Sunday, February 24, 2013

Del and Sam in the Snow

Drove up to the Stockbridge Theatre at Pinkerton Academy ... a prep school in Derry NH ... to see two bluegrass gods, Del McCoury and Sam Bush, on Saturday night (2/23).  Really, these two are at or near the pinnacles of their respective bluegrass specialties and as soon as we heard there were tickets (this was a rescheduled show from October of last year), we snapped them up.  We also got tickets for Matt and Jeannie and we were all very excited to sit in this beautiful, wide theater with a big stage and listen to those guys.  It was only about two thirds full and I assume that's because of the total lack of publicity.

There was yet another snowstorm forecast for New England that day, but it was turning into mostly rain as it arrived, though it was pretty snowy in Derry when we got there and when we left.  The pair came out and were their understated, deferential selves, but absolutely ripped the air waves with their bluegrass pyrotechnics.  Sam stayed on mandolin all night except for one song on which he switched to a weird mandolin/mandola thing with a resonator plate.  I shouted out, "What *is* that, Sam?" and he answered "It's a weird mandolin/mandola thing with a resonator plate that Curtis Burch [original New Grass Revival member] invented."  Del stuck to his old Gibson all night except for one song on which he picked superb banjo.  The climax of the night was, of course, an incredibly hot take on Thompson's Vincent Black Lightning.

Staggered out to the cars in the snow and made it back South over the border before it turned to rain.  Just amazing that we had just been in this bluegrass bubble in a backwoods prep school theater with a couple of the finest musicians in the world, only 40 minutes from downtown Boston.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Kelly and Bruce at Johnny D's

Went to see Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison at Johnny D's on Valentine's Day, Thursday 2/14.  We got dinner tickets and had a good table, between a couple from up in NH who were about our age and dying for some good country music, and a cute couple who seemed more interested in the occasion than the music.

The band was one guy on pedal steel who alternated on lead guitar, and a guy on stand-up bass.  Kelly and Bruce both played excellent acoustic guitars and, of course, sang like there was no tomorrow.

Yucked it up with Kate, Mager, and a bunch of SMC fans between sets and we all had a great time!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Carrie Rodriguez at Passim

Went to see Carrie Rodriguez and Luke Jacobs at Club Passim on Tuesday, February 5th.
We were right in front of the stage this time, instead of our regular table that's in the front row but slightly to the left.  We suffered through it, though it meant we had to talk with the band.

Carrie just released a new record and it's arguably her best so far.  She's a great songwriter, an incredibly skilled fiddler and after starting her career (after a stint at Berklee College of course, studying with Matt Glaser) with that jaw-dropping string of records with Chip Taylor, she's just taking off as a solo artist.  Carrie's got a distinctly Texas style of fiddling to my ear, but she's so incredibly powerful and loud and produces such true tones that she becomes a unique musician while playing in a traditional idiom.

Luke was looking dapper with a hat and suspenders, but then Carrie came out and upped the elegance level just a bit :) ... she was wearing a flouncy, sexy brown print dress, had her curls done very tightly, was sporting a whole cosmetics counter's worth of makeup, and had on these huge, shiny, black high-heel shoes.  As we learned quickly, these shoes were not just for looking good, they were stomping shoes, and she shook the whole stage stamping out the beat while she almost busted her fiddle with her powerful strokes.  On one song I was amazed that her bow was holding up to her abuse ... and then on the last lead it suddenly gave out and shed a quarter of its stings.  She just smiled and picked up a new bow.  Speaking of bows, don't stand too close to her while she's doing a song; a few times I thought we (in the front table) were going to get whacked over the head with it the same way a nun uses a ruler to whack students who aren't paying sufficient attention.  Needless to say, I paid rapt attention.

They did a number of songs from the new record, opening with Devil In Mind and then the swing-tinted Lake Harriet, complete with finger-snaps.  They later did Brooklyn, Sad Joy, and I Cry For Love from it also.  Carrie mostly stuck to the fiddle, but also showed her talent on tenor guitar on a few songs and on her glittering mandobird.  Luke switched between his acoustic guitar and a beautiful Gibson electric, and also played a tune on lap steel.  They did her early Seven Angels On A Bicycle (which had said clearly that she was going to have great post-Chip career), 50s French Movie, Merle's Today I Started Loving You Again, She Ain't Me, and eventually closed with Never Going To Be Your Bride.  Great stuff!

Could barely make it out of Passim with the crowd buying CDs for her to sign.  Another great but cramped concert at that small venue!  Here are some pictures from our close seats (more pictures here):

There've been questions as to why I chose this picture (above), which is not one of the best.  It's because it shows all 5 of Carrie's instruments (top to bottom): her voice, her tenor guitar, her fiddle (resting in its case), her mandobird, and her right shoe.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Stray Birds on Columbia Point

Drove down to UMassBoston's campus on Columbia Point to see the Stray Birds do a Member Concert.  They were named New Artist of the Year for 2012 by the station and the concert in Whalen Auditorium was "sold out."  We showed up for the artist's reception, where food was advertised but they only had cookies, as opposed to the previous artist's reception we'd been too.  Another change was that the artists didn't show up at the reception, but we had a nice conversation with GM Patty Demenico, standing in the non-heated concrete bunker next to Whalen Auditorium.  UMassBoston was really strange when I took graduate school courses there in the '80s and it hasn't gotten any less strange, though it apparently now has plans of becoming  a residential college rather than a commuter one.

Anyway, we all filed into the auditorium sooner or later and the Stray Birds came on for a long set (after the raffle; Maya won one of the drawings and was delighted ("I never win *anything!*) ... I love college radio).  They have one and a half records out and already have developed some signature songs, like the opening Birds of the Borderland, the hauntingly beautiful I Dream In Blue, and the closing My Brother's Hill.  This last one is the kind of song that you hear on the radio and think, "they could never do that live," and then they do it even better live.

Tall, redheaded Charles Muench was amazingly nimble on the double-bass, bowing it as often as plucking it and producing a fabulous tone.  Maya de Vitry (who studied at Berklee under Darol Anger and John McCann) and Oliver Craven swapped guitar and also alternated between banjo (Maya), mandolin (Oliver), and fiddle (both).  Oliver is a virtuoso on the flat-top and Maya is one of those people who seem to be able to play anything with strings.  She's also written some delicious, atmospheric songs like Harlem(?) and her song remembering her teacher, McCann.

They did some non-originals too, like Townes van Zandt's Loretta and the traditional Make Me a Pallet On Your Floor.  Their singing is near-indescribable, as they've worked out excellent vocal arrangements (Loretta was 3-part harmony all the way through) which are gems.  You've gotta hear these guys!  I feel UMB has swung and missed badly on some of their New Artists of the Year, but they've also hit some out of the park, like Kate Campbell long ago and these guys this year.