Love is Love, the latest CD from Paul Sachs deals with loss in its many guises. In deceptively lean, elegant lyrics, Sachs shows his continuing dedicated command of the songwriter’s craft.
The leadoff title track describes love as if it existed in a spare landscape, where it could simply shift away from the object of desire and walk away.
Sachs sings, Love is love, I’ll grant you that, waving goodbye while tipping my hat. Especially erudite are the lines, Love is love, nail-bitten and blind / how quickly we lose what took so long to find / All good stories come to an end / to that first kiss to / “Are we still friends? The song, played with a stately, slow pace, provokes an infinite sadness.
Other examples of lyrical and imaginative brilliance abound.
“Every Mother’s Son” describes the loss of a gentle childhood spirit, wrenched away by military training. Then you learned to salute / and never lose a fight / how to run in desert boots / and wear a uniform for life … three tours of duty / now you’re home / cold and numb / to every mother’s son.
“The Killer Inside Me” explores the strange pull of a death row inmate upon a woman who recognizes their shared inner nature and leaves her home and family to be near him as he approaches the end of his life: The killer inside you / is the killer inside me too.
“Love’s a Hard Lesson,” told from a woman’s viewpoint, is a tale of a wife’s revenge on an abusive, alcoholic husband. It’s worthy of any song in the Steve Earle canon. Coincidentally, Sachs’ ever robust voice captures some of Earle’s gravelly timbre as he sings: Now I don’t regret the killin’ or a god damn thing / In a few years, I’m getting’ paroled / my mother says she’s gonna sell my wedding ring / Gave it to her to hold / I’ll be happy when it’s sold, yeah.
“All That Love Provides” is a tale of infidelity with a country flair that any Nashville songwriter would covet: Deception’s easy when it feels like bliss / You get addicted to a wayward kiss / Drank the wine, I took a piss / on all that love provides.
“No Man’s Land” is perhaps the ultimate tale of a dependency-prone young man’s descent into heroin addiction. In masterful strokes, Sachs’ lyrics take us on a tour through humanity’s darkest alleys. It spins its tale in the form of an imagined letter to the addict’s newborn daughter: Welcome to the world / my new little girl / Sorry daddy has no money saved / All the bills piled high / and your mommy and I / had to go our separate ways … she was the cheerleading queen of the homecoming team / and loving her just made sense / and I found the moon with a needle and spoon / but that Judas harpoon takes a toll …
“Boys Will Be Boys” is my hands-down choice for the jewel in the crown of this audacious CD, provoking many consecutive presses on the iPod replay button. The friendship between the song’s straight narrator and his gay best friend is expressed with an undercurrent of sad reminiscence. Paul sings slightly above a whisper and a lead guitar keens and sighs with understated sorrow: Cohorts from the misfit crew / back in 1982 … Turnin’ tricks, nothin’s free / back in 1983 / did it for the thrill and buzz / did it for the money / what creates also destroys / and boys will be boys will be boys … Best of friends was all we were / damn the dumb and narrow / inside a world of adolescent noise / boys will be boys will be boys. At the song’s end, the narrator sings of his friend’s demise: thin as air, brittle bones … hospitals and bare trees … Was he a she; a him or her / love’s a broken arrow / what creates also destroys / boys will be boys will be boys. At each replay my heart is in my mouth and water stings my eyes.
When I broke away long enough to pay closer attention to the album’s closer, “The Best Hope Can Do,” it vied for equal attention and probably comes in a close second for this listener. Again, I reached for the replay button, over and over. The song’s protagonist finds himself on shaky ground with the love of his life. Strumming with a steady pulse, Sachs, as narrator entreats his love to stay, to hold out, despite every uncertainty: It’s a new wheel on a used car / a prayer on a shooting star / the sheer wonder of where you are tonight / Better days will come / I’m barely holding’ on, my baby blue / with the best hope can do.
Every turn in life’s river seems to elicit new brilliance in Paul Sachs’ writing. We’ll no doubt be witness to more lyrical feats as he ascends ever higher in the ranks of great songwriters. Now the rest of the world just needs to listen. All radio DJs take note!
Elisa Peimer’s voice is a compelling instrument. Although it’s hard to tell from a studio recording just how powerful a singer’s voice is, one thing is certain: Peimer’s voice conveys enormous emotional presence.
She has a knack for writing dramatic songs that could serve as a soundtrack to a movie or a score for a broadway musical.
Case in point, the chorus for “It’s Alright,” track 6 on Inside the Glass: It’s alright, I’m alright / Hoping I can find the answers / I’m trying, I’m lying / Right beside the one to set me free. We don’t know the specifics of the unsettling mysteries within the relationship in the song, but Peimer’s vocal convinces us that she’s shaken by doubt, but determined to see the dilemma through.
Likewise, in “Daffodils,” while the lyrics might seem mundane, her performance gives me plenty of reason to relate to her point of view: When the winter wind is blowing again / And the arctic air is keeping me in / I have faith that spring is around the bend / And the daffodils will appear again / And the daffodils will appear in the new year.
In “Bobby Hollywood,” we get a strong taste of her powers of observation and attention to detail: I was buying Brooklyn pickles / Made by a hipster out in Queens / Surrounded by my neighbors / In their hundred dollar jeans / But the man that caught my eye / Was the one who didn’t care / About the cooking demonstration / Cause Bobby Hollywood died right there.
The album’s climax, “This Life,” has all the trappings of a rock anthem. Peimer’s vocal soars as she sings: But this life / Will never come again / So why do I pretend / That that’s OK / One chance / Is all we’re gonna get / So why do I forget / And lose my way.
She convinces us that she’s a force to be taken seriously.
As we’ve come to know, there are times when the larger concert venues, like The Town Hall, combine the best of highbrow entertainment with the roots-based music we so love. This came to pass when Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile joined forces for a live concert at The Town Hall in support of their recent CD Release, Bass & Mandolin.
Both have numerous side projects — Meyer has recorded and toured with Yo Yo Ma as well as other roots-based musicians and Thile has been a member of The Punch Brothers for the past few years. He has made another album with Meyer, the eponymously titled Edgar Meyer & Chris Thile (2008).
Additionally, they were both on the recording The Goat Rodeo Sessions (2011) which included Yo Yo Ma and bluegrass stalwart Stuart Duncan (plus Aoife O’Donovan on two tracks).
Thile has been quoted as having said, “Edgar is one of the biggest influences on my musical life, and now I’m in a duo with him and writing songs with him. This was my dream. I always wondered what it would be like to be playing music this hard.”
An air of excitement accompanied the two as they swiftly strode onstage. Characteristically, Chris Thile engaged with the music like a boxer, bobbing, weaving and feinting with each turn of phrase.
I can’t be the only one who notices the resemblance that Thile bears to British actor Jude Law. Watching Chris, it’s as if Jude Law suddenly became a world class mandolin player. Thile has an actor’s command of stage presence and physical and facial expression.
Quite often, his motions were suggestive of a marionette whose limbs were being controlled by the music. He pitched and rolled, twisted and jerked upward and down, expressing faux surprise at times at what the music was forcing his body to do.
Bolstering my observation on Thile’s demonstrative stage skills, on the second number the music abruptly slowed and Chris turned blank and affected a serious mein, glancing at Edgar, seeming to wait for him to proceed to a livelier passage and for permission to become more animated. This prompted one of many moments of audience laughter. While Edgar proved to be a competent co-host, articulating the rationale behind several of the evening’s musical pieces, he mostly played foil to Chris’s animated persona.
Thile has always shown a propensity for wanting to move beyond the limits of bluegrass, even while with Nickel Creek. I’ll conjecture that his collaboration with Meyer led to a full-out excursion into classical music and the release of the album Bach: Sonatas and Partitas, Vol. 1 (2013).
This duly noted, it follows that a combination of classical and roots material would be a highlight of the evening. The intricacies of the compositions appeared to elicit a stunned disbelief from the audience and an almost reverently joyous response at the finish of each piece.
Although the concert was comprised entirely of instrumentals, the duo kept the audience engaged with the intensity of its playing and timely intermittent patter. Near the end of the evening, the audience was encouraged to become fully engaged, as Edgar and Chis played an untitled piece, then asked the audience to name it. They related that this had already been played out in other cities and other names chosen. Shouts came from everywhere. We heard things like “Catch and Release” and “Wombat something-or-other.” (too close to the Seattle choice). The evening’s winner (picked by Chris) turned out to be a surprisingly unimaginative “Free Bird.”
The audience gave the duo a standing ovation after the “last” number, thus prompting a one-song encore, followed again with another standing “O”. This was my first trip back here after a long hiatus, and I was reminded that The Town Hall, with its pristine acoustics and less-than-cavernous space, provides a nice bridge between a larger venue and one with a smaller nightclub-like intimacy.
We had the great fortune to see Aztec 2-Step (Rex Fowler and Neal Shulman) at the exquisite venue, SubCulture (45 Bleecker Street, Downstairs, NYC), on Saturday, June 14th. This still-rockin’ duo (here, as a trio with their bassist, Fred Holman) was a fixture in the ’70s, when I got my dose of counterculture from WPKN, the radio station of the University of Bridgeport (Conn.), from which I got my degree in art. It was a thrill to meet Rex, when he popped in at The Fast Folk Cafe (which I volunteer-managed in the mid-90s) and volunteered to put stamps on mailouts of our performance calendars. Rex and Neal have always been affable, approachable and witty, the nicest “icons” of folk/rock on the planet. We love these guys and will see them any chance we get. They killed it at Subculture and at a previous gig this spring for First Acoustics Coffeehouse. For those who haven’t seen them lately, go to their website and check their tour schedule, and look for them at City Winery this fall – date to be announced.
On June 10, 2014, John Platt hosted David Lockwood, Sharon Goldman and Scott Wolfson and Other Heroes at Rockwood Music Hall.
The first act, David Lockwood, was new to this attendee. It was a wonderful surprise. David combined astute singer/songwriter chops with jazz flourishes. He was brilliantly supported by percussionist Chris Marshak, guitarist Mark Newman and bassist Malcolm Gold, who we knew from his work in the mid-’90s with Steve Tannen, our very first cover artist for Acoustic Live (June 1999 — Steve later formed The Weepies with his wife, Deb Talan). We were especially impressed by Mark Newman’s licks on lead guitar solos. Mark got responsive applause from the audience a couple of times. Malcolm and Chris were tasteful and expressive as well. We went home and immediately used up a bunch of eMusic credits on David’s recent recordings.
David was followed by Sharon Goldman, who continues to impress us with her wise and witty musical observations on life and love. She was accompanied on some songs by members of Scott Wolfson’s band, Other Heroes. Skyler Bode joined her on piano for one number and Mya Byrne on Mandolin on several songs.
Scott Wolfson’s Other Heroes rounded out the evening with an upbeat, virtuosic and extremely intelligent musical handling of a bunch of existential issues. Scott’s band included Matt Laurita (2nd Rhythm/Lead Guitar), Kirk Siee (Upright Bass), Chris Kelly – Drums and the aforementioned Mya Byrne ( Mandolin, Banjo, Guitar and Skyler Bode ( Piano/Keyboards, Concertina). Among those songs tackling pertinent issues was a favorite song of mine from his latest release Life on Fire, “You Can’t Break Me Again,” which ebulliently proclaimed, Go ahead, now, kick me when I’m down / I was born broken / You can’t break me again. The live version of another favorite, “1972,” was a treat, recalling the days when any of us might have found each other: Laughing at the joke, as your lungs filled up with smoke.
The evening was a coming out party of sorts for Other Heroes bandmate Mya (previously known as Jeremiah Birnbaum), who recently announced her emergence as a transgender woman. A tasteful black dress looked really good on her and she played with her usual dextrous aplomb.
The May 13 2014 edition of John Platt’s On Your Radar featured Connor Garvey, husband and wife team The Grahams and brother duo The Lords of Liechtenstein.
The first act, Connor Garvey has a classic singer/songwriter style with beguiling melodies and clever lyrics. He was charming, extolling his Irish heritage, spinning a tale about not really having any Irish songs for a Saint Patrick’s Day gig, needing to make one up to avoid being drummed out of the genre. His song about wanting to enjoy the opportunity to get old, showed an innate, wry humor mixed with existentialist awareness.
The Grahams have a rabble-rousing style which relies on an old-timey, upbeat repertoire. They displayed a knack for real intimacy by getting off the stage and standing in front of the audience, playing totally unplugged
The Lords of Liechtenstein relied on a humorous approach to win the heart of the OYR audience (and we assume every audience they play for). They flew their geek flag proudly, announcing that their signature argyle sweater vests were available for purchase, along with their CDs. The pinnacle of their act was their mock posturing as rock gods.
In a perfect world, all the self-appointed gurus and geniuses of the folk world and all the music-consuming public would get their respective acts together and declare Paul Sachs (Acoustic Live cover feature November 2009) a star. Agents would start booking rooms 500 seats and above and get posters plastered on all the construction sites around town. His concerts and records would sell out.
This is a major talent which has been far too long underrated. He just keeps getting better, but he’s not getting any younger, folks, so let’s stop wasting time. Survival Is the New Success touches every base in the singer/songwriter manual. Hell, it is the new singer/songwriter manual.
The first, and title track, speaks for everyone. It deplores the encroaching devastation of financial insolvency as the rich get richer and … you know the rest: Some people sleep inside their cars / and work three jobs a day / behind in rent or bars, they’re invisible USA / A place called home, food to eat / I got no more or less / The way things are I can’t compete / Survival is the new success.
“Hank Williams Guitar” begins: I played a 6 string / That felt real warm to me / A Martin of old dialect from 1953 / Floating through the wood / The earth hid in a whiskey jar / One night I played Hank Williams’ guitar. It’s a soft tone poem with perhaps a perfect refrain: Sing it high and lonesome / all night long. Paul doesn’t bother to get up in your face with all the power in his baritone. He gets it just right, throwing in a modest yodel.
“Oswald’s Window” gives us another understated masterpiece, lamenting the gun lobby’s success in turning America into an abattoir: Staring out of Oswald’s window / at every city and town / at every child shot dead Or soul that fled another lock-down … Guns and bombs pierce the landscape / not much kindness left …
Paul crawls into the mind of a woman soldier in “The Devil Never Did” and makes it work. … I could still smell the desert air on my fatigues / and hear the bombs and see the death of people I killed / A human mess, that feeling of running for my life never leaves / I used to pray to God all the time / I used to go church as a kid / Now I can’t find any peace of mind / After doing things the Devil never did.
For me, the jewel in the crown is “All the Junkies.” I used to think it was just a brilliant piece of observation of an addicted soul. Then Paul told me it was about his mother, a victim of a medical blunder, then plagued by addiction. Paul cared for her until her death in 2006. He found a way to deal with this life-altering tragedy within his craft: All the junkies loved her then / She was one of them too / Pill heads and addicts loved to pull her through / Nights became her days / Darkness became light / Ever since I was a little boy / I saw her suffer my whole life, suffer my whole life. My heart breaks every time I hear it.
Paul lightens the mood with “Jesus Candle.” During the Hurricane Sandy disaster, in the middle of an electrical blackout on the lower east side of New York City, there were candles illuminating the night, so he gives us: Jesus candle / I got a Jesus candle / I bought it cheap just last week / A dollar I can handle / Outside there’s a hurricane, I got a Jesus candle / It bears his image and his name / I got a Jesus candle …
“Painter and Sculptor (The last American town)” is a spoken word piece, with a moody guitar background which is perfectly evocative of a road trip through a different time. The listener can ride along as the dream billows, illuminating the mind’s landscape: I’m riding with a painter and sculptor / In a grey black beat-up truck / Past midnight on the edge of the last American town / Creation makes you whole again says the painter / The art of the divine is all … The painter and sculptor stare at the horizon / And keep driving till we disappear into the darkness / The only sound is our wheels on the road / Past midnight on the edge of the last American town.
In “Jesse,” Paul burrows into the mind of Elvis Presley’s unborn brother. There are many stories about Elvis, but few bother with his unborn twin: Mama said my brother / Got my strength and soul / We were bound to one another / Inside the king of Rock and Roll. / A matching pair we were twins / Under our mother’s womb / Though I had died he stayed alive / Down in that human tomb / Below an unmarked grave they buried me / ‘neath Tupelo grey skies / Though my body lay cold and still / She could see me in his eyes.
Paul was a Kerrville New Folk Songwriting finalist in 2012 and won first place in 2013. Amazing stories continue to flow from his imagination. Everything is cut and fit with a jeweler’s precision, then played and sung as if presented like a gemstone on black velvet. There are elements of Bruce Springsteen and Harry Chapin in his voice, but it’s all Paul, and boy, am I glad.
Survival Is the New Success is scheduled for release toward the end of May. Buy it. See him live. You’ll be glad you did.
Since they met in 2009, Jenny Goodspeed, Katie Clarke and Stephanie Marshall have taken their abilities in three-part harmony higher each year they’ve been together. They’ve presented indisputable truth in this regard on their latest studio release, Sugar Shack, and in a recent live performance at Brooklyn’s First Acoustics series.
The album kicks off with a Katie Clarke composition, “Lightnin'” a bluegrass barn-burner.
The torch gets passed to Jenny Goodspeed on the next track, a cautionary tale about a lover whose trouble she can see coming “Six Ways to Sunday.”
Stephanie Marshall takes the lead on the Townes Van Zant cover, “If I Needed You.” Their live performance of this song gave me chills.
The title track, written by Jenny, features her on lead vocal, but still demonstrates a virtuosic vocal blend from all three group members.
“In this Valley” is a gospel song with a sweet lap steel backup on which Katie takes the lead vocal.
The round-robin continues as Stephanie takes the lead on “Good Fortune,” with songwriting credits given to all three. Along with their seamless harmony, there’s some gorgeous slide backup on this one.
“Don’t Send Me Up to Heaven,” written by Katie is an upbeat bluegrass gospel number that’s going to make bluegrass audiences ecstatic.
Another Katie Clarke composition, “Love Comes Back,” is about pushing through heartache and believing that life brings love around again. Their singing convincingly makes the case.
“Sunday Best” continues the parade of beautiful melodies with a song about letting go of hope for a love that has failed to live up to its early promise.
“West County Line” is inspired by a vision of a countryside that puts life in perspective, laying dark moods to rest through its sheer beauty. Both dobro and pedal steel complete the mood.
The album closes with a James Taylor cover, “That Lonesome Road,” that is done a cappella and demonstrates the nuances of harmony these three are capable of.
It’s said “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” but both the inviting photo on the front and the three pretty faces on the back manage to reflect the beauty of the music within.
This was our first visit to SubCulture. We walked downstairs to find a theater space, throughly and professionally lit and set up for pristine sound. It appeared to sit around 150 people comfortably, with seating in the back rising for easy viewing. Seats have cup holders built into the arm rests. There is a bar on the rear left.
In the March 11 2014 issue of The New Yorker Magazine (Classical Music | Sublime Sounds), Russell Platt wrote: “SubCulture, another underground venue on Bleecker Street, has recently emerged as a complement to Le Poisson Rouge, if not a corrective to it. The young founders, Marc and Steven Kaplan, who are brothers, announce their intentions silently: the walls of the opening corridor are lined with reproductions of newspaper clippings, handbills, and photos that conjure up an Olde New York that stretches from the heyday of the Yiddish theatre to that of CBGB … SubCulture’s over-all atmosphere is living-room convivial, not nightclub crush. “We’ve been compared to Le Poisson Rouge because of our common diversity of artists, but Steven and I come out of a concert-going background, not a club background, and our business models are very different,” says Marc Kaplan. “We’re focussed above all on providing a great acoustic environment for music that will limit distractions.”
The room was comfortably full, as expected, for one of America’s best singer/songwriters. This was a typically inspiring John Gorka performance. Some years ago, failing to produce enough good songs to see myself as a singer/songwriter, I thought I could still have fun doing nothing but John Gorka covers in a coffee bar somewhere.
John began his set wryly stating, waiter-style, “I’m John. I’ll be your singer tonight.” The evening was full of loopy Gorka -isms, as we’ve come to expect. His first song was the leadoff track from his new album, Bright Side of Down, “Holed up in Mason City.” He explained afterward that he’d written the song after deciding against flying out of Mason City, Iowa, during a snowstorm. It was the same airport that Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson), and Richie Valens had flown out of before that infamous fatal crash.
While there were a significant number of songs from the new album, there were many from previous releases sprinkled throughout the set. John said, “I always write a set list… but not until after [the show] …”
He sang “Where No Monuments Stand,” from the album So Dark You See, based on a poem by William Stafford, a conscientious objector during WWII, which contained the line, The only thing heroic is the sky.
John asked how many had seen him live before, and noting that a number of hands were going up in the front, but not many toward the back, quipped, “Those more experienced are keeping their distance.”
For ones who weren’t as familiar with him, he sang his iconic “I’m From New Jersey.” The opening strains of the familiar song drew applause from long-time fans and this reoccured throughout the night.
Requests were shouted out and John met them with humor, saying, “I think I know that one,” or “I recognize that from one of my albums” (or something to that effect). There would be a break in the middle of the show and John facetiously said it would give him time to re-learn one of the requests.
One audience member, whose request was granted immediately, self-congratulated, yelling, “Winner!”
The request, “Night is a Woman, was done at a grand piano. John did four or five songs at the piano during the evening, taking advantage of its beautiful sound.
John spoke of the Razzy Dazzy Spasm band that he was in with two other students at Moravian College in Bethlehem Pa. There was no knowing applause as might be expected. Few, if any knew that the revered Richard Shindell had joined later, on lead guitar. John said that he didn’t know if he could make it in music, so he majored in something that would give him “a more secure future: philosophy.” With this degree in hand, after graduation, he worked as a part-time delivery man for a florist. Offered a the job full-time, he took it, writing afterward, the next song in the set, “Land of the Bottom Line.” He wasn’t sure if he’d ever get to follow his dream of performing, if he had to take a straight 9-to-5 job. I need the money, they’ll take the time… trading the maybe for the sure … We know now, how that has turned out.
Upon hearing a request for “Houses in the Field, once again, he acquiesced immediately, saying, “Do you want to hear that now?” He went to the piano again. I’d heard John use an electric piano before, but the songs on keyboard this particular evening seemed more effective, given the quality of the instrument. The song’s sad theme of farms being lost to housing tracts was especially poignant. He said, “I wanted to do it at this point in the set because you needed cheering up.”
He digressed into chatting about partial capos. He pulled one out of his jacket pocket and talked about how the capos help to play minor chords. In an attempt to demonstrate, he then flubbed an e-minor chord, saying “Other people do it better.” With a pained expression, he said, “Not all my shows run this smooth.” Of the other capos clipped to the guitar headstock, antenna-like, he said, they “help with the reception.”
Playing the title track of the new CD, he explained that he’d been staying with New Hampshire based singer/songwriter and self-taught artist Tom Pirozzoli, who’d painted this album cover as well as the one for So Dark You See. He told Tom how easily his down jacket compressed into his luggage during travel. The painter responded, “Yeah, that’s the bright side of down.” Voila … one song/album title, thank you.
John finished the first set with “Morningside” from The Company You Keep. He said that he realized the preciousness of time after his son was born. “I used to have a long intro to this song, but I cut it down.”
He encouraged the audience to patronize the club during the intermission, saying self-deprecatingly (how else?), “You should drink alcohol. It makes the show go better.”
When the second set began, John had removed his jacket, as if to say, “Now, let’s really get down to work.” The first song “More Than One,” was from the new album. Full tank, light load / clear sky, dry road …There are more right ways than wrong. He then sat down for “a song from my youth,” “Italian Girls.”
It has veiled references to adolescent urges and he said, “I have to sit down for this one because of the subject matter.” It was more likely because he was using an amplified stomp board foot drum to provide a very effective percussive rhythm.
Introducing “Thirstier Wind,” from the new album, he said, “Spring is a big deal in Minnesota. There’s some spring in this song.” Every spring is a victory / when the winter is this long.
For the next introduction he quipped, “I’ve done 12 CDs. This is from one of them.” Reaching again into The Company You Keep, he sang “What Was That.” Prime time to forgive / Prime time to forget / What was it that I just said / What was it that I just said. He returned to the piano for “Let Them In,” about soldiers who never made it home. As before, Its melancholy air was made more emphatic by the resonance of the full grand.
Saying, “I’d like to play a little guitar,” he pulled out something only slightly larger than a ukulele, a “G-sharp” guitar, so named because of the shorter fretboard and its higher starting tone.
Saying he’d been living in the Godfrey Daniels basement in Bethlehem, Pa. at age 23, he realized that he’d become “an old bluesman.” One of the inventive names he had explored for himself, plucked from a country road sign, was “Slow Blind Driveway.” Using the G-sharp, he played a song unfamiliar to me, “Baby Blues,” How long has it been / since you’ve gone? He segued into an earlier request, “Where the Bottles Break.” The amplified G-sharp had a solid, chunky sound, appropriate to blues numbers.
Using his by now, long-familiar, faltering speech, he said, “When I was a teenager, I was really shy and socially awkward. I know that must be hard to believe now.”
From So Dark You See, he played “a song about unearned advantage,” “Ignorance and Privilege.”
On “Really Spring,” from Bright Side of Down he demonstrated some very deft fingerstyle guitar licks, going up the frets. If this were really spring
On “The Gypsy Life,” he sang, in the chorus, People love you when they know you’re leaving’ soon. You might like the Gypsy life / Get your compass and your sharpest knife. I didn’t see this song anywhere in my Gorka collection. An internet search showed this to be a part of a greatest hits collection, with the same title, presented over the course of two DVDs and an audio CD. As described, it features in a live setting, Susan Werner, Amelia K. Spicer, Russ Rentler and Michael Manring. Gorka and his all-star band … sit in a half-circle in a recording studio somewhere. On DVD one, they play their way through a handful of songs, including “Mercy of the Wheels,” “I’m From New Jersey,” and “Stranger With Your Hair.” There are interviews on the second DVD and, of course, the audio CD.
I plan on acquiring this set asap.
He ended the concert there, but, to sustained applause, quickly came out for an encore. He began by telling a story about meeting Pops Staples at an American music festival in England in 1992. The night before the festival, he couldn’t sleep and went down to the hotel bar for a nightcap. Pops sat down next to him and, flabbergasted, John asked if it was him, checking to be sure. Pops had released his first solo record, apart from The Staples Singers. John just happened to have it with him on that trip and ran up to his room to get it. He brought it down for Pops to sign. At breakfast the next day, Pops sat down next to him and said if he had any contemporary gospel songs to send them along. “I’ll cut you a good deal,” he said. Some time later, John sent him Out of the Valley which contained “Good Noise,” which he played next, sitting again at the piano. “Good Noise” would have been perfect for Pops, but, according to John, he never recorded it. I was hoping for “Furniture,” from that album, but didn’t get it. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been as effective without Michael Manring’s fretless bass, used on the studio recording.
John finished the evening with “The Water is Wide,” including a new verse written by the late Pete Seeger. Encouraged to sing along, we did. That said, using a non-Gorka-penned folk music staple, with an addition by an icon of the genre, proved to be a suitable ending.
The March edition of On Your Radar featured The No Fuss and Feathers Roadshow, Cricket Tell the Weather, and Mike Laureanno on Stage 3 of Rockwood Music Hall. At 7pm, when the show began, it was to have led off with Mike Laureanno. However, Mike, on his way down from his home in Rhode island, was somewhere in Connecticut on a stalled Amtrak train. John Platt shuffled No Fuss and Feathers into the lead spot. They sandwiched two short sets, with Cricket Tell the Weather in between. Mike arrived just before the show was to have ended at 9pm. As luck would have it, the next act wasn’t scheduled until 9:45, and he was able to perform four songs.
The No Fuss and Feathers Roadshow features two solo artists, Karyn Oliver and Carolann Solebello (formerly of Red Molly), plus Catherine Miles and Jay Mafale of The YaYas. All three women belong to the large New York area collective known as “Chicks With Dip,” who recorded the album, Joni Mitchell’s Blue: A 40th Anniversary Celebration. Within that larger group, they gravitated toward each other, having found a particular affinity with each other’s voices. Jay provides percussion and lead and rhythm guitar as well as harmony vocals. No Fuss is intended as an in-the-round performance, each supporting the other’s solo work (or band, in the case of the YaYas). As Carolann said to John Platt, in the pre-set interview, “We get to have a band!” Their voices are a rewarding mix of different qualities. Karyn Oliver’s sharper Nashville/blues-tinged vocals offset Carolann’s more round, country/folk quality and Catherine’s softer folk/pop sound. We were treated to a wide variety of styles. The group supported Karyn as she sang “Water” “Slip Away With Me,” and “Weeping Willow Road” from her Magdalene album. The group backed Carolann on “Hound Dogs In August” from her Threshold CD and “Falling is Easy” from her latest album, Steel and Salt. Catherine and Jay (her husband) took the lead on a jazz/funk song, “Little Scars,” and were supported by the others on “You Should Go” and All These Gifts,” both YaYas compositions.
Cricket Tell the Weather, a progressive bluegrass band, was first seen by most of us at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival Emerging Artists Showcase. Songwriters Andrea Asprelli (fiddle) and Jason Borisoff (guitar) are joined by banjoist Doug Goldstein and bassist Jeff Picker. They combine traditional bluegrass style with original compositions. One in particular, “Let it Pass,” written by Jason who handles the lead vocal, seemed much folkier than bluegrass. Touted as a wish for the bitter 2014 winter to be over, it was a bit premature, as the temperature would plummet to single digits (with wind chill factored in) within the next 48 hours. It was warm in the cellar stage 3, though, as the band continued their “pre-CD release” show. Their set heated the room up with numbers from their upcoming album that included “No Big City,” “Remington,” “Rocky Mountain Skies” and one of my particular favorites, “Embers from Afar.” We’re eager to see this group many times more, going forward.
John Platt left word with Mike Laureanno to notify him as soon as he entered the premises. Mike was swiftly rushed to the stage and after a (very) brief introductory Q and A from John, dove into his repertoire. The songs didn’t simply stick with his latest release, a very fine album, Pushing Back Wintertime (there’s that wishful thinking again). Mike started off with one not on the CD, “Maria,” a playful jest directed at the compassionate mother of Christ, who, in a joke preceding the song (and illustrating it), was letting sinners into heaven through the back door. Mike then sang a song, “Let Go,” a tribute to the late Jack Hardy, founder of the Fast Folk Musical Magazine, with whom he performed for 12 years. The song that followed, “Better Off Without the Rhyme,” was also not on his CD. He’d just written it for his wife this past Valentine’s Day. A lament for lost love (as his love songs sometimes are), it could have been written by Jack, it was so close in style. He finished up with “Little Red-Winged Blackbirds,” which metaphorically called out the U.S. government, or all governments who fudge statistics to suit policy. Jack would have approved.
A live performance listings guide with feature articles on performers