Sunday, May 15, 2011

May 14, 2011 Suzzy and Maggie Roche; Julie Gold

Last night in Port Washington, the Landmark Theatre, with it’s new topflight sound system, headlined Suzzy and Maggie Roche along with Julie Gold as their special guest.  Julie Gold best known for her hit song From a Distance made famous first by Nanci Griffith and then Bette Midler, is a song that stands up there in the pantheon of great songs.  Her performance of this song displayed all of her talents: a crisp clear voice along with her stylish piano and, of course, those lyrics. Julie Gold at the Grammy’s said that it was a song that she had been writing her whole life and this audience loved it. It deservedly catapulted her into fame, a song that has been read into the Congressional record, played on the space station when the Americans and Russians linked up for the first time. Sadly, everything else that Julie Gold played last night paled by comparison. Her lyrics, though well-meaning and filled with love and compassion, seemed trite and uninteresting, almost like Broadway show tunes. I’m happy for Julie Gold’s one enormous hit and so is she.

The Roche sisters were nothing less than wonderful. The quirkiness that has characterized their style, their incredible harmonizing, their unique songs were alive and well in living color. What amazed me was that the audience, now in its dotage, and the Roche Sisters, not afraid to show that they too have aged, still connect through their music as if somehow from the opening note, Maggie and Suzzy were able to transcend age and tap into something greater than our lost youth, but instead a well-spring of beauty and truth that is ageless. It was remarkable how timeless their voices are without props and reverb, but two acoustic guitars, a Steinway concert grand piano and a talent for harmonizing that is unparalleled in the music world. They made us laugh, of course, they made us cry, and why not, but there were so many wow moments throughout the night as if there were six people on stage and not two. They played some of their old standards, like Hammond Song and The Train. They sang from their Zero Church album that they created at Harvard, giving a musical voices to people’s heartfelt personal prayers. They performed Jesus Shaves a blasphemously funny, but honest song about a modern day Jesus looking for work and love.  They sang songs from other artists, including Dylan’s Clothes Line Saga which they elevate to pure theatrics. They ended the night with a rousing rendition of the coasters Yakety Yak. For those unfortunate not to know the Roches, there’s still time. They are nothing less than wonderful.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

May 4, 2011 Rebecca Jordan and Casey Abrams

Last night at Deepwells Acoustic Long Island hosted Rebecca Jordan and Casey Abrams. Rebecca Jordan turned out to be a real surprise. You sensed immediately that in the rough and tumble music world, Rebecca just might make it. Her stage presence was remarkable for everything that it was not: she was never showy or theatrical. Instead she was demure, unpretentious, and gentle. Yet when she smiled at the audience or spoke about her life and her songs, the audience was attentive and embracing. Her songs showed a wide range of interests from folk to jazz to gospel. She addressed war in her song Battlefield and managed to resist the clichés of dead soldiers while drawing us into the harsh realities of loss. Her song This Town initially drew me in, but I soon tired of it from the endless repetition of the words this town which she wove through the song. It dealt with one person moving on, and those that stayed behind. When it turned out that the one that stayed behind died to a drug overdose, I cringed. If this had been a metaphorical death, I would have been happier, but if it was a real death, as I suspect, it’s time to move on. Love Deluxe was an exquisitely sensuous song. It was the song that first displayed Rebecca Jordan’s range and depth as a performer. Her final song Anchor sung in a true gospel style was rousing and moving. Overall, I found Rebecca Jordan to be an artist in search of herself and her niche in the music world. When she put down her guitar, she broke through her limitations as instrumentalist and erupted with a quiet intensity and passion that has the power to one day electrify. My sense is that folk is not her thing. Jazz, soul, and gospel is where she seemed most comfortable. Her accompanist was absolutely essential. With a minimalism that never overshadowed her he allowed her to shine. With a full band behind her, I wondered if there were even greater heights she could reach.

Casey Abrams turned out to be a big disappointment. I thought that he sounded better in rehearsal than he did in his live performance. I kept thinking Southern rock without the rock, the Allman Brothers without, the inventive licks of the Brothers, Sweet Home Alabama without the passion and driving force. His musical compositions in and of themselves were interesting. Songs like The Scarecrow and the Tin Man and It’s Rained Everyday Since They Closed Down the Zoo, showed off his talents as a song writer, reaching for themes that are complex and interesting. Yet when the set was over I realized that nothing had connected with me, nothing jumped out at me. Sadly, he suffered every musician’s nightmare when he blanked out on his final number. At first, my heart ached for him, but when he persisted in playing the song substituting “la, la, la,” for the lyrics while he improvised on his guitar, I suddenly said enough. I’d like to hear him with a driving band, and something that amps up his vocals. Overall, he never varied his songs and they became lost in one big muddle.