Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Transplanted Minnesotan in New York

A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a young man named Carl Creighton asking if he could make an appearance on the Moonshine Show to promote his upcoming CD release party. I took a cursory listen to the tracks on his MySpace page and wrote back saying, "Sorry, kid, you need a few more banjos and mandolins to be Moonshine material. But I'll make a note of the show in my calendar." Well, I did write down the gig in my calendar, but I didn't actually expect to go.

However, a later e-mail from Teddy Goldstein, an old friend from the Postcrypt days and an artist that Ellen used to do some booking for, said that he was playing the Living Room on the same night. So I figured that I would check out the evening. (Of course, the usual New York scene prevailed at the venue -- the folks who had come to hear Carl mostly got up and left when Teddy hit the stage, and a new crowd of Teddy Goldstein fans came in to take their seats. Neither artist made reference to each other during their set. And so goes the New York acoustic scene.)

Carl Creighton's set was a very pleasant surprise. He started off on piano and switched to guitar for the majority of the set with a brief visit back to the piano. He had a bassist and a drummer playing with him, and a couple of guest harmony vocalists graced the stage over the course of the night (Erin Regan and also Mimi Lavalley, who herself has recently appeared on the Moonshine Show with the band Hogzilla). The sound of the band was straight ahead, and they played together well. The best part was that Carl's vocals stayed very clear and out front of the band -- dynamically speaking, not rhythmically speaking -- this was great because this guy has some clever lyrics up his sleeve.

As far as I can remember, Carl played exclusively songs from the new CD Minnesota -- this being a CD release party and all. The two main themes of the CD are that of boy from Minnesota making his way in the big city and the family that Carl has left behind, including a sister who died.

The first song on the CD, "Smoking is Ugly," jumps right into the first theme with its chorus of "If money's an issue in New York, / You can go back to where you're from. / Mother's holding down the fort, / Sending you props so you will come back home." The second verse nicely describes paying too much for coffee, tipping the waitress for being pretty and giving her a gig flyer in the hopes that she'll come.

Similarly, both the title track, "Minnesota," and a song called "El Paso," look outward to those places from New York.

"Minnesota" is sung with a haunting Great Plains pace and a beautifully sparse piano accompaniment. A verse that comes around twice is

"'Cause my home is in Minnesota --
You can't compete with 10,000 lakes.
And I won't regret one iota;
I've already made my fair share of mistakes."

But the real kicker is the chorus that gets altered a little bit each time:

"If I ever do come back to you sometime,
Momma's going to worry herself sick.
If I ever do come back to you sometime,
You're going to have to be less of a prick,"

and then

"If I ever do come back to you sometime,
It'll be to visit, not to stay."

"El Paso" similarly is about trying to figure out where you belong. Over the course of the song, the lines, "We weren't meant for this town; / You were meant for me," evolve into the repeated demand at the end of the song, "We weren't meant for this town; / We were meant for us."

In a more whimsical song, Carl pontificates on the existence and extinction of lightbulbs:

"There's a lightbulb in the garbage
Waiting to be taken out
To meet all its fallen brothers
That it left back in aisle nine
When some sucker came and bought it
For to burn bright and die a sudden death."

The chorus on "Never Gave You My Guitar" has a few clever turns of phrase and seems like one that many of us can identify with:

"Sure I could play 'Sweet Jane' or 'Heart and Soul,'
But the quarter notes don't make me whole.
I need a left hand to play to my right.
Sure I could play 'Sweet Jane' or 'Heart and Soul,'
Before the liquor finally takes its toll.
I think I'll cover Leonard Cohen and call it a night."

(Leonard Cohen also gets name checked in the song "Live Tonight" on the CD.)

One of the nicest things about Carl's compositional style is his wise use of rhythm. On different songs, he arranges the words in such a way that you don't get what your ear is expecting. This is never done in a jarring way; rather, Carl is able to add emphasis to his lyrics through his vocal phrasing in a way that many more established musicians should find themselves envious of.

Teddy Goldstein's set was very similar to one that I heard him perform at the Living Room back in January. As in that set, he had the excellent bassist Tim Luntzel playing with him on the upright bass, although I felt that back in January, Teddy let Tim open up a bit more on bass -- I was dying for Teddy to throw him a solo because I really do dig his playing.

With Teddy taking requests, I asked for "Refugee" from The Love Lot CD, and Teddy obliged, although he forgot the third verse, and I could be of no help there, so I ended up feeling bad about the request. (In retrospect, I think I should have asked for "Montana," a great tune that I haven't heard him play in a while.) Some other audience members asked for "Off-Road Automobile" from Teddy's first CD, which is a solid tongue-in-cheek song about trying to figure out whether or not you should trade your baby in.

And after Teddy's set ended, rather than sticking around to see who was next -- certainly no one announced the name of the performer -- I did the New York thing and headed out into the lovely spring evening air.

Carl Creighton's next gig is at Fat Baby on May 3rd. I've only been there once -- to see Mother Banjo! What a show that was!


Anonymous said...

Hey Matt- I couldn't find your email address. Thanks for the shout out on this here blog and on the show! You truly have your finger on the pulse of this town. Much appresh, Mimi LaValley

Ellen Stanley said...

Funny I never heard of this Carl cat when he was actually in Minnesota...I'll have to check him out.

By the way, I've heard cuts from Teddy's upcoming CD--some really sweet folk-pop stuff. Wish he would come out to Minnesota...I did run into him at SXSW unexpectedly, which was fun!