Saturday, July 1, 2017

Gillie & Welch Were Great -- The Colonel Carries On #90

I don’t know which is which, but Gillie & Welch were both great at the Palace in New Haven on Friday night, June 30.

I think the last time I was there was for a triple bill of Richard Thompson, David Bromberg, and Taj Mahal. After their individual sets, they came out for an ensemble encore: “Wooly Bully,” which includes the line, "Let's not be L-seven."

Bromberg was leftmost and said to the others before the song, “Everybody tune to the guy to his left.”

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings certainly enjoyed a roaringly enthusiastic crowd. “You’re setting yourself up for disappointment,” Ms. Welch said after the tumultuous reception for the first number. “You have to dole that stuff out carefully.”

Standing ovations with steady cheering brought the duo out for two encores. Their last number was “Jackson,” the Nancy Sinatra-Lee Hazlewood ditty that starts, “We got married in a fever.”

Ms. Welch wore the same outfit before and after the intermission, a knee-length sleeveless black dress and tan cowboy boots. She said that she was following folk music custom rather than country music custom.

During one number, Ms. Welch left the oriental rug on which the duo had been performing to find harder stage surface for a clog=like dance in cowboy boots. After the song, she said, “If there are any real cloggers out there, I apologize.”

Mr. Rawlings is said to get his signature, midrangey guitar sound from a 1935 Epiphone Olympic archtop with a carved top and plywood mahogany back and sides. He likens its sound to that of a resophonic guitar. "I bought it without a bridge," he says, "and had a one-piece mahogany bridge made for it.”

At one point, Ms. Welch took Mr. Rawling's guitar, played a lilting tune on it, and said, "This is what David's guitar sounds like when David isn't the one playing it."

The way back to Middletown was lit by lightning.

I like multiple bills. I remember one featuring Christine Lavin, Patty Larkin, John Gorka, and David Wilcox. I think Ms. Lavin had what we now call “convening power.” I seem to recall her segment involving twirling a flaming baton in the dark. Wilcox did a song titled, “Why’d You Have to Do It So Slowly?”

Part of the evening was an on-the-spot song composition contest among the performers. I seem to recall a Gorka effort called, “Christine Lavin Could Do It.”

Gorka has had a distinguished career, mostly in California. He wrote and performed “I’m From New Jersey” and “Where the Bottles Break,” but I think even if his only song had been 1987's “I Saw a Stranger With Your Hair,” he would deserve being celebrated and remembered. (He ain’t dead yet, Mildred Faulkner.)

“I Saw a Stranger With Your Hair” is a different take on the same situation addressed in “Flowers on the Wall” by the Statler Brothers (i.e., being dumped).

Have you ever noticed how hearing a cover of a song, even if the cover is inferior to the original, can sort of sharpen your dulled appreciation for the original? Try listening to Ladysmith Black Mambazo do “Chain Gang” with Lou Rawls singing the Sam Cooke part.

Other songs simply can’t be covered without abomination. Who but Paul Simon can make “Baby Driver” come alive? (I think the masters for that song disappeared and the attempted recreation is less than perfect, but still.)

Who but Dylan could sing “Visions of Johanna”? I think Dylan would disagree with me, since he relentlessly reworks his own material, as in this up-tempo self-cover of “Johanna.”

On the other hand, it would be a gas to hear a cover of “Tangled Up in Blue” by The Ray Charles Singers, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Lettermen, Up With People, the Roches, or the Blues Brothers.

The late Otis Redding’s hit “Try a Little Tenderness” was a cover. Bing Crosby had recorded it in 1933.

Loudon Wainwright III and Richard Thompson toured together a few years ago as a double bill: “Loud and Rich.”

“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture, or knitting about football.”

A safe and happy Fourth to you and your loved ones.

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