Sunday, January 2, 2011

Redbird w/ David Wax Museum @ Memorial Hall, Shelburne Falls, January 1st, 2011

An unexpectedly transcendent few hours of music on New Years' Day, 2011. I drove up to Shelburne Falls expecting a pleasant evening, not a fantastic one, but that's what I got. Jim Olsen was on hand to introduce the performers, the setting was the beautiful old Memorial Hall, and the audience was sold-out...all ingredients that can make live music shine, which it did.

Before Redbird went on, the David Wax Museum played half a dozen songs. I have seen their name on fliers before, but I'd never heard their music, and they damn near stole the show. The applause for each of their songs grew and grew and, when they left the stage, we gave them a standing ovation and called for them to come back. As I learned, these folks--the duo of David Wax and Suz Slezak--won over a Newport Folk Festival audience back in August, and they've been riding high ever since. They've moved to Pioneer Valley, and at least one Valley radio station has picked up one of their songs, "Beatrice," which came third in the set that I heard, and which rang a bell in my head. I'm 98% I've heard it before, if not on the radio, then at some store or other in the Valley. You can listen to it and a couple of others here.

What's the story with them? At first, I thought it was going to be simple pleasures, as in their opening song, "When You are Still," with a lovely melody and a simple, loving lyric. The harmony singing was pretty, and the mood was gentle, and I liked it plenty. But that was no preparation for where the Museum went next. David Wax put down the guitar and picked up a Mexican jarana, and Suz Slezak took up a quijada (donkey jawbone), and they proceeded to play "The Persimmon Tree," whose jaunty rhythm was a tiny miracle. It echoed something that I'm sure has been in my subconscious for years, something that I would have crassly labeled "Mexican music" but has never sounded so good. I've certainly not heard anything like that at a singer-songwriter performance in Pioneer Valley. At least two other songs featured the jarana and jaw bone, and they were magical. I'm not the only one who thought so; the applause was raucous and delighted. There was also a quiet ballad played on the piano, a song called "Jalopy Heart," and some amusing words about the aggressiveness with which they distributed their mailing list to audiences. After that, they proceeded to distribute their mailing list to the audience...rather aggressively, I thought. But it was their revitalization of Mexican folk music that was the real story. I'm checking out the songs I heard Saturday night on iTunes, including "The Persimmon Tree" and "Colas," from their 2009 album Carpenter Bird, and the recordings sound as great as the live performances did, bright, soulful and fun. For an encore, they played the jarana-and-quijada "Yes Maria Yes," a video for which is available on their website. I will keep a lookout for them, and I encourage readers to do the same.

The featured act played as a quartet: Peter Mulvey, Kris Delmhorst, and Jeffrey Foucault, along with David "Goody" Goodrich whose tasty guitar solos generated some heat whenever the mood got a bit too relaxed. They began with Peter Mulvey singing lead on "Lovely as the Day Is Long," a bit of light jazz for which Peter Mulvey's voice is superbly suited. From there, the group played in a kind of round-robin format, with ensemble performances and solo vocals, and occasional harmonies thrown in. There were originals, there were covers, there was even an instrumental, led by Goody, called "Snowed In." The mood was laid-back throughout, but it ranged from laid-back good to laid-back great. At its best, it was either naughty--Jeffrey's "Don't Fuck with My Miller Time," Goody's cover of a Morphine song--or surprising--Kris played a Cars song for an album full of Cars songs she's about to record, and Jeffrey pulled off an excellent version of Tom Waits' "2:19," which I prefer to all the John Prine songs he covers. Kris also did a romantic Ricky Lee Jones song, although I don't know the name of it.

Highlights....I was moved by everything that featured Peter Mulvey, who seems very much in control of his talents. That is, he plays and picks with the confidence of someone comfortable with his place, and his songs are thoughtful and nuanced. He also has excellent stage presence, complete with knowing nods and winks to the audience, and a beautiful smile. His opening vocal on "Lovely as the Day Is Long" was excellent, and so was his new song "Trempealeau." And the the band's second set concluded with his "Sad Sad Sad Sad (and Faraway from Home)," which is studded with great lines. Jeffrey Foucault's best moment was the Tom Waits cover, I thought, but for the encore, they did his "4&20 Blues" from Stripping Cane (2004), and I enjoyed it enough to go back to that album, which I've always thought I ought to like more than I do. And what do you know? I listened to it a couple of nights ago and heard it like never before. The album is very quiet and staid, and it's best listened to late at night, perhaps on long cars rides or when one's waking hours are very nearly over. It's an atmospheric album and, beneath the atmosphere, there are a number of good songs, especially the title track, along with an appropriately downbeat version of John Fogerty's "Lodi." As far as Kris Delmhorst goes, I was happiest with the Cars' song, the Ricky Lee Jones song, and her cello accompaniment with her bandmates' tunes. At one point, after an exchange with Jeffrey, she informed us that there were sometimes arguments as to who gets to sing the Neil Young song. This evening, that was Kris, and the song was "For the Turnstiles, which I heard her and Jeffrey perform at the Iron Horse back in October, as I described here.

Not to take anything away from Kris and Jeffrey--now Shelburne Falls natives who, they mentioned, can see Memorial Hall from their kitchen--but I left thinking most about Peter Mulvey. I saw him open the Saturday afternoon festivities at the Newport Folk Festival in 1997, and I can't really remember the feel of that performance, although I vaguely remember being moved by it. Documentary evidence:

This was around the time an album called Deep Blue was out, and I imagine he was playing songs from it. Maybe it's time to check it out. At any rate, his vocal performances felt very natural and unforced, but still focused. He's really good. Meanwhile, I look forward to Kris' album of Cars covers and to Jeffrey's "Don't Fuck with My Miller Time" recorded with the rocking country band it deserves.


Matt Winters said...

My first memory of Peter Mulvey is his participating in the Most Wanted Song Swap at Falcon Ridge playing a song featuring four capos on his guitar and called something like "I Wrote a Song To Be Played with Four Capos on My Guitar."

But I have very fond memories of the show I saw him do two years ago in New York, reviewed here:

Nick Toloudis said...

I love that review you wrote, Matt! I feel like I've always known how good this guy is, in the abstract, but I've never really sat down to pay attention to his music. Maybe it's time to do that.

Clover42 said...

Was the second to last song Kris sang the Ricky lee Jones song?

Clover42 said...

It was the second to last song of the evening....very romantic...would really like to know what it was...does anyone remember?