A highlight in the listening category was going to a show about a month ago to hear one of absolute favorite singer/songwriters, Kim Richey. I’ve been a big fan of hers for about 20 years and she rarely comes this far north (she is based in Nashville these days) and it was also an opportunity to check out a concert venue up in Plymouth called The Spire. More on that in a minute.
Kim’s music is fairly traditional country if you had to put a label on it, I guess. But since I bought her first album back in the 1990s I’ve always been struck by how well she crafts her songs, both lyrically and musically. They have a wonderful quality of seeming like a really, really song that you swear you’ve heard before….even if you haven’t! Plus she has a great voice, beautiful to listen to but with no affectations, just a natural, clean and clear resonance that is so delightful. Unfortunately, she is much less known in this area than she is elsewhere and the crowd was quite small, although everyone there seemed to be rabid fans (well, maybe not my wife, but hey, I don’t care for the Broadway show tunes she likes so she’s entitled, ha!).
Kim is not a fancy guitar player, just a solid strummer on her well-worn Gibson J-50, a vintage example that suits her style perfectly. Another highlight was her lead guitar player (on a Telecaster) who I did not know but he put on an absolute clinic in how to back up and enhance a single acoustic guitarist/singer without getting in the way. They played some tunes from her many albums but also a couple selections from an upcoming release on Yep Roc Records (where many of Nashville’s finest songwriter reside these days) and they sounded great. The best she saved for last, her most famous and well-loved tunes, “These Words We Said”, “Every River” and “Straight As The Crow Flies.” She still sounds great on those tunes, which were on her first and second records. She was also very gracious and funny between songs although I sensed she was a bit disappointed with the turn out. But being the seasoned pro she is, she didn’t put in any less effort and the crowd loved her for it. There is a reason she won a Grammy and was nominated for another.
The venue was fantastic! It is an old church, which is now owned by the town of Plymouth and run as a non-profit. They have been open only a couple years but already have a very impressive history with concerts by such artists as Shawn Colvin, Tom Rush, Peter Wolf, and many many others in the folk, country, jazz and rock world. The quite large stage is in the area of the old church where the altar must have been, with excellent lighting and a great sound system. Behind the stage are two huge stainedglass windows. About half the space has the old church pews (padded, thank goodness!), which are numbered for reserve seating. There is seating about 200 I would guess. In the back is a large open area with a small bar serving beer and wine and a few high top tables, no chairs but a couple benches. This encourages listeners to mingle before the shows and during intermissions and we found everyone to be friendly and musically astute. The mostly volunteer staff were great too. I am watching their schedule and will surely go back soon. The ticket cost was very reasonable too. We are fortunate to have The Spire nearly!
On a more personal level, I had a really fun evening last week playing with a friend and former student who still plays guitar but in the last few years has really fallen in love with the stand-up bass. It was sooooo great to hear him play with a lot of the songs I’ve been doing for the last few years by people like Steve Earle, Shawn Mullins, Tom Waits, Keb’ Mo’, John Hiatt, Ry Cooder, Harry Manx, Taj Mahal, Chris Smither, others… The next time we get together – soon, I hope – we will try some of the new songs I’ve learned recently by Iron & Wine and especially Mandolin Orange, who he recommended to me a about a year ago. I was definitely “late to the parade” on them, they are great and worth checking out if you haven’t heard them.
He is in a couple bands around here who are on something of a hiatus right now for various reasons so I want to keep this going. There’s nothing quite like the sound of a stand-up bass and an acoustic guitar. Not that I don’t appreciate a good electric bass player but the combo of those two instruments is much more organic and natural, which is something I’ve been striving for these days.
Where this will go I really have no idea. Work is tough to get around here even in tourist season and in the winter it is almost impossible. Also I must factor in the reality that people who go out to bars around here would much rather hear “Margaritaville” and “Sweet Caroline” than some obscure (but good, damn it!) songs by the artists I mentioned above. So it always has been on Cape Cod, and so it most likely always will be. Been there, done that. Really, really don’t want to do it again. But we’ll see.
In any case, my long-term gig at the wonderful Daily Brew café continues every Sunday morning. Today I played inside after a great summer season outside on the back deck. In the words of Jon Snow, winter is coming. But even though I must now pay closer attention to volume and dynamics in that small room I still love it and appreciate the fact that I know I have a good reason to keep practicing and learn new tunes. I’m hoping that I can get my bass player buddy involved before too long. That would be even more fun!
And speaking of practicing it is about time to drag out and dust off my folder of, gulp, Christmas songs. I always wait too long to refresh my musical memory of those things and there always seem to be a few bumps in the road when I try them again after ignoring them for the last 10 months. But I have a nice arrangement of “Carol of the Bells” that I’ve been meaning to learn, and I need a better arrangement of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Holiday season will be here before we know it. Or so the little man on my shoulder keeps whispering in my ear.
Peace & good music,