Pick Your Pop Culture

So, I've like written about music for 25 years, and like I've got a lot to say and not enough people to pay me for it, and like I like to write about TV, and books, and movies, and stuff like that.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Hey, I'm Back

I gotta tell you, the best way to hear live music is to sit in somebody’s kitchen/family room, and let the musicians set up in the corner. Thursday morning, nobody in town thought for one second they’d be seeing Caitlin Cary and Thad Cockrell play Sunday night, but thanks to Marie Arsenault, John Wendland, Roy Kasten, and especially Rick and Nancy Wood, who hosted the event, a house concert was put together on very short notice. I believe the proper phrase here is: “A good time was had by all.”

First, let me just say that Caitlin and Thad are two great singers who sound greater together. Cary came out of Whiskeytown, the Uncle Tupelo tribute band once led by Ryan Adams – and to be fair, which released some pretty good songs back in its heyday. To be honest, I know next to nothing about Cockrell, but the songs I’ve heard from their month-old duet release, “Begonias,” have been enough to convince me he’s got talent.

And now, a digression on alt-country itself. Can we just get over the phrase and acknowledge that something happened fifteen years ago to make it possible for young musicians raised on rock to embrace country music forms and tropes, thus freshening up a tradition that no longer had much of a hold at all on the working class and rural audiences that had loved it for so long? There are a million things you can do with country, just as there are a million things you can do with blues. These forms are intrinsic to the American character, and I have no problem with anybody who wants to come along and play around with them, as long as the end result turns out to be worth my while. There aren’t really any more incompetent alt-country artists running around the world than there are incompetent practitioners of any other genre you’d care to name.

Which is to say, goodness, what is there to complain about when Cary and Cockrell stare into each others eyes and sing these songs of heartbreak and devotion? Cockrell has a high, wispy voice; Cary has a husky, dominating alto. Over the course of twenty or so songs, they explored every way of mixing their respective vocals one could imagine. Blended together into one close, sibling-like harmony; alternating passages as a dynamic tool; belting out individual vocal lines until you couldn’t tell who was singing what anymore. It was all gorgeous, whether on their original material or on incredibly well chosen cover songs such as Percy Sledge’s “Warm and Tender Love” or Lucinda Williams’ “Jackson.”

The backing band was magnificent. The rhythm section, a bassist and a drummer (who looked like he was 15, but turned out to be 25), could move from gentle pulses to r’n’b propulsion. Cary’s fiddle and Cockrell’s subtle acoustic guitar playing were treats, too. But, most of all, Cary and Cockrell turned out to be the latest beneficiaries of one of America’s best kept musical secrets, the very talented Rich Gilbert playing pedal steel guitar. Gilbert, who is equally great on guitar and who once was in Human Sexual Response and the Zulus, now lives in Nashville and signs on with a series of talented people to provide tasty and incendiary playing in a variety of settings. I realized last night that much of the best music being made these days isn’t being recorded, because people are going out on tour with amazing hired hands like Gilbert. Not that there’s anything wrong with Cary and Cockrell’s own record, but I’d love to be able to recreate the experience I heard last night.

The sound in Rick and Nancy’s family room was impeccable. The audience was quiet and respectful. There was no smoking indoors. There was a pot-luck buffet spread that was incredible. Beer, soda, wine, and water flowed copiously. Really, this is now my favorite venue, and while I understand that Rick and Nancy probably would prefer to keep their home to themselves and their two kids – who were sent away for the night – I have a very selfish side that wants a whole lot more musical events held at their house. This was truly a fun time.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

the blues IS country music, stupid.

8:02 PM  

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