Thursday, January 31, 2008

Good Essay on Morton Feldman

Oh boy, we're going to have to take "mostly of the folk and acoustic variety" out of the description of this blog because I seem to want to talk about classical music a lot.

I found this essay by Kyle Gann on composer Morton Feldman to be thoroughly engrossing and informative. I am a Feldman fan to begin with, but I think that non-Feldman fans will learn something in there, too.

Four Irish Guys in 3D

My flatmate David and I went to see the new U2 movie, U23D last night. Filmed across a series of different gigs in South America--noticeable only rarely, such as when Edge goes from having sleeves to not having sleeves and when the crowd (previously identified as Argentine) goes crazy for the Brazilian flag--the movie had its star-studded premiere at Sundance and has been described by the New York Times as "the first Imax movie that deserves to be called a work of art."

My first caveat is that 3-D effects tend not to work for me. Although this movie uses the new polarized 3-D glasses rather than the old, red-white-and-blue ones, I only very rarely felt like I was seeing more than I would be seeing at a regular movie. Now I think that the problem is with my eyes and not with the movie, although when I queried David about the 3-D effects, he said, "I have a headache," so I'm not sure what he saw and didn't see. I have to say that the one time the 3-D effects worked for me, they really did work: I was like, "What is that idiot doing standing up in the theatre and waving their hands." But that idiot was, of course, a fan in the film.

So leaving aside the fact that I was probably missing out on the best parts of the movies, what did I think? Hmmm... It was no Rattle and Hum?

Now the caveat here is that the Rattle and Hum album was my first U2 album, so it has a special place in my heart. I spent a lot of afternoons flipping those four sides of vinyl--yes, really--and probably had heard the album a hundred times before I even saw the movie. But the Rattle and Hum movie is so much more than a concert film: it has silly interviews with the band; it has the band in the recording studio; it has the band going to Graceland. The action in the movie rises and falls, and you get little breaks from the constant onslaught of the band performing in huge arenas and stadiums. U23D is just performance, and it is edited to look like just one performance, although it is taken from maybe three, seven or nine (depending on who you ask). So it's not trying to be Rattle and Hum, and the critics generally disliked Rattle and Hum anyways because they saw it as too egotistical (which led U2 to take things over the top with the ZooTV tour around Achtung Babay). But I still would have liked just a quick snippet of the band backstage--like when Adam thanks the assistant for the tissue or the band figuring out the best key for "All Along the Watchtower" in Rattle and Hum--so that we could maybe get something that we don't already have from our (my?) live U2 concert experiences and live CDs and so on.

The more correct comparison is perhaps the 1993 pay-per-view event (which apparently subsequently was released as a video) of U2 live from Sydney. (Famously, Adam Clayton had missed the rehearsal show the night before the television broadcast. That concert is the only U2 concert where one of the four members of the band did not play. These guys have been touring internationally since 1980. Think about it.) The Sydney concert was just a concert, and it had all of the bells and whistles of the ZooTV/Zoomerang tour concerts. And somehow I think it will continue to stand out in my mind much more than U23D.

Now, part of that is age. I was more impressionable and less jaded when I was a junior high-schooler getting to watch a pay-per-view special with my favorite band (which they still are). By now, I have seen U2 live a couple of times and listened to numerous live recordings from across the years and seen Rattle and Hum, so maybe it takes a lot more to impress me. But I think that the bigger issue is song selection.

First off, the overlap between U23D and Rattle and Hum is simply striking. The Joshua Tree favorites are all over both of them, despite the fact that they are 20 years distant. In both movies, we get "Where the Streets Have No Name," "Bullet the Blue Sky" and "With or Without You." Both movies also include "Pride (In the Name of Love)" and "Sunday Bloody Sunday." It's not unusual to hear any of these songs at a U2 concert--these are the classic U2 hits--but two films separated by 20 years have this much overlap? Hands down, "Sunday Bloody Sunday" in Rattle and Hum is superior--mostly because Bono goes on a total rant--and I would be willing to make a case for some of the other ones, too.

Most of those songs also appear in the 1993 Sydney concert: "Where the Streets Have No Name", "Pride," "Bullet the Blue Sky" and "With or Without You." Those are the hits, right? (Other overlap between the Sydney show and U23D includes "One," "New Year's Day" and "The Fly.") But now let's look at what else the Sydney show included: the Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody," Lou Reed's "Satellite of Love" and Elvis's "Can't Help Falling in Love," and then less-heard U2 songs like "Dirty Day," "Running to Stand Still" and "Love is Blindness." Whoa! That is knock your socks off material! The performance of "Satellite of Love" from that concert has stuck with me forever. A live performance of "Love is Blindness" is golden! Those are the types of things that you want to immortalize on film. We know that the band can play "Sunday Bloody Sunday" because we've seen it not only in Rattle and Hum but also on Under a Blood Red Sky, which was filmed 25 years ago! Give us some rarities. Give us some gems.

Maybe the casual U2 fan doesn't have these complaints, and don't think for a second that I didn't get swept up in these songs--these are powerful songs that never fail to move me. But there is no way that this film can go down in history as a great concert film if the material is that easy to find elsewhere. Hearing the same songs again mostly made me feel bad for the band the way I do when I encounter any group that plays the same material night after night--doesn't "With or Without You" get a bit boring after 20 years of playing it? Instead of getting "The Hands That Built America" (from The Gangs of New York film), we get one line of it. And whereas Rattle and Hum hit us with "Helter Skelter" and "All Along the Watchtower" kicking off sides one and two of the two-LP set--vinyl, I told you--in U23D we get "Miss Sarajevo" as the closest thing to a cover. But maybe that and "Love and Peace or Else" qualify as the types of rarities that I'm looking for. And the second encore of "Yahweh" with Edge on acoustic guitar is pretty solid.

Now for a few snarky comments:

  • Why exactly does Edge have to change guitars after every single song? They really do not sound that different, and I have trouble believing that he is knocking them out of tune in three minutes. David alleges that Adam does the same thing with his basses and claims that it is even more egregious since they are all different colored versions of the same model Fender bass. I didn't notice that, but if it's true, then yeah, why? This just seems like conspicuous consumption to me.

  • Poor Larry Mullen Jr. Does everyone remember when he was the cute one? These days, he distinctly seems to be competing for the "Band Member Most Likely to Have Served Time in Prison" contest. The change is just dramatic. I've seen photos of the band where I ask myself, "Did they get a new drummer?" This is mean stuff to say--we can't all age as gracefully as The Edge--but it really is striking. I compare it to Steve "The Colonel" Cropper from Booker T. and the MGs. When he was the house guitarist at Stax Records in the mid-1960s, he was this skinny little guy with a skinny tie; a mere 15 years later, when we get to the Blues Brothers movie, he is a changed man. He still plays sweet guitar either way, but wow, some people really do change.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Classic Classical LP (and CD) Art

To make a short story long, my old Postcrypt compadre Heather made a comment on yesterday's post, and so I went to her web site, which I had never seen before but is full of cool photographs from around New York (and elsewhere) and has a list of books that Heather has read recently. On her web site, she list's Alex Ross's blog as one that she likes to visit. (Alex Ross being the music critic for The New Yorker.) So I wandered over (cyberly-speaking) to Alex Ross's blog and found an entry about the album art above. And then also a link to Dial "M" for Musicology's posting on the subject (from whence comes the classic cover below, one that was much discussed at WKCR back in the day--I wonder if the WKCR copy is still there...).

Friday, January 25, 2008

Moments of a Piano Marathon and the Fastest Fiddler Around

To celebrate the renovation of Merkin Concert Hall here in New York City, the artistic director Gregory D. Evans--he of the outlandish hair, large plastic glasses and (possibly, although he doesn't wear them anymore, George Steel-inspired) bowtie--decided to host a six-hour piano marathonon Dr. King's Day and make it free.

The event started at 2:00 p.m. My friend Dan and I arrived there around 4:30. As might be expected of a free event being held at a 450-seat concert hall in New York, the lobby was a zoo. We proceeded to wait in line for almost an hour before enough seats freed up that we could enter. The beleaguered Merkin Hall house staff was doing their best to contend with a group of typically entitled-feeling New Yorkers. ("It's my husband's birthday. Can't he cut 12 of you in line?") But a little bit of better planning would have been useful (e.g. distributing tickets in advance for the different performance segments and then additional stand-by tickets).

When we did get inside, they were running between an hour and 90 minutes behind schedule. We weren't there to see anyone in particular, so it didn't matter that much. (In fact, Dan and I had quite opposite preferences in terms of music: he wanted to hear the Rachmaninoff and the Chopin and avoid the Glass; I wanted to hear the Rzewski, the John Adams and, most importantly, Gyorgy Ligeti's Poeme Symphonique, which is not a piece for piano at all, but rather a tour de force scored for 100 metronomes. (Part of the appeal of seeing Poeme Symphonique was to figure out exactly how Gregory D. Evans--he of the bowtie--would be "conducting" it as alleged in the press release.))

We caught Vijay Iyer's last piece, which as near as we could tell was a riff on John Lennon's "Imagine" and pretty enjoyable. Two young piano students--Farrah Dupoux and Brian Ge, the latter of whom was all of ten or eleven years old--tackled John Adams' Hallelujah Junction and did a rather amazing job of it--especially Brian Ge, who recovered from some mistaken page-turning with composure that, I think, few adult pianists would be able to muster. Lee Musiker, a pianist who has worked with the likes of Tony Bennett and Mel Torme, played a couple of jazz standards, and then Jimmy Roberts came out.

Jimmy Roberts is the composer for the long-running Off-Broadway musical I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, and he was the clear hometown favorite during the piano marathon. People greeted him with an amount of enthusiasm that surprised me (since I had never heard of him). He proceeded to perform three piano "mashups"--my terminology, not his, so far as I know--mixing together classical piano music with pop songs. First we had "Winter" from Vivaldi's Four Seasons mixed with "A Little Help from My Friends" by The Beatles. Then Rodgers and Hart's "My Funny Valentine" with Beethoven's The Moonlight Sonata. And finally Edward Elgar's Enigma Variations with Paul Simon's "Bridge Over Troubled Water." They were rather charming little concoctions, although they worked better the more you knew the original pieces--so I didn't do so well with the Elgar/Simon mashup, although the Elgar is beautiful, beautiful music, and I wish that I knew it better.

Poeme Symphonique was supposed to come next, but because they were so far behind schedule, they decided not to do it, which was a bit of a disappointment for me. So I have been contenting myself with Ligeti performances on YouTube ever since.

Also, I would like to know where the $17 million of renovation went. I guess that it was mostly to the facade and behind the scenes because the inside of Merkin Hall looked pretty much the same as the last time that I was in it. But a piano marathon is a piano marathon, so I'll take it.

The Fastest Fiddler Around

For the evening's entertainment, I met up with Allan, and we went down to Joe's Pub to see Rhonda Vincent and the Rage. Rhonda Vincent has won the International Bluegrass Music Award for Female Vocalist of the Year seven times. (She got edged out this year by Dale Ann Bradley, who has a pretty good new CD out--and I'm normally not a huge fan of her stuff.) The band also won Entertainer of the Year back in 2001, although there has been significant personnel turnover since then.

For example, back in 2001, the fiddler in the Rage was Michael Cleveland who also won fiddler of the year for the first time that year and has won it every year since, except for one year, when Jason Carter edged him out. Now, my understanding--which essentially comes from the time at a festival when the Perfect Strangers dedicated their song "Canned by the Best" (written by Bob Black about the time Bill Monroe fired him) to Mike--is that Rhonda told Michael to move along. So you might think that wasn't the best move if the guy went on to win four (and counting) more IBMA awards. But if you think that, maybe you haven't seen Hunter Berry in a while.

Before joining The Rage, Hunter Berry played for a brief time with Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, which is about as solid a bluegrass training ground as you can get these days. Despite having had an accident recently--and therefore being doped up on pain medication, Hunter played what I believe the kids call "some awesome fiddle." His fingers were flying, and so were the notes. Visually, it was just a blur, but musically, it was a pretty sweet sound. (No, I said that he was the one on the pain medication.)

(We also discovered why Rhonda keeps him in the band: he's been dating her elder daughter for six years!)

The band is still finding themselves a bit, and maybe particularly so on the night in question. Bass player Mickey Harris had not been able to fly his bass up to New York, and so he was borrowing local bluegrass impresario Allen Cohen's bass. And I think it was the soundman and not the bass, but that bass was way too loud! "Jolene," which Rhonda normally kills, was kind of ruined for me by the booming bass that was knocking the vocals out of the way. And then Kenny Ingram, the star banjo player who has played with bluegrass progenitors Lester Flatt, Jimmy Martin and Curly Seckler, was absent from the show because his wife had had an accident of her own recently, so Rhonda's other daughter's boyfriend--really--Daniel Grindstaff, was filling in. Grindstaff was all right in the accompaniment, but his fear of playing up the neck meant that his solos were restrained and a little lifeless.

The best songs were old standards that the players all had in their fingers: Jimmy Martin's "Drink Up and Go Home" and "Little Maggie," for instance, were dead on. But on Rhonda's original material, the band was a little looser and less energetic.

Don't get me wrong: the show was great, and this band is worth traveling some distance to see (like all the way from Morningside Heights to the East Village on a school night). But I've seen The Rage tear a place apart, and a few things got in their way on Monday night.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Two Encounters with New Original Old Time Music in New York

Over two days this week, I found myself twice enjoying songs composed recently but with an old-time flavor: songs that quite consciously imitate the good-time music of the 1920s. There is quite a bit of this going on these days with some groups (e.g. New York's The Wiyos) mining the treasure trove of hot jazz, vaudeville, ragtime and jugband music for pieces to perform today, while other groups (e.g. The Hunger Mountain Boys) prefer to write new songs in an old-time style and create a stage show (and wardrobe) that clearly belongs to that more distant time.

On Thursday night, I went to see The Two Man Gentlemen Band, who have been making this kind of music and playing it in New York (including extended residences in Central Park and the Union Square subway station) and throughout the country for over three years now. My history with the Gentlemen goes back a bit further. The handsome banjo player known to Gentlemen followers as Smilin' Andy Bean lived on my floor our freshman year of college, and we bonded quickly over the facts that I sometimes wore a Howlin' Wolf T-shirt and was not afraid of going hands-free at the urinal. (Those were mutually exclusive events, as far as I can recall.) Andrew (as he most certainly was known at the time, such that hearing him called "Andy" all the time now brings much confusion to my ear) and I both found ourselves at WKCR, and I understand that there is a small black market in bootleg tapes of the two of us hosting the late night "Copulating Blues" segment of the (formerly) annual Blues Festival. All of this is to say that I am perhaps not the most impartial observer of this band (or perhaps I am a harsher critic for knowing them, and therefore my recommendation is more notable).

The Gentlemen have appeared on The Moonshine Show several times and during WKCR's (still) annual Country Festival, and I have seen them perform at the Parkside Lounge, the Knitting Factory, Muldoon's Irish Pub (near Grand Central Terminal, where the Gentlemen have had a fairly regular Tuesday night residency) and Lillie's Bar in Red Hook, Brooklyn. (That last one was on the night of the February 2006 blizzard in New York, and I always will be grateful to Alex Battles for giving us a lift from the bar to the subway station in the middle of the evening's entertainment.) So I know their act pretty well, but it always is pretty fresh, and I almost always seem to be in need of a new kazoo (which are frequently handed out for free at shows).

This show on Thursday night at the Parkside Lounge was the best Two Man Gentlemen Band show that I have seen yet. Andy Bean, The Councilman Fuller Condon--for a while, there was a threat that he would no longer be called "The Councilman," and I am glad that the band has decided to retain his quasi-governmental position, as I find it very fitting--and the third Gentleman, Travis Harrison, were playing material from their new CD, Heavy Petting--an album title that this DJ might hesitate to announce on air--and they were just having a grand old time of it, playing to a full room.

From Heavy Petting, we got "The Square Root of Two," a song about how love is like an irrational number, "On the Badminton Court," about gentlemanly ways to settle differences, the participatory "William Howard Taft," The Councilman's "Dippin' Sauce" and both the title track and "When Your Lips are Playing My Kazoo." From Great Calamities, the Gentlemen played "The Hindenburg Disaster" and "Prime Numbers", and from their self-titled debut, we heard "I've Been Drinking" and "Corn Liquor" (which at some point, I have just realized, should be combined into a single song called "I've Been Drinking Corn Liquor"). The crowd enthusiastically shouted along to "Corn Liquor" and also to the as-yet-unrecorded "Fancy Beer." (On a drinking tour of Kips Bay and Williamsburg the next day, "Fancy Beer!" became the refrain.) Nothing gets people shouting like drinking songs, and the Gentlemen know it.

Andy Bean was in fine form, letting the crowd know when our kazoos were out-of-tune or inappropriately played, and The Councilman was the winner of the night's singing contest, being able to outlast Bean when it came to note-holding. But I give my biggest salute to Travis Harrison, who played his tiny percussion kit with incredible enthusiasm and an eye to entertaining the crowd. Twisting his body around Bean and bringing his head dangerously close to Bean's banjo, he kept brushing (as it were) out the beat, seemingly hanging on every word that Andy and the Councilman uttered. A delightful performance. No one walked away from the show disappointed--not even the guy sitting two down from me who said, "You've got to be kidding me," when Bean and the Councilman were first tuning up their kazoos before the show.

On Friday night, my friend Allan (who writes about music on his blog Rattle My Cage) and I saw the Asylum Street Spankers put on a show at the Barrow Street Theatre, part of a one-week residency there. The Asylum Street Spankers are one of those bands that you hear a lot about in bits and pieces but don't actually know that much about. (Or at least that I have heard a lot about in bits and pieces.) Out of Austin, Texas--and doing their part to keep Austin weird--the Spankers have transitioned from being a band that focused on the hokum and tin pan alley tunes of the 1920s to being a band that writes new songs in that style. Like the Two Man Gentlemen Band, they write about drinking and the love shared between men and women; they also tend to write more about drugs, and we were treated to the critical "War on Drugs" during the show.

The show was billed as a musical revue entitled What? And Give Up Show Biz?, and I had expected a fairly theatrical presentation. Although there were nods to the off-Broadway setting of the show and some scripted bits, the emphasis was clearly on the songs, and there was no effort to construct a narrative--either that, or I missed it. At first, I was disappointed in this, but then I stopped caring (and particularly after the Beer Girls came from off-stage to present the audience with some mental lubricants--the third Budweiser that I have had in my life). The music was solid: these guys can play. The one woman in the eight-person ensemble on stage--founding member Christina Marrs--belted out a couple of songs, including a solid version of "Got My Mojo Working." One of the more orchestrated skits involved obnoxious crowd requests for the song about her private parts, which the band incorporated into a medley of songs for which they get requests but don't want to play.

The band consistently impressed with their musical acumen: they got in the groove of tunes instantly with very crisp starts and stops. Wammo was out front, taking off his rubboard, telling the stories and waving his Heineken around for emphasis. Korey Simeone, decked out in a floppy top-hat, excelled on the violin. (Folks probably know him from his involvement with that other weird string band from Austin, the Austin Lounge Lizards.) Nevada Newman played steady guitar throughout the night and got to take an occasional break. Josh Hoag's bass was clear and steady, and he had one memorable solo. Stanley Smith's clarinet often ended up in the background (or being held and strummed like a mandolin), but when he got to step out front, he did not disappoint. All in all though, it was a group effort.

The size of the crowd was not overwhelming--it was a late show at 10:30 (and in fact, started about 30 minutes later than that)--but the band did not let that hold them back. They played with energy and had real fun with the show. Believe the hype.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Mondays in Minneapolis

I'm not a Minneosta native, but I have fallen in love with its long, cold winters. It's that time of year when I hibernate, focus on life at home--writing, baking and catching up on all those movies I missed in the summer months, when I was traveling to various music festivals. I tend to go out less and read more. If I don't do errands or go to the gym on the way home from work, it just doesn't happen. Once I get home, I stay there. It has to be a really great show and/or a persistent friend that can entice me out.

January can be a slow concert month here with less touring artists coming through, but the Twin Cities is blessed with so many great local musicians that there is plenty to do if one can manage to leave the house. One of those acts worth leaving home for is The Roe Family Singers. They play every Monday at the 331 Club, an unpretentious neighborhood bar in NE Minneapolis with great drink specials (i.e. $2.50 gin and tonics) and free live music. Although I don't go there as often as I should (especially in the colder months), I made my second trip in a week (the first was with Storyhill's Chris Cunningham to see Duluth bluesman Charlie Parr) to see The Roes. The reason I went this Monday? It was Kim Roe's belated birthday celebration (she got sick on her actual birthday and spent most of the night in the ER). She was in fine form this Monday, though, reminding me once again of a modern-day June Carter Cash, with her clean country voice and easy charm. With husband Quillan Roe and the rest of the "family," they played their usual blend of traditional folk tunes and country classics mixed in with their own unique originals. Although Quillan didn't play enough banjo tunes (despite my repeated requests), it was a fine show. One of the highlights was guitarist/singer Dan Gaarder (also a member of popular honky tonk band Trailer Trash) covering "Gentle on My Mind." Don't know if it was Dan's version or something I failed to notice before, but my friends Jerad and Rachel pointed out that the beginning chord progression was very reminiscent of Greg Brown's "The Poet Game." With the sweet tunes and Kim's sassy cowboy boots, it was a fun show and well worth the trip outside the house.

Other notable locals in attendance Monday: Jon Rodine, Brianna Lane, and "Sneaky" Pete Bauer, who was doing sound.

Long live acoustic music in Missoula, Montana

My name is Jess and once upon a time (from 2001-2004), I ran a concert series in Missoula, Montana. I poured my heart and soul into booking my favorite acoustic musicians, and convincing everyone I knew in that sweet Montana college town to come out and listen. Soon I was doing one or two concerts a month (or more, when I was feeling crazy). I brought in Stacey Earle, Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer, Lucy Kaplansky, Edie Carey, Jeffrey Foucault, Peter Mulvey, Kris Delmhorst, Holly Near, Cris Williamson, John Gorka, Kelly Joe Phelps, Myshkin's Ruby Warblers, Patty Larkin, Eliza Gilkyson, Cheryl Wheeler, The Bills, Katya Chorover, Catie Curtis, Beth Amsel, Solas, and many other singer-songwriters and bands, local and national.

When I moved to Portland in the fall of 2004 (after I drove all the way back to Missoula to promote a Catie Curtis/Beth Amsel show, and return a truck...), a series of people took over the job, the longest lasting was Alicia Baylor, who did some great things. Through some combination of not quite enough community support and maybe some questionable decisions about concerts, the concert budget kept losing money until they couldn't sustain the series anymore, and apparently, now it's dead.

John Floridis (a talented singer/songwriter/guitarist himself) had the job before I did, for about 7 years. He remained my trusty consultant after he left. Actually what happened, was that I got to town, told him I wanted to help, he asked me if I wanted his job, I said yes, he asked me if I knew what I was doing, I said no, and then I proceeded to take over the concerts. Anyway, John and I keep in touch and he keeps me apprised of the concert scene in Missoula. We are both pretty f***ing heartbroken about all this. I am personally tempted to moved back, take my independent production company where there is less competition and more appreciation, and go hiking. But alas, I seem to have fallen in love with Portland. Still, I really wish for Missoulians that they soon get their concerts back, and for my musicians friends that they can return to their audiences in Missoula.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Moira Smiley and Voco at the Jenkins House Concert Series (New York)

When you think of house concerts, you probably do not think of New York. After all, we live in tiny shoeboxes where we scarcely have room for two or three friends, let alone two dozen strangers and a set of musicians. But there are a lucky few who have some extra space--entire brownstones, for instance--and therefore have the capacity to host a real downhome house concert. On the Upper West Side, the Jenkins family is one of those lucky few.

I have been lucky enough to attend a number of great concerts at the Jenkins' house over the past several years (e.g. The McKassons, Chris Thile and the Tensions Mountains Boys, Geoff Kaufmann) thanks to my girlfriend Kate's having met Sandy Jenkins at their mutual place of employment and then having joined the effective house band for the concerts, The New Lost Faculty Ramblers.

On Saturday night, I was in a quandary. There was a house concert with a group that I had never heard of--Voco--but where I really wanted to be--and where I had planned on being for a number of days--was down at the Cutting Room, seeing Tom Rush. When I was a kid, I saw Tom Rush a number of times--at the Eli Whitney Folk Festival in New Haven, Connecticut; at the old Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford, Connecticut--and knew his New Year album thoroughly (and still cannot recommend it enough--go get yourself a copy). I probably have not seen him in 15 years. And so for over two years now, I have been dutifully writing down every Tom Rush concert appearance in my calendar and then--inevitably--not making them. So this time I was going to go. But then the tickets were $30, and I had spent a lot of cash already on shows the night before, and a number of my and Kate's friends were going to be at the house concert, and there was a party afterward (or so I thought), so I grumblingly said, "OK. I'll go to the house concert. I'll see Tom Rush some other time."

Well, I don't know how the Tom Rush show went--allegedly, David Buskin and Robin Batteau were going to show up, which made it all the more likely to be a great show and all the more bitter at first than I had opted not to go--but the Jenkins house concert was excellent.

So Moira Smiley and Voco are an all-female quartet from Los Angeles that sings a mix of American and Eastern European folk songs. The emphasis here is on the vocals--four voices that blend together very nicely and cover a pretty broad range--and after the first song, I have to admit, I said, "OK. That's nice, but a whole concert worth?" But then Jessica Catron started laying down the bass lines on the cello, and Moira (say "Maura") Smiley busted out her banjo and her accordion. By the fourth song of the set, I was in for the long haul--this was good stuff! The rest of the crowd thought so, as well. People were eating it up: going wild with applause after almost every single number.

The repertoire was a terrific mix of gypsy melodies and old American favorites. I was more familiar with the latter and easily got into the shape note tunes and old folk songs that sprang forth. I was particularly charmed by their take on Kate Wolf's "Carolina Pines" (and have to thank the band for getting me to bring up Kate Wolf on my iPod) and their version of the song "Katy Cruel," which I had known as a kid from a Cordelia's Dad CD and cannot recall having heard elsewhere. (Cordelia's Dad has a live version of the song up on their MySpace page.) The band put on two very strong sets, and the crowd was with them the whole way.

Because this was a Jenkins House Concert, there were other acts, as well! The New Lost Faculty Ramblers started off the evening with three songs. And then after intermission Rich Jenkins (who works as a jazz pianist) did two numbers with madcap bassist Ritt Henn who played his masterful "I Hate to Repeat Myself." This was followed by a jazz standard sung by Stephanie Jenkins with violin accompaniment from her brother Reid and her father, and there also was a lovely duet from eldest daughter Cassie Jenkins and Chris Thile.

Following the concert, I asked Moira if she wanted to bring the band on The Moonshine Show the following morning. She asked my name, and when I told her, she said, "Didn't I e-mail you 10 years ago? ... I think your father told me to e-mail you." This seemed entirely plausible, although I certainly am not able to remember the names of people that I sent a single e-mail to 10 years ago! But it was later confirmed with my father. When Moira was promoting her band Vida, my father had gotten their CD, liked it and urged her to contact me about a gig at the Postcrypt. That show never came to fruition, but here we were, 10 years later. At any rate, Moira and the rest of Voco made their way up to WKCR's studios the next morning on about three hours of sleep and shared their music with the Moonshine Show audience. I got a number of calls right off the bat about them, so people enjoyed them over the radio, too. And I certainly enjoyed having them in studio with me (and respected them for getting up, too).