Saturday, April 12, 2008

Already On My Radar: Terence Martin and More

On Tuesday night, I went down to the Living Room to see Terence Martin play. Terence long has been one of my favorite singer-songwriters, and I used to book him at the Postcrypt whenever I could. A published poet and an English teacher, Terence crafts sweet and clever lyrics and puts them into songs that tend to alternate between gently flowing and rollicking. (For instance, tracks two and three on his CD Lost Hills are the slow and slightly mournful "Hank Williams" about someone stealing the tombstone from Hank Williams' grave and the uptempo "East of the River" with its face-changing theme: "You used to be a father / You've always been a son.") I was particularly interested in going to see this show because Terence has a new CD out, Even Trade, and I wanted to hear some songs from it and pick up a copy.

The show, however, was part of WFUV DJ John Platt's On Your Radar series (which used to be called "Under the Radar," but it has received an upgrade in its new home at the Living Room -- it used to take place at the now-defunct Satalla). This meant that there were two other artists -- Kelly Flint and William Hart Strecker -- on the bill and that John Platt would do some interviewing of the artists before each set.

The interview with Terence was interesting because he talked about playing the double-bass in the Burbank Symphony Orchestra, which I had not known about him doing (despite the fact that it is right there in the bio on his website). Asked to cite some songwriting influences, Terence went with Richard Thompson, Greg Brown and Bruce Cockburn. Whoa. That's sounds like a recent Winters Collection CD to me!

Dan Bonis joined Terence on stage. Nearly every time that I have seen Terence, Dan has been with him, playing mandolin, dobro and vintage lap steel guitar. He adds a whole range of nice fills and accents and helps bring out Terence's lyrics just that much more.

Their set started with "I Want Everything" from the new CD, although it is a song that I have heard several times before: "I don't want to be your lover. / I want to be your wedding ring, / Next to you, / Wrapped around your skin. / I don't want much; / I want everything." Then they did "East of the River," "Sleeper" (which is perhaps my all-time favorite Terence Martin song, although "Folding Chairs" is a serious competitor), the title track from the new CD "Even Trade" and then "23rd Street Runs into Heaven." It was a short set, but it was a nice mix of new songs and classics. I was perfectly contented, although I'm looking forward to the next opportunity that I have to see Terence and Dan.

Kelly Flint was the second act of the night. Kelly Flint was the frontwoman for the long-running downtown band Dave's True Story, a group that combined the sound of cool lounge jazz from the 1940s with the ironic New York wit of the 1990s. Dave's True Story were serious Postcrypt mainstays (and appear on the Live at the Postcrypt CD). In fact, they were named at the Postcrypt after someone unceremoniously introduced them by saying, "I've never heard these guys before and I don't know if they're any good, but here they are." When Kelly came around to the last song, "Last Go Round," she said, "This next story is a true story, it's Dave's true story," and someone in the crowd responded, "That's your name!" And so the band was fully born. In conversation with John Platt, Kelly described the original formation of the band under the guiding hand of Richard Julian: "He forced us to do it."

I had seen Kelly back in the fall upstairs at the Living Room, where she has been hosting a series called the Upstairs Sessions in which she brings in two songwriters and has them talk about their craft. (I saw an Upstairs Session that featured Erik Balkey, an old friend from the Postcrypt days, and Jerry Giddens, who was the frontman for the folk-rock band Walking Wounded, whose CD Hard Times I used to listen to every single day in junior high school -- seriously.) As far as I can figure out, she started out her set with two songs that she had done that night: "Cartoon" and "It Would Take an Army of Men," an Iraq War protest song. It was amazing to me how quickly the songs came back to me, given that I had -- to the best of my knowledge -- only heard them that one other time several months ago. But the two songs worked: they totally brought me into the set.

Kelly, who was joined by her husband and third Dave's True Story member Jeff Eyrich on bass, rounded out the set with "Sleepwalking," a good song about being in a marriage where the love is there but the romance needs to be rekindled, "The Letter 1974" (which is based on her father saying, "When you're dead, you'll have plenty of time") and "Drive All Night," the title track from her CD.

The last act was William Hart Strecker who took the stage with a huge band: drums, keyboards, electric guitar/pedal steel, electric bass, a multi-instrumentalist (guitar, harmonica, saxophone, flute) and himself on acoustic guitar and vocals. The most notable member of the band was John Putnam on electric guitar and pedal steel. John has toured a lot with Richard Shindell and appears on the live Shindell CD, Courier. Seeing him with Shindell, I always appreciated his very tasteful and properly placed licks. With this band, he played with much more of a big guitar sound that was appropriate for the music but not as impressive as his more careful work with Shindell.

The sound of the band oscillated a lot, starting off with a song that sounded straight out of the Blue Rodeo catalog and then hitting us with one that could have been a G. Love and Special Sauce tune and then doing an all-out bar-band rocker. William Hart Strecker threw himself into every song and played with a lot of passion, as did multi-instrumentalist Chris Eminizer. Sadly, I didn't get much out of the lyrics -- in part because they were being trampled by all of the loud instruments -- but the crowd was enthused, and John Platt gave the band an encore -- "Things Don't Always Turn Out Like You Plan."

And I guess that was the case. I had planned on seeing Terence Martin but ended up with a bit more on my plate.

(Note that the photo of Terence Martin and Dan Bonis above is from Falcon Ridge but was taken by Amy Berkson (not me) and pulled off of Terence's web site.)

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