Friday, May 9, 2008

Take Two Thiles, One Tam Lin and Call Me in the Morning

It has been a big music week for me, which has translated into a not so big blogging week. One can either go to the concerts or write about them, it seems, but finding time to do both is difficult. (At least, that's what Ellen tells me.)

Saturday: Another Fine Night at the Jenkins

The week began last Saturday. In the afternoon, I went with some friends to see the Yankees play the Mariners. It was pretty damn cold, and I was bundled up. I suspect that it was colder for the kid behind me who was wearing a pair of shorts. In the photo here, Makiko and I are dancing to "Y-M-C-A" in an effort to stay warm, while David watches non-plussed. (Yes, I'm wearing a hat, a sweatshirt and a fleece -- it was cold!)

That evening, Makiko and her friend Daniel (who took the photo) and I ended up at the Jenkins House Concert Series (see previous descriptions here and here) along with some other friends. The evening opened up with a set of three waltzes performed by Chris Thile and Cassie Jenkins (on the first and third). They opened with a lovely rendition of Bill Monroe's "Cry, Cry Darling." Chris then introduced the gigue from J.S. Bach's Solo Violin Partita No. 2, which the crowd greeted with much enthusiasm, such that Chris said, "You're excited, but it's supposed to be on a fiddle... And this is a mandolin. And I've already had a scotch and a Coke. ... Yeah, I know how to go to a house concert." But he played it beautifully, of course, and Makiko was impressed with the way that he had translated what would be bowed notes on the violin to picked notes on the mandolin. Sandy Jenkins reported later that he had first learned the piece on violin. Cassie rejoined Chris for a duet rendition of Radiohead's "The Tourist." What a lovely start to a concert!

The main attraction, however, was a group called New Old Stock: Wes Corbett on banjo, Simon Chrisman on hammered dulcimer (with electric damping pedal), Tristan Clarridge on cello and Tashina Clarridge on fiddle. Tristan Clarridge is probably the most visible member of the group. He plays with Darol Anger's Republic of Strings and recently has replaced Rushad Eggleston as the cellist in Crooked Still. He also is the youngest person to ever win the Grand National Fiddle Championships.

The band played all instrumentals. They tended to have a newgrass groove, and at first blush, they reminded me a bit of the Boulder Acoustic Society, a group that appeared on the Moonshine Show a few years ago, and then I began to hear a lot of Nickel Creek in them -- not sure if Chris Thile would agree or not. The hammered dulcimer really served as the anchor on a lot of the tunes, although Tristan's cello groove was also quite present. I enjoyed Wes's banjo playing a lot -- on "Tunnels," a song that he wrote about riding on the Boston T, he and Tashina kicked it off with the same melodic line being played on both fiddle and banjo. Tashina occasionally would be sufficiently moved by her brother's cello playing to give a shout of "Yeah!" which was pretty cool as well.

Tashina was playing -- for the entire concert, I believe, but I might be wrong -- a five-string fiddle, although I can't say that I noticed a marked difference in sound. She opened up a bit on a polska by a Swedish band -- and the audience was taught that a polska is not a polka. Tristan switched over to fiddle several times, and so we got twin fiddles on a tune written for banjo player Chris Pandolfi and guitarist Chris Eldridge called "Panda and Critter." (Eldridge plays with Thile in Punch Brothers; the banjo player from that group, Noam "Pickles" Pikelny, was present for this evening's concert, too.) That tune also featured some particularly percussive hammered dulcimer playing.

The half-time show was the New Lost Faculty Ramblers, the Jenkins House Concert Series House Band, led by dobro-swinger Bob Hipkens and featuring the fair Kate Mulvihill on harmony vocals, who played Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire," Guy Clark's "Sis Draper," the Wailin' Jennys' "Swallow" and the Louvin Brothers' "Cash on the Barrelhead."

Sunday: Postcrypt Folk Festival

Back when I booked the Postcrypt, this was something that we talked about doing but never got done. (Columbia's sometimes-annual folk festival used to be called the Furnald Folk Festival actually, and if you ask Phil Schaap, he will tell you that he and I performed together at the most recent edition of the Furnald Folk Festival, which lasted for about seven minutes in May 2001 -- long enough for the two of us to do a capella renditions of "Pretty Boy Floyd" and "Maybelline." I've got photos that my mom took.) So kudos to the current crop of Postcrypt volunteers who got it done and put on an afternoon folk festival complete with reasonably priced veggie burgers.

I really only paid attention to the set by the Desperation String Band, a group of friends who will be on The Moonshine Show two weeks from now and three-quarters of whom were at the Jenkins House Concert the previous evening.

Monday: A Singer-Songwriter Named After a Maidenhead-Stealing Young Man Held Captive By Fairies

Hmmm... Despite having heard the Fairport Convention version at least 100 times in my life, I had no idea that the plotline of the ballad Tam Lin would be encapsulated in the sentence above. I always thought that Tam Lin was a fairy. But apparently not. Wow. What a useful bit of research that was.

Anywho. Tam Lin is also the stage name of singer-songwriter Paul Weinfield. My friend Abigail had met him through his day job as an instructor in Columbia University's Contemporary Civilization class, and she asked if I would be interested in going to see him perform down at Kenny's Castaways.

Having checked out Tam Lin's website in advance, I knew not to actually expect any traditional folk music. (I did not get to ask him whether he knows his eponymous ballad or not and, if so, what version.) What I got instead was a guy with a pretty sweet voice and a couple of songwriting tricks up his sleeve. His songs were rooted in a kind of mystical Leonard Cohen world with passing images of various women from the songwriter's past flashing up in one way or another.

He played a number of songs from his most recent CD, In the Twilight. The title track is a nicely done modern murder ballad in which the narrator kills his lover's wife only to find himself trapped by the fact that she might point an incriminating finger at him. The repeat comes around: "In the twilight / When your mind plays tricks on you." (Although the plot is fairly different, it reminded me a bit of John Wesley Harding's song "Sussex Ghost Story": "After I had killed my wife / And by the jury been acquitted, / I resolved to change my life / And try to lead a life less wicked.")

I was most struck by a lyric in a song that does not appear to be on either Tam Lin album and that I would guess is called "Queen of Sheba":

She said you can come inside me
Just know you'll come alone
For my kingdom has no borders,
But no man can sit upon its throne.

That was hardcore Leonard Cohen, I thought. He then segued into the Rolling Stones' "Waiting on a Friend." (Abigail had to tell me that it was a Stones' song. Eek.)

Tam Lin closed his set with a rocker called "A Solider Called Uriah," which is on the new CD and mixes biblical imagery and scenes from the Iraq War. It was an excellent closer and a memorable tune. (You can catch it on his MySpace page.)

Kevin So, who I used to book at the Postcrypt and have not seen in three or four years, was on the bill, but there was another band in between, and the hour was getting late...

Tuesday: Chris Thile and Michael Daves Rock the Rockwood

On Tuesday, I met up for the first time in years with Jayne Chu. We had had an awesome dinner in Chinatown and were drinking some Peroni in NoLiTa, when I said, "Um, we should go see these guys play some bluegrass..." Since Jayne had not been to a ridiculously white event in some time, she was game, and we walked over through the Lower East Side, arriving at a packed Rockwood Music Hall. It was packed for a reason: these guys are awesome. Individually, they are terrific, and when they get up on stage together, they just push each other to new extremes. (Jayne's ear was working a bit better than mine is capable of working: "Oh! I love it when he hits that high D," she said with regard to Chris's solos.) Readers know Chris Thile either from elsewhere on this blog (e.g. earlier in this post) or the band Nickel Creek. Micheal Daves is a great bluegrass guitarist with a foghorn of a voice who moved to New York four or five years ago and became an instant fixture on the scene, showing up at all the jam sessions and taking on a ton of students and just making lots of music.

They kicked off with Sam and Kirk McGhee's "Blue Night," a great bluegrass opener in any context. Then "Rabbit in a Log" before an Ira Louvin tune to slow things down. They they asked for fiddle tune requests, and I piped up with "June Apple," which became the second tune in a medley with "Boston Boy." Jimmy Martin's "Twenty-Twenty Vision" was next, followed by a ridiculously hot version of "Little Girl of Mine in Tennessee." Chris totally jammed out on "Darlin' Corey," making use of scales that they have yet to invent names for.

Chris introduced Michael: "He comes by it honestly -- he comes from Georgia. ... I come from Southern California." The New York response came from the crowd: "It's still the South!"

For the second fiddle tune request, I yelled out "Arkansas Traveler." (I'm greedy; I know.) But someone else had yelled out "Ootpik Waltz," which they decided to try with Chris saying, "We don't really know it, so when we figure out that we really don't know it, we'll just launch into 'Arkansas Traveler.'" But that moment never came. Instead they played a simply beautiful version of the "Ootpik Waltz" and never got around to the old standby -- but no worries.

They traded wicked melodic phrases on the Jim and Jesse number "Sweet Little Miss Blue Eyes," gave us the old favorite "Rain and Snow" and then rocked through a medley of "Billy in the Lowground" and "Back Up and Push," which was super hot. They ended the set with what Michael Daves described as "the only bluegrass song that I know about New York City -- it's pretty sad, as a bluegrass song about New York City would have to be," "Loneliness and Desperation."

They couldn't really leave the stage because the place was so packed. The soundman just shrugged. And Chris and Michael launched into a ripfire "Molly and Tenbrooks" to send us out onto the New York City streets in style.

Great show. 'Nuff said.

Wednesday: Paul Curreri at the Living Room

With a very strong recommendation from Tim Mitchell, I headed down to the Living Room, handed over some money at the door (which is unusual at the Living Room) and settled in to hear the music of Paul Curreri, which to the best of my knowledge, I had never heard before. The room was full, and I was sitting next to a couple at whose wedding he had sung.

The nicest surprise of the evening came before Paul played a note. I looked over and saw Erin McKeown, who, like Kevin So, who I mentioned above, I used to book at the Postcrypt but haven't seen in ages and ages and ages. So, after asking the folks next to me if it was indeed Erin, I did the totally annoying thing. I walked over plopped myself down right in front of her and looked expectantly. She said, "Give me some help here, man." And I said, "We're underneath a church; it's a coffeehouse." She said, "The Postcrypt!" Then she paused, and she -- and I didn't expect this -- said, "Is it ... Matt?" I gave her a high-five. That was impressive! Go Erin!

Paul Curreri's opening number was terrific. The lyrics were very impressionistic and didn't really stick with me. (My complaint -- perhaps that of a philistine -- was that I didn't really walk away from the show with a hummable tune.) But the guitar playing was terrific. Paul was playing these little melodic circles and varying the dynamics perfectly. It was a really amazing accompaniment, adding a defining aura to the song.

Most of his accompaniment reminded me of Dave Van Ronk -- Paul's voice is much smoother, and the playing is a bit less forcibly rhythmic, but the fingerstyle blues that he used to underly a lot of his songs was very much in the early-60s, "I learned this from John Hurt" style that permeated Greenwich Village.

My favorite tune was "Keep Your Master's Voice In Your Mouth," which namechecked a handful of musicians and artists and produced my favorite line of the night: "Bill Evans gave New Jersey Lydian scales." Asked to explain that line -- and why I liked it so much -- I couldn't really, but like jazz, I just dig it, man.

He covered "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" with a jaunty beat, which was kind of neat, and he segued out of one of his songs into Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'," which was way neat.

It was a good set of music. I didn't walk away with my life changed, but I wouldn't mind hearing a bit more.

1 comment:

Ellen Stanley said...

ha! now you know what i've been talking about, mr. can be hard to have your blogs keep up with your life!

i plan on slowing my life down so my blogging can catch up. :)