Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Jenifer Jackson and Juliana Nash at Rockwood Music Hall, NYC 3/10/09

A welcome return appearance by two very different, very conspicuously absent songwriting sirens. Jenifer Jackson has gotten a lot of ink here, justifiably: she’s simply one of the finest songwriters on the planet, someone who leaps effortlessly across boundaries, intermingling styles with a seemingly intuitive melodicism. Mixing old favorites with songs from a new cd which is three-quarters done, she said, she delivered a typically captivating set, playing her first three songs solo on guitar.

 

She opened with an unreleased, fetchingly catchy Americana pop number, In Spring: “Time goes fast, living in the past, maybe love will come again in spring,” she sang in her signature warm, wistful voice. On both of the next two songs, We Will Be Together and Whole Wide World, she waited til the last chorus and then improvised her way up the scale with not a little imploring and anguish and this was intense to say the least. 

 

Pianist Matt Kanelos then joined her on another new one, Words, a dark existentialist lament that transcends its pretty melody, contributing an aptly darkly glistening solo, Debussy meets Gershwin, when the time came. Jackson sang it impatiently: “Words, get out of my way, tripping me where I go…talk about the moment that is here!” The textural interplay between Kanelos’ sharp piano and Jackson’s warmly crescendoing fingerpicking was absolutely gorgeous in the relatively new, 6/8 ballad The Beauty in the Emptying.

 

The best songs of the set were dark, pensive new ones. “Yesterday the motion had no meaning, yesterday the seasons were careening,”  she related in the first, Groundward, ending up on a predictably brooding note: “Summer rain is falling.” The second, Maybe, was absolutely haunting, noir Bacharach-style bossa nova pop with a theme of restlessness, a recurrent topic in Jackson’s work. “Maybe this is as much sense as life will ever make,” she sang, half cynical and half resigned, Kanelos adding a brilliant, eerie chordal solo followed by Jackson’s la-la-la outro, ending unexpectedly and ominously with a minor-key flourish. The two encored with a hasty, happy-go-lucky cover of the old Delfonics’ doo-wop hit La La Means I Love You.

 

Juliana Nash is fondly remembered around these parts as the architect of the Pete’s Candy Store sound, and a den mom of sorts to scores of excellent New York acoustic bands who called the little Brooklyn bar home from the mid-90s to the early zeros. This was a striking reminder of how fun her own shows at her old home base used to be. A petite woman with a matter-of-fact, deadpan wit and a big, powerful soul voice, she told the crowd that this was her first-ever show featuring just guitar and piano (Kanelos back behind the keys again, unrehearsed but gamely following Nash’s smartly intiutive, catchy changes). Fighting off the rust (she hasn’t had many shows here in town recently), she held a lot in reserve tonight until the end of the show, working her way through a mix of pleasantly familiar, pensive, sometimes countryish pop songs. Like Jackson, she has an ear for a hook and an eye for a striking lyrical image: “Love’s a champion battleship, you need an ocean of tears to float it,” she lamented on the the blue-eyed soul ballad Love Is Heavy that opened the show. Another thoughtful ballad, Maybe Street, looked at life sardonically and metaphorically through the eyes of sisters named Hope and Joy. She used the pensive Built for Longing as an exercise in subtle shading rather than turning it into a big tour de force like she usually does.

 

She related a story of how she and Jackson many years ago celebrated a birthday by shoplifting a couple of tiaras out of a 99-cent store because they were too broke to afford them. And then launched into a hilarious and absolutely spot-on, somewhat Lou Reed-inflected riff-rock homage to the wee hours in New York: “It’s six AM and I’m drunk again, I turn incidents to habits,” she wailed gleefully. For anyone who’d ever walked home from the L at 14th St. after closing Pete’s, watching the newspaper trucks make their rounds, this hit the spot sweetly. She wrapped up the show with the passionate yet wary rocker Tiny Belladonna (written about her daughter), a darkly beautiful, elegaic number where she cautioned that “It’s ok not to be everything we thought we would be when we were young,” and another soul-inflected ballad, Everlasting Ache where she paced herself until the end before finally cutting loose with that voice of hers. And then encored with the tongue-in-cheek Rocks in Your Head, something she’d pulled fortuitously from the archives. Jenifer Jackson is back at the Rockwood on Mar 24 at 8; watch this space for Juliana Nash sightings.

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March 11, 2009 - Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , ,

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