Richard Shindell is an all-star and a triple-threat folk musician: songwriting, guitar, and voice. Some of his best work has been with accompaniment by another all-star, Lucy Kaplansky. I heard that those two had finally united for a project, and then heard that the two of them were playing in Cambridge with Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams, who are way up on my list of all-stars themselves.
Club Passim was hosting them, but the concert was at the historic First Parish Church in Cambridge, right on the corner of Church Street in Harvard Square. Another case of getting tickets as soon as possible of course.
The Pine Hill Project's record came out in the meantime, produced by Larry naturally, and with him all over it. I heard Shindell interviewed on WUMB a few days before the concert. Dave Palmatier asked him where the name came from, and Shindell talked about Thoreau saying that he "Needed to climb up on the Pine Hill" to clear his mind. Thoreau meant this metaphorically. He went on to say that as an individual, he felt he should be able to "find a Pine Hill within myself." Shindell also said that he (not Thoreau) was a Deadhead (when asked about their cover of I Know You Rider).
Anyway, we had an early Saturday dinner at Russell House Tavern in HSq and then sauntered over to the church well before the doors opened, only to find 50 people already in line! Made it in eventually and went right up to the front, where there were unaccounted-for seats in the first pew ... which we grabbed. Campbell and Williams came out for a first set with Jeffrey Hill, who was filling in for the AWOL Byron Isaacs.
They were fantastic. Larry had several acoustic guitars on stage and stuck to them, while Teresa played some fine rhythm. They did If I Had My Way, Lamps Trimmed and Burning, several originals we hadn't heard (they have an album coming out in June), a Louvin Brothers song, Big River, and were just absolutely excellent. We talked to Kate and Mager at the break and they were gobstruck, especially by Teresa's emoting on Lamps, which we'd seen on display at the Lesh and Friends concerts last year.
Then the break and finally Richard and Lucy came on and I have to say their set did not meet expectations. There were some great moments, like Larry playing some fantastic mandolin on Wichita (the Welch song), Lucy's new song Reunion, Richard's re-imagined Are You Happy Now, the beautiful Rain Just Falls, etc. But there was lots of boring tuning, slow song after slow song, Richard practicing his electric guitar licks on stage instead of sticking to what he does well, a laborious Next Best Western, and more tuning.
Don't get me wrong, the set was delightful, though it was below my expectations. Richard and Lucy sound so good together it's criminal, and Larry is just a marvel, taking over Wichita and many other songs on mandolin, rocking out on guitar, and playing some of the best, most ethereal pedal steel I've ever heard. Another highlight was Lucy's Ten Year Night, which is a fabulous song ... those two have written some of the best modern folk songs. But this was another slow dirge and what we needed was some pep, especially in a hot and stuffy church on a Saturday night with our pews getting more and more uncomfortable.
They finally concluded with what we'd been waiting all night to hear: their cover of I Know You Rider. Again, done very well, featuring some technically fantastic leads from Larry, but done slowly. Larry tried to get a jam going and did for a while; Lucy almost had to push him out of the way so she could get back to the mike and sing another verse when what this needed was some freelancing. Oh well.
They brought Teresa out with them for the encore: Greg Brown's Oh Lord I Have Made You a Place In My Heart. More excellence here: Teresa fit incredibly tastefully between Richard and Lucy, possibly channeling Dar Williams from the Cry Cry Cry record. But this wasn't quite the rocker we were hoping for ... oh well again. They were done and left the stage to a fitting standing ovation, this was a band of all-stars after all and though I may grouse, there was a ton of excellence shown.
Long walk back up Mass Ave. to our parking spot, but there are signs that another brutal New England winter may be on its last legs, and it was Saturday night!