (The Days of Forty-nine), trains (Casey Jones), and love and war (When First Unto This Country). Prior to singing one of his own songs, Phoebe, Spider John spoke lovingly, if humorously, about the phoebe birds who have been making nests in and around his house for more than forty years, wondering about their migration every winter and return every spring.

Spider John is also known for what can only be described as corny humor. We were treated to a number of these "groaners" including the one about the two guys in the woods who came upon a grizzly bear. The one fellow says to the other, "I'm making a run for it." His friend replied, "Are you crazy? You can't outrun a grizzly bear!", to which the first guy replied, "True, but I reckon I don't have to outrun the bear. I just have to outrun you!"

Spider John Keorner @ Studio 99, Nashua - photo by Tom Spine

At the set break I made a mental note of songs that I wanted to hear in the second set. More Pretty Women Than One and Sail Away Ladies were at the top of my list, so when John announced he had just three more songs to play in the second set, I went ahead and asked, "And will More Pretty Women Than One be one of them?" While he hadn't planned on it, his tuning was right, so John obliged me with his cover of this Woody Guthrie song. John did explain, though, that Woody used to sing "more pretty girls than one" but he thought it more appropriate and respectful to sing "more pretty women than one."

Spider John Keorner @ Studio 99, Nashua - photo by Tom Spine

Spider John is nothing short of a national treasure. It's been too many years since Patti and I last saw him. If you get a chance, go see him. If you don't, go buy one of his CDs. Heck, go buy the new Koerner and Glover live CD from Village Records! Tell 'em I sent ya!

Spider John Koerner
Studio 99, Nashua, NH
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Set 1:
Careless Love (W.C. Handy, Martha Koenig, Spencer Williams)
Acres of Clams (Francis D. Henry)
Stewball (Traditional)
The Wabash Cannonball (Traditional)
Dodger (Traditional)
Good Time Charlie (Traditional)
Don't Look Now (?)
Phoebe (Spider John Koerner)
When First Unto This Country (Traditional)
Red Apple Juice (Traditional)
Midnight Special (Traditional)
Set 2:
St. James Infirmary (Joe Primrose)
Danville Girl (Woody Guthrie)
The Ballad of Casey Jones (Traditional)
The Days of Forty-nine (Traditional)
Some People Say (Spider John Koerner)
The Summer of 88 (Spider John Koerner)
No Regrets (?)
Delt My Cards in England (?)
More Pretty Woman Than One (Woody Guthrie)
What's the Matter With The Mill (Minnie McCoy)
Goodnight Irene (Huddie Ledbetter, John Lomax)
Black Dog Blues (Traditional)
Rattlesnake (?)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Concert Report: Steve Forbert @ Tupelo Music Hall

Oh, hey. Before too much more time passes I ought to make a quick note about Steve Forbert's return to Tupelo on Sunday, May 17. Looking back at my previous concert reports, I see it was darn near exactly one year since Steve last took the Tupelo stage.

This year there was no battle over the house and stage lights, much to my camera's disappointment. Steve likes the house lights bright enough to see the audience, and the stage lights not so bright as to blind him. This worked great for Steve's interaction with the crowd, but made it extremely difficult for me to get good photos — simply not enough stage lighting, and I struggled with shutter speed all night long. I also spent the night battling the view around the vocal microphone — I was sitting more directly center stage than normal.

Steve Forbert at Tupelo Music Hall

Steve's concerts are informal affairs, and he thrives on the audience. He encourages the audience to keep rhythm, and there are also always multiple opportunities for the audience to demonstrate its knowledge of his songs and lyrics. Audience requests are also a staple, and a number of tunes were audience suggestions.

No big surprises in the set, other than perhaps One After 909. How many in the audience knew this early Lennon/McCartney song? Hard to tell. Steve also flirted with The Beatles' Good Night before launching into Romeo's Tune.

Steve Forbert at Tupelo Music Hall

The opening act was Diana Jones, a country-flavored singer songwriter with a clear Tennessee/Kentucky influence. Her voice reminded me a little of Kate Campbell, although her lyrics tended to be a bit more, ummm, serious or somber than Kate's. Nevertheless, an enjoyable opener.

Diana Jones at Tupelo Music Hall

Steve Forbert
Tupelo Music Hall, Londonderry, NH
Sunday, May 17, 2009
Trouble No More
Hang On Again Til The Sun Shines
My Stolen Identity
Rock While I Can Rock
One After 909 (Lennon/McCartney)
My Blue Eyed Jane (Lulu Belle White/Jimmie Rodgers)
Sing It Again My Friend
The Sweet Love That You Give
The American In Me
Write Me A Raincheck
Baby Don't
Song For Katrina
California Cotton Fields (Dallas Frazier)
It Sure Was Better Back Then
Simply Must Move On
Lonesome Cowboy Bill's Song
What Kinda Guy
Good Night/Romeo's Tune
Middle Age
Good Planets Are Hard To Find
Opening Act, Diana Jones:
All God's Children
Cold Dark Mine
Cold Grey Ground
If I Had A Gun
Henry Russell's Last Words (aka, Oh How I Love You Mary)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Bacon - Not For Sale

(There's nothing in here about swine flu, so if that's what you are looking for, move along. Nothing to see here.)

On our travels, on a side road off of a side road, we came upon a farm. I'm not sayin' exactly where, mind you.

Out at the roadside, this farm has a neatly lettered, hand painted sign. The sign says:



Now farm fresh eggs, there's nothing much unusual there. But bacon, well, that caught our eye. A quick conversation ensued among the four of us in the car, and a U-turn followed in short order. Foodies that we are, we had to investigate.

The farm raises, slaughters, and sells ducks and pigs, and also sells duck and chicken eggs. There's no store, per se, but rather an upright side-by-side freezer-refrigerator stocked full of goodies. It's an honor system. Take what you want, write down what you take on a clipboard inside the fridge, and put your money or check in the coffee can in the fridge door.

There's a sign taped to the door of the freezer that explains all of this, and then also this sign that gives a little more detail:

Bacon - Not For Sale
Bacon - Not For Sale

What? The carefully vacuum-sealed 1 pound packages of bacon in the freezer are not for sale because the smokehouse is not federally inspected? Oh, but if it were for sale, it would be $14 a pound? All that is missing is the "wink, wink, nod, nod."

Disappointed as we were, we realized that we couldn't buy a pound of bacon. But we did leave a $14 donation in the coffee can. And we sure are looking forward to farm fresh bacon we're gonna have for breakfast this weekend. "Wink, wink, nod, nod."

Saturday, April 11, 2009

I Ride for Paul

I know a lot of people who really enjoy riding bicycles. I'm not one of them. Given the choice, I will choose to go for a run over a bicycle ride any day of the week. I know, you probably think I'm nuts. Maybe I am. When I run, I can zone out. I can be in the moment, and my mind can wander to all sorts of interesting places. I don't get that on a bicycle. There's too much to pay attention to. Too much that distracts me. The helmet. The funny cleat shoes. Changing gears. Watching out for pot holes and other road hazards. Not to mention watching out for cars. It's all too distracting.

But every spring I put in enough bicycle "seat time" training to participate in the 100-kilometer Ride the Vineyard bike ride to raise funds for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. This year's ride is on Saturday, May 2, 2009.

I ride for my friend Paul, and for thousands like him who are fighting MS every day of their lives. Imagine unpredictably having blurred vision, or losing your sense of balance, your ability to use your hands to grip everyday objects, or your ability to walk. Or worse. Paul has taught me what true courage is, and how to face adversity head on and with high spirits and thankfulness for every day. He is my inspiration, and I think of him often during long runs and bike rides.

The funds I raise will be used by the National MS Society to support research as well as programs to help address the needs of people living with MS, which remains an incurable disease today. Would you please consider sponsoring me via a tax-deductible donation? My goal this year is to raise $2000, and you can help by donating via my pledge page. Any amount will help. Thanks!

Please visit to make a pledge.

Paul and me at the Cape Code Canal, June 2004
Paul and me at the Cape Code Canal, June 2004

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Concert Report: Vance Gilbert @ Tupelo Music Hall

The music keeps on coming, and on Friday night, April 3rd, Patti and I were back at Tupelo's Table 3 for one of the most gifted performers on the singer-songwriter circuit, Vance Gilbert. Where the heck was everyone else? Tupelo was nearly empty, with only about sixty tickets sold (capacity is just over 200). We've seen Vance fill the place before, so what gives? Competition from other shows? I know that the Cowboy Junkies were in Newburyport, and Susan Werner was back at Club Passim. Even still, I would have expected over a hundred people, not sixty.

Vance Gilbert at Tupelo Music Hall, April 3, 2009

Vance is so multi-talented. He can write a song that will make you cry. He's got guitar chops. He's got a voice to die for. He's got command of the stage. And he's got some serious funnies (now there's an oxymoron, eh?). The man could easily be a stand up comic, and he's worked with some of the best stand ups in the business in days gone by, including George Carlin and Bill Cosby. He puts all this to good use in his concerts.

The core of his current show is a handful of songs from his newest album, Up On Rockfield. This is a concept album in which Vance writes songs as inspired by other artists. Some of these are clearly "as if written by" efforts, while others are more "as inspired by." And others are just plain whacky.

Goodbye Pluto, an ode to the former planet, falls squarely in the whacky side; it is written as an inspirational combination of Shawn Colvin and Raffi! Old Man's Advice is written as if by Tom Waits. The line "never look for Friday's kiss with Thursday's broken heart" is clearly straight out of the Tom Waits inspiration book. Welcome to Lovetown combines John Hiatt and Prince! By far the most "as if written by" song is Judge's House, which was written as if it were an outtake from Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska album. Close your eyes and listen to the lyrics, and you can absolutely imagine that Bruce wrote this song during the Nebraska period:

It's 3:00 in the morning
On this side of town
A lonely dog barking
Is the only other sound
I'm sitting in my car
Outside this judge's house
Ten years to the day he brought
His gavel down
Ten years ago
But I recall it
Like it was yesterday
A man remembers when you take
Ten years of his life away

Vance Gilbert at Tupelo Music Hall, April 3, 2009

Round Midnight featured Vance channeling first Billie Holiday, then Louis Armstrong — both trumpet and vocals. Responding to a giggling child in the audience, Vance added both the Cookie Monster and Elmo to the vocal impersonations. It's likely that neither of those two Sesame Street characters ever sang the classic Thelonious Monk song before, nor shared a single song with Billie Holiday and Louie Armstrong! Vance had great fun with the giggling child, both during and after the song. It's likely she will remember the night for a long time.

Vance closed with an off microphone, acappella version of King of Rome, a not-infrequent closing song for Vance and clear crowd favorite. Vance has a powerful voice, and King of Rome is a perfect showcase:

In the West End of Derby lives a working man
He says "I can't fly but me pigeons can
And when I set them free
It's just like part of me
Gets lifted up on shining wings"

I was hoping to find a YouTube version of Vance singing King of Rome, but didn't have any luck. But here's a video of Vance singing Unfamiliar Moon from 2006 that nicely illustrates his songwriting, his vocals, and his guitar playing:

The opening act was twenty-year old Berklee College of Music student Emily Elbert.

Emily Elbert at Tupelo Music Hall, April 3, 2009

She did a nice set of her own songs, and considering she's just a sophomore in college, she clearly has one heck of a career ahead of her. You can easily find videos of her doing her own tunes on YouTube, but I was most impressed with her closing cover of Paul McCartney's Oh! Darling, and so I'll leave you with a YouTube video of Emily singing that song:

Vance Gilbert
Tupelo Music Hall, Londonderry, NH
Friday, April 3, 2009
It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference (Todd Rundgren)
Taking It All To Tennessee
Castles Made of Sand (Jimi Hendrix)
Goodbye Pluto
Unfamiliar Moon
Old Man's Advice
Welcome to Lovetown
I'm So Tired of Being Alone (Al Green)
Judge's House
Save the Last Dance for Me (Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman)
Round Midnight (Thelonious Monk)
Some Great Thing
Encore: King of Rome (David Sudbury)
Opening act, Emily Elbert:
In the Summertime
Caught Up In Your Love
Silent Time
Thinking Hybrid Redirected
Easy to Love
Do Without
You Put the Good in Goodbye
Oh! Darling (Lennon/McCartney)

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Concert Report: Susan Werner @ Club Passim

Patti and I caught the first night of Susan Werner's two night stint at Club Passim this past Thursday, April 2. Susan is on a CD-release tour for her new project, Classics (more on this in a bit). This tour has Susan in a trio format, with Julia Biber on cello, and Trina Hamlin on vocals, harmonica, and a variety of percussive instruments.

Susan Werner at Club Passim, April 2, 2009

The first portion of Susan's nearly two-hour set focused not on the new CD, but rather her previous project, The Gospel Truth. Notice how I say "project", as each of Susan's last three releases have been exactly that — projects with clearly identifiable themes. Susan variously describes The Gospel Truth as "agnostic gospel", "protest gospel", "music for the spiritually ambivalent", and "music from the religious left." Those are all apt descriptions of what to me is an innovative, honest, and profound body of music.

To be sure, The Gospel Truth denounces the hypocrisy of the religous right ("i know you'd damn me if you could, but my friend that's simply not your call"), and pokes particular fun at the catholic church ("and please allow for women in the catholic priesthood, and remind the pope he could have been a girl"), but it also quiets us with its moments of profound meaning, as in Did Trouble Me:

when i closed my eyes so i would not see
my lord did trouble me
when i let things stand that should not be
my lord did trouble me
when i held my head too high too proud
my lord did trouble me
when i raised my voice too little too loud
my lord did trouble me

After a half dozen Gospel Truth songs, Susan moved to the keyboards and songs from her 2004 project, I Can't Be New. That project consists of original Werner compositions in the style of the Great American Songbook, or as Susan puts it, songs written as if she were "Cole Porter's smart mouthed little sister." She performed "Give Me Chicago", her rousing ode to her adopted home town with its long list of praises for the windy city. I noticed that the verse mentioning Studs Terkel is gone, as Studs passed away last October. But a new verse has been added, ending in "music and drama, Barack Obama" in honor of the new president. We also got the plot-twisting romance, I Can't Be New, and the humorous self-effacing Movie of My Life.

The clear highlight of the mid-section of the set was Time Between Trains, which is now more than ten years old and was the only song of the night from Susan's earlier work. Trina Hamlin's harmonica playing takes this allegory about the interlude between relationships to a new level. Trina gets an extended harmonica solo during Time Between Trainsthat simply brings the house down.

Trina Hamlin at Club Passim, April 2, 2009

Susan's delight was evident:

Trina Hamlin at Club Passim, April 2, 2009

Another highlight prior to the new stuff was Susan's somber but uplifting hymn, May I Suggest. I never tire of this song, as it makes me want to cry and smile all at the same time. Here's a good version from YouTube, for any of you who are unfamiliar with either Susan or May I Suggest. Watch it and see if it gets to you too:

Which brings us to Classics, Susan's latest project. This project consists of reinterpretations of classic songs from the 1960s and 1970s with chamber orchestra arrangements. Don't wince, it's far better than you might imagine at first. No, it's not elevator music! It's new and fresh interpretations that make these songs sound all new &mdash and newly relevant.

For this section of the set, Trina left the stage, and Julia Biber's cello playing took on a stronger focus.

Julia Biber at Club Passim, April 2, 2009

I'll admit, the first time I played the entire Classics CD it didn't grab me. I was hearing the contrast from the boldness of The Gospel Truth, and overlooking the subtle beauty of the string arrangements. But after two or three spins, I was hooked. And hearing America's Lonely People, Marvin Gaye's Mercy Mercy Me, Cat Stevens' The Wind, and Simon & Garfunkel's Hazy Shade of Winter performed live in this duet setting only solidified my feelings. All of these songs sound new again. And still so relevant.

Oh, mercy mercy me
Oh, things ain't what they used to be
No, no
Where did all the blue sky go?
Poison is the wind that blows
From the north, east, south, and sea
Oh, mercy mercy me
Oh, things ain't what they used to be
No, no

In a break after Julia's cello solo (a piece composed by German composer Paul Hindemith), Susan and Julia had the audience in stitches with their hilarious send up of classical musicians. Julia played the perfect visual impersonation of Susan's verbal descriptions of the body movements of modern cellists — the flying hair, the swooning, the angry faces. This was followed by an on-the-spot modern (discordant) improvisation called Marshmallow Peeps, a theme solicited from the audience.

Yes, it was all a big fun poke at modern classical music, but Susan noticed a women in one or the front tables who must have had some telling look on her face. Susan asked her if she was a musician, and the audience member said she was. Susan said, "Oh no, you're not a classical musician, are you?", to which we learned that yes, she was a classical pianist. Not missing a beat, Susan invited her to come up and play for us, and Susan led the audience in cheering until our audience heroine complied. The moment of truth arrived, and audience member Amy blew us away with a fine version of Chopin's Minute Waltz:

Audience member, Amy, performing the Minute Waltz

We gave Amy a thunderous applause!

Oh! One other twist to the night. Monday is Susan's birthday, so road manager Jane brought a birthday cake up to the stage at the start of the encore, and the audience sang Happy Birthday to Susan:

Susan Werner with birthday cake, Club Passim, April 2, 2009

I'll close with this seven minute compilation from one of Susan's performances at Club Passim in 2007. This is an excellent glimpse of exactly what a Susan Werner concert is like:

Susan Werner, with Trina Hamlin & Julia Biber
Club Passim, Cambridge, MA
Thursday, April 2, 2009
That's How It Happens
(Why Is Your) Heaven So Small
Our Father (The New, Revised Edition)
Sunday Mornings
Did Trouble Me
Probably Not
Give Me Chicago
I Can't Be New
Time Between Trains
Movie of My Life
May I Suggest
Lonely People (America)
Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) (Marvin Gaye)
The Wind (Cat Stevens, with Bach Suite for Cello #3 in C Major intro)
Solo by Julia Biber on Cello (Paul Hindemith)
Marshmallow Peeps (Werner/Biber improvisation)
Minute Waltz (Frederic Chopin, performed by audience member Amy)
A Hazy Shade of Winter (Simon & Garfunkel, with Vivaldi Four Seasons intro)
Happy Birthday to Susan (Traditional, sung by the audience)
Turn Turn Turn (Peter Seeger, The Byrds)
Help Somebody

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Concert Report: Richard Shindell @ Tupelo Music Hall

Patti and I were back at Tupelo on Thursday night, March 26, for Richard Shindell's 90-minute set. It's been just over a year since we last saw Richard play, also at Tupelo.

Richard Shindell at Tupelo Music Hall, March 26, 2009

Richard's new album, Not Far Now, is just weeks old, so I was somewhat surprised we only got two songs from it all night long. One was Get Up Clara, a simple and nearly silly tune in which a weary traveler begs his mule to get up and get going. Set in the Roman empire, the song plays on "roaming" and "Roman" for its lyrical twist. The other song from the new album was Balloon Man, a wonderful description of a character from Richard's adopted town of Buenos Aires who sells balloons to children in the city's parks. The sight of the balloon man makes everyone smile, in real life as well as in my mind's eye:

balloon man's a little bit ragged
his glasses are slightly askew
one lens is cracked and shoes never match
he might have a screw loose or two
his rig is a marvel of equipoise
Leonardo might've designed
bamboo for the wide horizontal
pine for the vertical rise
he's wearing in a flag-bearers harness
he's holding the whole thing aloft
balloons all arrayed, he's a one man parade
if he ran he'd surely take off

Richard's cover of Glen Patscha's (of Ollabelle) Blue Northern Lights was a great and welcome surprise. Richard recently did a small tour with Ollabelle, and he picked this song up during that stint. I also heard at least one audible gasp of happy surprise in the audience when Richard launched into Leonard Cohen's Famous Blue Raincoat.

Richard continued what is for me an unbroken string of messing up the lyrics to Transit for, I think, the third for fourth time in a row. I don't know what it is about that particular song, but Richard seems unable to get through whole thing without a lyrics flub at some point. I sort of love that, though, as it makes him human. He also flubbed the second verse of Fishing, one of my all-time favorite Shindell songs. Fishing is a haunting fictional tale of an INS (Immigration and Naturalization Services) interrogation, and perhaps this is the perfect point for me to include a YouTube video for those of you who are not yet familiar with his music. Watch this:

By far the biggest audience reaction of the night came when he played Are You Happy Now? — isn't it funny how we seem to love bitter breakup songs? This song is set on Halloween night, and our storyteller sits in the dark after his lover has left him. I particularly love the imagery of the second verse:

I smashed your pumpkin on the floor
The candle flickered at my feet
As goblins flew across the room
The children peered into the room
A cowboy shivered on the porch
As Cinderella checked her watch
A hobo waited in the street
An angel whispered, trick-or-treat
But what was I supposed to do
But to sit there in the dark?
I was amazed to think that you
Could take the candy with you too
Are you happy now?

Man! Nothing like a good breakup song to make use feel better, eh? The first verse also contains what I consider to be signature Shindell lyric hooks - look at his use of "role" and "roll", as well as color — black, white, gray, and red:

You left your camera on the bed
Where we played roles in black and white
You left a roll of black and white
I set the timer and thought of you
And put the lens up to my head
I took a photograph for you
What comes out gray is really red

I was thrilled to find this version of the song on YouTube:

Richard mostly played his acoustic guitar, but switched to bouzouki for, if my notes are correct, three songs — Robbie Robertson's Acadian Driftwood, and his own A Summer Wind, A Cotton Dress, and Reunion Hill.

Richard Shindell at Tupelo Music Hall, March 26, 2009

Here's one more video from YouTube, this one of Richard performing A Summer Wind, A Cotton Dress so that you can hear what the bouzouki sounds like:

All in all, a fine night of entertainment by one of my favorite songwriters. As usual, the photos above are my own, and you can view the full set on Flickr.

Richard Shindell
Tupelo Music Hall, Londonderry, NH
Thursday, March 26, 2009
The Island
Acadian Driftwood (Robbie Robertson)
Blue Northern Lights (Glenn Patscha)
Get Up Clara
Poor Wayfaring Stranger (Traditional)
A Summer Wind, A Cotton Dress
Balloon Man
Sitting on Top of the World (Traditional)
Reunion Hill
Are You Happy Now?
So Says the Whippoorwill
Famous Blue Raincoat (Leonard Cohen)
Last Fare of the Day
There Goes Mavis
Encore: Waist Deep in the Big Muddy (Pete Seeger)

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Concert Report: Ollabelle at Club Passim

Ollabelle concert ticket stub

Right off the bat I'm going to say that this was not my favorite Ollabelle concert. That's not to say I didn't have a rocking great time, but more an acknowledgement of the fact that this was three-fifths Ollabelle, not the full quintet. Neither Tony Leone (drums) or Amy Helm (vocals, mandola) were with the band for their Boston stop, and I missed them both. Tony's drums wouldn't have fit on Passim's postage stamp of a stage anyway, and Amy gets a pass as she is home with a new baby. But a significant part of the Ollabelle repertoire can't be performed without those two, including the signature knock-you-back-in-your-seat Before This Time, and The Band-channelling Cane on the Brazos. (Tony regularly plays with the Levon Helm Band, and Amy is Levon's daughter, so channelling The Band comes naturally.)

Ollabelle, for those not paying close attention, is best described as a NYC-formed urban, gospel, roots, harmony band named after roots music pioneer Ola Belle Reed (1916-2002). Besides Tony and Amy, the other three members are Fiona McBain on vocals and guitars, Byron Isaacs on vocals and bass, and Glenn Patscha on vocals and keyboards. Early in their career they were taken under the wing of T-Bone Burnett.

On Thursday night the band was joined by singer-songwriter Martha Scanlan on vocals and guitar, and everybody's favorite Boston-based session guitarist, Duke Levine. You may have never heard of Duke, but his collaboration resume includes Peter Wolf, Otis Rush, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Shawn Colvin, Aimee Mann, Kathy Mattea, Sleepy LaBeef, Ellis Paul, Dar Williams, Lucy Kaplansky, and Susan Werner - just to name a few!

The first set lacked a little energy for my tastes. Starting with the opening song, Fiona's rendering of the traditional gospel Elijah Rock, there just wasn't the pin-you-back-in-your-seat feel. Could this be partially due to Fiona being well along in her pregnancy? (Word has it the baby is due in April.) Could it be getting used to Martha and Duke? Who knows, but I noticed that Elijah Rock didn't quite rock with the force it normally has. They did jam it out nicely, but just a bit softer than I'm used to.

Fiona McBain

My reaction to the first set could also be influenced by the new songs they are trotting out. The band recently rented out a house in upstate New York, turned it into a recording studio, and went on a writing binge (shades of Big Pink!). New songs were sprinkled throughout the night, including Glenn's One More Time, and Fiona's Remember to Forget - both in the first set.

Glenn Patscha

Martha's singing style was also a factor. She was nearly whisper quiet, even on her own songs. I found myself alternatively struggling to hear her lyrics, and wanting the sound man to add more vocals to the house mix. To be fair to Martha, she sings and plays with intense feeling, and simply brought the house down with her lead vocals on Abilene in the second set.

Martha Scanlan

Not to mention that watching the guitar interplay between Martha and the incredible Duke Levine was a highlight throughout the night. You could tell how much Martha was enjoying Duke's playing, with her eyes closed and head bent in his direction, a look of bliss on her face.

Martha Scanlan and Duke Levine

Oh, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Byron was playing a stunningly beautiful stand up bass. It was so fitting for the small room and tiny stage.

Byron Isaacs

Although the band is writing more and more songs, we were still treated to a good smattering of traditional songs, one Ola Belle Reed song (I've Endured, sung by Fiona), a Buddy Holly treat (Raining in my Heart, also sung by Fiona), and a simply gorgeous and harmonious rendering of Garcia and Hunter's Ripple (Fiona on lead vocals).

While they may have started slow, Ollabelle found its voice in the second set, and we left very satisfied.

Fiona and Martha

Photo note: I took all the photos you see on this page with my trusty Canon Rebel, and you can see the full photo set on Flickr.

Ollabelle, with Martha Scanlan & Duke Levine
Club Passim, Cambridge, MA
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Set 1:
Elijah Rock (Traditional)
One More Time
Gone Today
Remember to Forget
John the Revelator (Traditional)
Seeds of the Pine (Martha Scanlan)
I Don't Even Have to Ask (Martha Scanlan)
Jesus on the Mainline (Traditional)
I've Endured (Ola Belle Reed)
Set 2:
Brotherly Love
Raining in My Mind
Blue Northern Lights
The West Was Burning (Martha Scanlan)
Abilene (Composer?)
Move On
Raining in my Heart (Buddy Holly)
Get Back Temptation
Ripple (Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia)
Encore: ? (I feel like such a slacker for not recognizing the encore!)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Concert Report: Paul Rishell and Annie Raines at Club Passim

Blues duo Paul Rishell and Annie Raines (Paul and Annie) played nearly two hours of masterful acoustic country blues last night at the legendary Club Passim, just off of Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA. The house was nearly at Passim's full capacity of 125 people, and the audience was attentive and appreciative.

Paul and Annie features Paul on guitar and Annie on blues harmonica, with both sharing vocal duties. Paul mostly played his gorgeous National Reso-Phonic guitar, and Annie switched to an equally beautiful Rigel mandolin on a few tunes.

Paul Rishell and Annie Raines, Club Passim, January 24, 2009

One of the things I most appreciate about Paul and Annie is their knowledge of blues history and the old time blues masters. We heard Paul tell stories of Scrapper Blackwell, Jelly Roll Morton, Washington Phillips, and Bo Carter. Annie told us of Ma Rainey ("Mother of the Blues") and Bessie Smith. By far the most jaw-dropping story of the night was told by Paul about Tommy Johnson. Tommy, it seems, had his demons and addictions, not unlike many of the blues legends. Tommy's particular problem was alcohol, and he was known to drink anything and everything that had alcohol in it, including hair tonic, shoe polish, and, yes, sterno - which is also known as "canned heat". Thus the origin of Tommy's Canned Heat Blues (not to mention the origin of the name of the Canned Heat band from the 60s):

I woked up, up this morning, with canned heat on my mind
Woked up this morning, canned heat was on my mind
Woke up this morning, with canned heat, Lord, on my mind
Crying, Lord, Lord, I wonder, canned heat, Lord, killing me

I was thrilled to hear Paul say a few kind words about another of my musical heros, Spider John Koerner, followed by a great rendition of Spider John's Good Luck Child.

Paul Rishell and Annie Raines, Club Passim, January 24, 2009

Audience favorites included Paul and Annie's own Got To Fly, an infectious and catchy tune that Annie sings, as well as the rousing Old Man Mose (a Louis Armstrong composition). We were singing along on both tunes, particularly well on the latter's chorus in a call-and-response fashion:

Now one time there lived an old man
With a very crooked nose
He lived inside a log hut
and they called him ol' man Mose
One dark and dreary morning I knocked upon his door
I didn't hear a single sound
so I ain't gonna do it no more.
'cos I believe ol' man, I believe ol' man
I believe ol' man, that ol' man Mose is dead.
I believe ol' man, I believe ol' man
I believe ol' man, that ol' man Mose is dead.

The evening's songs ranged from achingly slow and beautiful (It'll Be Me/I'll Be Looking For You), to the tongue-in-cheek humorous (Bessie Smith's You Been a Good Ol' Wagon), to soulful gospel (Washington Phillips' I Had A Good Father and Mother), to rousing blues (Johnny Winter's Dallas).

Paul Rishell and Annie Raines, Club Passim, January 24, 2009

If you see that Paul and Annie are going to be playing near you, give 'em a chance. You won't be disappointed.

As always, here are some YouTube clips to give you an idea. First up, a short clip of Paul and Annie doing Johnny Winter's Dallas. This really showcases Paul's vocals and National Steel guitar:

And on this clip, Annie's blues harmonica will blow you away:

The setlist:

Paul Rishell & Annie Raines
Passim Folk Music and Cultural Center, Cambridge, MA
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Set 1:
Custard Pie (Blind Boy Fuller)
Trouble Blues (Scrapper Blackwell)
Honey It Must Be Love (Blind Willie McTell)
It'll Be Me / I'll Be Looking For You (Jack Clement / Paul Rishell)
Got To Fly (Annie Raines / Paul Rishell)
I'm Gonna Jump and Shout (author?)
Black-Eyed Blues (Ma Rainey)
Dallas (Johnny Winter)
Set 2:
Ragtime Millionaire (William Moore)
You Been a Good Ol' Wagon (Bessie Smith)
Michigan Water Blues (Jelly Roll Morton)
Old Man Mose (Louis Armstrong / Zilner Randolph)
I Had A Good Father and Mother (Washington Phillips)
You're The One (Jimmy Rogers)
That Old Heartbreak (author?)
I Get The Blues (Bo Carter)
Canned Heat Blues (Tommy Johnson)
Good Luck Child (Spider John Koerner)
Encore: Some These Days (Charlie Patton)

Photography Notes: This was my second outing with my new Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS lens, and I must say I am loving it. A full set of 22 pictures are posted in a Flickr set if you want to see more than just the three four I included here. I did crop each photo, and also used an unsharp mask on each. I didn't do any color adjustments, though, and you can see that the lighting color on Annie was vastly different than on Paul - Paul's skin looks quite natural, while Annie is bathed in a pretty ghastly orange-yellow. I was tempted, but I left Annie's color alone - she really did look that way. Also I couldn't really do much with that Passim banner in the background which, from my vantage point, split both Paul and Annie right down the middle of their heads.

Paul Rishell and Annie Raines, Club Passim, January 24, 2009

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Concert Report: Lucy Kaplansky @ Tupelo Music Hall

Lucy Kaplansky at Tupelo Music Hall, January 16, 2009

Patti and I last saw Lucy Kaplansky at our favorite local venue, the Tupelo Music Hall, just about a year ago. She was back again last night, on a single-digit cold Friday night. Lucy seemed genuinely thankful for the turnout when the crowd let her know that, yes, this was cold even by New Hampshire standards; the room was probably at a bit more than half capacity.

Lucy opened with her haunting cover of the traditional Scottish song, Loch Lomond, one of the three four as-yet unrecorded covers she performed during her 75-minute set.

The second cover of the night was a beautiful rendition of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, performed on the Tupelo's baby grand piano. Lucy said this was the first time she had performed that particular song in concert. I am all for having this in her regular rotation. I guess most people are familiar with the Rufus Wainwright version used in the Shrek soundtrack, but there are a ton of wonderful covers (including, now, Lucy's!). I just had a blast browsing through a bunch of versions on YouTube, including versions by Jeff Buckley, K.D. Lang, Bob Dylan (a live audience recording), Sheryl Crow, John Cale (!), Bon Jovi (that one was a surprise), Allison Crowe (wow, who is she and why haven't I heard her before? fantastic voice!), and of course a version by Cohen himself.

Lucy Kaplansky at Tupelo Music Hall, January 16, 2009

Also covered on the baby grand, later in the set, was Lucy's version of Lennon and McCartney's "Let It Be." We also heard that last year, and it would take me a long time to tire of hearing her sing it. Lucy mentioned that she is considering a new CD containing nothing but stripped down live take versions of covers such as Loch Lomond, Hallelujah, and Let It Be. A number of us in the audience did our best to encourage her to do it. Personally I'd love an album like that. Even more so if she included one or more of her dad's songs, which she said it would.

Speaking of her dad (the late mathematician Irving Kaplansky), Lucy told of recently taking her daughter, Molly, to the New York Hall of Science. One of the current exhibits is a math exhibit (Mathematica: A World of Numbers), and Lucy couldn't help but break down in tears when she spotted a photo of her dad in the exhibit. She explained to Molly how much it meant to her to see her dad in the exhibit. This must have made quite an impression, as weeks later Molly (who is all of 6 years old) was talking about how she wanted to grow up and do math, just like her grandpa. Oh, and our Irving Kaplansky cover song of the night was A Song About Pi.

After performing Hallelujah and her own Just You Tonight on piano Lucy switched back to guitar to "lighten it up." I asked her if that was even possible, and she said something like "for a little while, at least." So Patti and I shared a laugh when she then launched into Don't Mind Me, a song about maniacal obsession, followed by Scorpion, arguably another song about maniacal obsession!

Don't mind me
I'm just a bit maniacal about you
And derailed when I'm without you
Don't mind me

Gonna sting you with a kiss from my lips
Gonna sting you with a piece of my mind
Gonna sting you with a taste of my skin
Then you're mine, then you're mine

Here's a nice version of Scorpion from YouTube, probably from sometime in the past year or two:

Another good example of Lucy's work, and also a song we were treated to toward the end of the set, is this version of Lucy performing Ring of Fire:

The set ending Guinevere was a nice treat of an oldie. Lucy recorded this Robin Batteau song on her first album, The Tide, originally released in 1994. It's nice to hear a song that isn't in regular rotation anymore.

The set list:

Loch Lomond (Traditional)
Line in the Sand
Mother's Day
Ten Year Night
Manhattan Moon
Somewhere Out There
Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen)
Just You Tonight
Don't Mind Me
More Than This
A Song About Pi (Irving Kaplansky)
When You Love Someone
Sleep Little Darling
Let It Be (Lennon/McCartney)
Ring of Fire (June Carter/Merle Kilgore)
Guinevere (Robin Batteau)
Encore: The Red Thread

The opening act was Karen Grenier, a local artist from Nashua, NH. Strong voice and good guitar skills, she played a nice seven song set. Some of her own songs, including the opening When I Say I Love You and closing One Life were just a tad too close to sounding like Indigo Girls wanna-be songs for my taste. Not that that is bad, but I preferred songs like Superhero, which to my ear just sounded like her own voice rather than an imitation. The set highlight for me, though, was an incredibly strong version of Tom Waits' Jersey Girl. She gets two thumbs up from me for that cover alone. Her set:

When I Say I Love You
Both Sides Now (Joni Mitchell)
Love Will Come
Jersey Girl (Tom Waits)
One Life

Photographic notes: I posted the two photos above, along with four others, in a flickr photo set. The photos, as posted, are straight out of the camera with no post-processing (although resized down via the Flickr Uploadr application). This was my first chance to try out my new Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS lens. I do like having some zoom ability, but I also did miss the f/1.8 aperture of my fixed 50mm lens. I shot in shutter speed priority mode at 1/50 sec., ISO 1600. I think I like the piano shot the best. I wish I had the ability to take lots of shots and really play around, but the Tupelo is such a small and audience-focused venue that I am always very conservative - never taking more than about 10 or 12 shots during an entire show, and trying to be as non-distracting to the other patrons (and the artists) as possible. To me, even the sound of my shutter going off is too loud in that environment.