Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Groovin' Fiddle Chops at the Jenkins

Two Fridays ago, I was back at the Jenkins House Concert Series. (A performance there by Moira Smiley and Voco was the first ever post here on Sound of Blackbirds.) I had been on the radio earlier in the day (with my friend Allan helping me to play music by "modern country storytellers") and had downed a frozen margarita at The Heights with a few folks, but despite the time crunch, I showed up at the Jenkins in time to eat some good food and settle into a chair next to my friends Peter and Sharon.

The evening started off with Reid Jenkins, the Jenkins' youngest child, playing a tune on fiddle called "Morehouse Farewell" in honor of some upstairs neighbors who had moved to New Jersey. It was a really lovely tune and a great way to begin the evening. (It would also have been a great way to end the evening and probably would have fit in fine elsewhere, too.)

The main attraction was fiddler Laura Cortese. Kate had seen her once before at the Jenkins as part of the Fab Four Fiddlers (with Hanneke Cassel, Jake Armerding and Jeremy Kittel) and had described that concert at the time as "perhaps the greatest concert ever." Accompanying Laura was none other than Aoife O'Donovan, who is most well known as the lead singer for the band Crooked Still and who also plays (with Ruth Ungar and Kristin Andreassen (of The Mammals and Uncle Earl respectively)) in a group called Sometymes Why. Aoife, Laura and Kristin also all live together in the Boston area. Got all that? Aoife was on guitar to begin the night but switched to keyboards (a mini-wurlitzer?), glockenspiel and at one point (if my mind is not deceiving me) an accordion.

For a number of songs, Laura Cortese either would start off holding her fiddle like a mandolin or else end up there. She was running it through a small amplifier, and she would use a mandolin-style chop to lay down a cool groove. And it so worked. Instant pocket, if you know what I mean. She also excelled at singing while playing the fiddle: her tuning seemed just impeccable to me, a perfect match between voice and fiddle.

Some of the memorable tunes from the set were a beautiful version of "Queen Among the Heather" (a Child ballad that Laura sang while Aoife played with two capos on her guitar), "Sometimes When I Am Drunk and You Are Wearing My Favorite Shirt" (just glockenspiel and vocals; sounds like it could be a Two Man Gentlemen Band song), a version of "Greasy Coat" (where Reid Jenkins joined the two performers -- he had learned the song an hour earlier), a song from Lissa Schneckenburger's wedding where Aoife was the best man apparently (this song totally had the groove down and also had some nice modulation), the Magnetic Fields' "All My Little Words" (which totally rocked), a Feist song, and the encore Michael Tarbox's great "Night Train to Chelsea" (which they just nailed).

It was a very fun show. Laura and Aoife were having lots of fun playing together. And it sounds like they have a great time living together and making music. (Aoife burst into the theme from Twin Peaks at one point to show us what exactly it was like.) The whole Jenkins family was up there playing at one point, and the crowd --despite many members not knowing who Feist is or which Sex and the City character they are--had a great time.

Bottom line: it was some groovy fiddle playing.

Laura played tonight at Arlene Grocery along with Kristin Andreassan. The fact that I'm writing this means that I wasn't there. But I look forward to seeing her down the road again.

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