Friday, May 28, 2010

Crooked Still at Sanders Theater

On Saturday, May 22nd we went into Harvard Square to see Crooked Still ( at the Sanders Theater, me with a wicked cold. Sanders has great sound, great woodwork, statues, and ambiance, but is a little cramped and crowded, like an old ballpark. I was just cranky I guess!

Sarah Jarosz opened and it was one of those things where you could tell instantly, "This is a Musician!" Great banjo playing, and then switched to two different guitars: intelligent songs, and effortless pitch.

Crooked Still came on and they're just too good. Besides the fact that each one is a master of his/her instrument, that they meld together effortlessly, and that they can play the phonebook and make it sound fascinating, the incredible thing about them is that they're a truly unique band. No other band that I know of has this combination of instruments (fiddle, banjo, cello, double bass, and voice). It's eclectic yes (sometimes my mind really felt the lack of a guitar to hold them together, in fact Aoife O'Donovan strummed one on a few tunes), but they aren't self-consciously eclectic ... the point is that they sound so marvelous, not that they're breaking new ground.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ipswich River in May

This past Sunday was chilly but sunny, with a wicked wind. I wanted to go kayaking but wanted to avoid struggling with the wind and so went up to the Ipswich River, looking for a sheltered paddle. I parked in Harold Parker State Park with a couple of other cars with kayak hooks on their roofs and put in.

I went downriver first towards the outfitter's to check it out; there are a couple of falls there that one could probably survive, but I turned around quickly and headed back upriver past where I had put in. There were some people enjoying the park and a few paddling on the river, but I kept going South and West up the river and soon put them far behind.

It would and wound and wound and wound and then split into a few hummocks and then wound and wound some more once it rejoined, etc. I followed along, now very hidden from the wind. There were individual willows and stands of them, and stands of ash, maples, and oaks. I saw a few beeches and probably many other kinds of trees and twisted-together tree structures I can't name. The river varied between being almost a swamp and then having the land close in and becoming a deeper gully between the small hills, though it never got narrower than it was just above the put-in. I went all the way up to and a little past Colt Island, a half-mile or so before going under route 97 and then past the Topsfield fairgrounds. I hadn't seen a soul or heard any sound of civilization for miles and hours. It was beautiful and isolated.

And there were birds all over. If anyone wonders where the Canada geese that shit on their golf courses go to spawn, I found it. I saw hundreds of nesting couples of them, poking their heads up at me suspiciously from the high grass lining the river. I actually saw an albino Canada goose. There were also hundreds of red-wing blackbirds and many other kinds of songbirds, flying angrily at each other and chirping as loudly as they could from trees before zapping over to others. There were also lots of plovers, brown above, brown below, speckled, and white, with the long jointed legs and the narrow, long beaks you're used to seeing on the seashore, but here they were way up the freshwater marsh.

I saw more beaver lodges in that trip than I had seen in my life before. I spotted a couple of beavers, who seemed relatively unconcerned about me ... for beavers that is. Many of the lodges had been chosen by the Canada geese as ready-made nests and one of each pair was roosting on top while the mates paddled around anxiously. The beavers had done a great job of damming the river at one point, and I had to get out and drag my kayak over it, though I found on my way downstream that it was clear on the other side of the hummock. Many other trees leaned precariously over the river, ready to fall or be gnawed down and become dams themselves.

I finally turned around and headed back with the current, making it to the put-in remarkably quickly. The trip had been about five hours in all and, as often happens when kayaking, I found the experience exhilarating. The river was beautiful, chilly, green-yellow, deserted, peaceful, and magical in the height of Spring.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Eilen Jewell at the Bull Run

Sarah took the train out to West Concord on Friday and we headed West, stopping at J.P. O'Hanlon's for a pint of Old Speckled Hen and then driving out to the Bull Run. Our seats in the Sawtelle Room were at the table right in front of the main mic and we were the last ones at the table. The others were all enthusiastic Eilen Jewell fans and we were assured that we were in the right place.

After a quick turkey club I stopped in the gentlemen's lounge and ran into Jerry Miller, who was very gracious when I told him we were really looking forward to the show. The Billy Parker Project opened and really got the crowd going with great country/rockabilly guitar work and very good songwriting. The highlight for us was when the bass player dedicated Why You Been Gone So Long to his 6-year old. We're all in favor of singing about getting stoned and letting the past paint pictures in your head to impressionable young people (seriously!).

Then the Eilen Jewell band came on for an introduction, and then Eilen came out in her pearls and her little black dress (all the band was wearing black ... I had told the guy in the lounge that you could tell the band from the audience by the colors of their clothes). She was dynamite as always, opening with Rain Roll In, and singing the hits like High Shelf Booze, Fist City, and Heartache Boulevard. The crowd was hollering for Shaking All Over throughout and she finally got to it when everyone was ready. It seemed all the folks there were fanatics; our table was certainly shaking. She did one song I hadn't heard (second or third of the set), and announced that her upcoming record was going to be an all-Loretta disk, so I guess they haven't been working on new songs, but who cares? Eilen also did several Billy Holiday tunes, showing her ease at stamping a great song with her own brand.

I was hoping she'd play Dress in Black and shouted it out when Eilen asked for requests (well, being so close I didn't have to shout). She vacillated, but Jason Beek was driving the band hard and opined that they should "stick with the plan." They did ... and when they came out for an encore they did Dress in Black, singing the key line as "Way up in the hills of Shirley." That was the plan I guess. I sure went home happy.

All in all it was one of those wonderful musical evenings that lift you way beyond your Friday or everyday concerns. How could anyone not be inspired by Jerry Miller's guitar or Eilen's shimmying?