JANGLE ON! for JUNE 2008!!!
By Eric Sorensen, written exclusively for NOT LAME
Every once in a while, a month goes by without any new discs that feature the type of jangly 12-string music that has appealed to me since my teen years. So, in lieu of some capsule reviews of albums and songs, I will write about some of the recent live music shows that I have been to.
Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen at the Barns of Wolf Trap. Hillman and Pedersen first met at a California Bluegrass Festival in the early 60s, and they have been pals and musical collaborators since then. While their commercial success may have peaked when they were members of the Desert Rose Band, their talent has not abated. They have achieved a vocal and instrumental unison that few artists can hope to attain. The stripped down formula of two voices accompanied by two acoustic instruments (Hillman played mandolin on all but three of the 33 – yes 33 – songs!) works extremely well. The two-set show included material from both of their distinguished careers, as well as some of their own bluegrass favorites. Hillman always gives a nod to his tenure as a founding member of the Byrds, and the duo performed contemporary bluegrass versions of “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and “Eight Miles High.” Other audience favorites included “Ashes of Love,” “Time Between” and “She Don’t Love Nobody.” Hillman and Pedersen performed at the Barns of Wolf Trap four nights before Roger McGuinn appeared there. One member of the audience suggested that Chris and Herb hang around the area for several days and perform as a trio with Roger. Chris expressed kind words for his former Byrds bandmate throughout the show, and he teased the audience with the words “I’m sure we’ll catch up with Roger one of these days!”
The New Pornographers at the 9:30 Club. I am grateful to our friend, John Buchman, who organized a gathering of music enthusiasts to attend this show. It was quite a treat for several reasons. I hadn’t been to a show at the 9:30 Club in nearly eight years - when I attended the Bangles reunion tour show in September 2000. It used to be a challenge to find a spot where one could view the stage and avoid cigarette smoke. The venue is now smoke-free, and parking in the city streets around the club has become less difficult. Hence, attending a show at the club is a pleasant experience – even before the opening act performs. Although I had one of the New Pornographers’ earlier discs, I hadn’t kept up with their recordings … and I had never seen them in person. Their show was excellent. The Washington, D.C. audience was fortunate enough to see the full band lineup, with Neko Case. She had missed the previous night’s show due to a foot injury, and she left the tour several nights later to have her fractured foot treated. She gamely sang through any pain and discomfort, and the band played a strong cross-section of material from their four studio albums. The sellout crowd departed with smiles on their faces after hearing 19 songs performed with gusto and panache.
Tift Merritt at the Birchmere. This was another case of an artist that I was vaguely familiar with, and a friend who suggested that a group of us go out to hear her. The Birchmere was sold out for this show, and that may be an indication that Ms. Merritt is bound for larger venues. She gave a superb show – mixing musical genres (country, rock, pop, blues, jazz), styles and tempos. Tift reminded me of Kim Richey, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Beth Nielsen Chapman – all rolled into one very energetic and engaging artist. I may have missed her earlier tours through the D.C. area at smaller venues, but at least I will be able to say that I saw her at the Birchmere … where I have also seen Ms. Richey, Ms. Carpenter and Ms Chapman.
Roger McGuinn at the Opera House in Vergennes, Vermont. This show represented a dream combination – my favorite artist performing in my favorite vacation destination. I flew up to Vermont with my “Byrds brother,” Chris Adams. Fellow Byrds enthusiast Ray Verno drove up from Rhode Island with his son and cousin, and we dined together in Vergennes before attending the show in the restored 111 year-old venue. Because we had all purchased advance tickets for this May event, we had front row center seating for the show and we were able to attend a post-show reception with the artist. Roger gave a terrific show, mixing Byrds hits with many songs from his solo career and his Folk Den project. The Vergennes audience gave it strongest applause to McGuinn’s updated version of “Eight Miles High” on his Martin acoustic guitar … and they sang along to “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and the opening encore number “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better.” Even though I have seen Roger perform similar set lists nearly two dozen times, I never tire of hearing his voice and his guitar-playing. The distinctive compressed and chiming sound of Roger McGuinn’s 12-string Rickenbacker guitar remains a timeless treasure in the annals of popular music.
Blue Rodeo at the Rhythm Room in Phoenix, Arizona. What a treat it was for me to see Blue Rodeo with my sister (who had never seen the band before) during a recent visit to Arizona. After twenty years, this Canadian pop/rock/alt-country band continues to shine on stage. Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor may have mellowed with time, but they can still trade sizzling lead guitar licks and impassioned lead vocals that are reminiscent of Stephen Stills and Neil Young when they were together in Buffalo Springfield. Blue Rodeo opened this show with their biggest chart hit – “Til I Am Myself Again” – and then featured songs from their latest disc – Small Miracles – and tunes from their extensive back catalog. Cuddy and Keelor played one song as an acoustic duo – demonstrating that they still have that tight Everly Brothers harmony. The mostly Canadian audience at this small club cheered loudly enough to bring the band back onstage for an encore performance of the tune, “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet,” which features Byrdsian chords. The opening act, Luke Doucet and the White Falcon, were the perfect touring complement to Blue Rodeo – with Doucet showing his guitar prowess on a Gretsch White Falcon, and bride and bandmate Melissa providing strong harmony vocals. The pair joined the featured act on several of the numbers during Blue Rodeo’s set. One patron yelled out to the band at the end of the show “Don’t wait another ten years to return!” His comment made me appreciate the fact that I have seen the band three times over the years in the Washington, D.C. area.
Coming up: Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives; the Richie Furay Band; the Greencards; and the twin bill of Pure Prairie League with Firefall.
Until next month, jangle on!