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.