Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Jan Bell and Jolie Holland Live at Union Pool, Brooklyn NY 4/16/08

Pity the act who has to follow Jan Bell. Put aside any preconceptions you may have of sad-eyed ladies of the luxury highrises singing in an affected faux-Southern drawl at places like the Living Room: Bell is not one of them. She’s a true original, someone who seems to be right on the brink of something big. She reminded tonight how she got there, with uncommonly good original songwriting, smart guitar playing, a confidently swaying stage presence and a voice like hard cider, rustic and bittersweet but packing a knockout punch. Not bad for a “Yorkshire lass,” as the British expat bills herself. Imagine Kasey Chambers if she’d spent her teenage years hanging out after hours in bars with Loretta Lynn and her 1960s band instead of hunting kangaroos in the Australian outback with her dad, and you get a picture of what Bell is about. She got the chatty crowd to shut up, more or less, for the better part of forty minutes (a less impressive feat than it may seem, since a considerable portion of the sold-out house had come out for her and left after she finished). Accompanied only by Luminescent Orchestrii violinist Rina Fand (who proved as brilliant at vocal harmonies as she is at gypsy music), Bell ran through several numbers from her latest cd Songs for Love Drunk Sinners (which is an IMA finalist for best alt-country album of the year). The high point of the set was her big audience hit Leaving Town, a haunting, fast Texas shuffle that wouldn’t be out of place on a Patricia Vonne album. “They’re watching over you,” she cautioned at the end, all the more reason to leave. Although Bell’s strongest suit is dark minor keys, she also held up her end on a small handful of slow, melancholy waltz numbers. Fand’s violin work was amazing: from start to finish, she stuck with blues, eschewing any traditional country fiddle licks. Although she often went for the jugular, she didn’t waste a note all night. They closed with a fetching, evocative love song for New York.

“Thank you for putting up with my incompetence,” Jolie Holland told the audience, and there was considerable sarcasm in that because she’s perfectly competent at what she does, Tom Waits-style, alternately bluesy or country-inflected ballads. Completely self-aware, she turns any deficiency in her performance – forgetting lyrics, having to stop songs and start them over because she crunched a chord or forgot the tune – into an opportunity to make frequently laugh-out-loud funny repartee with the audience. “You know, I know the guy who invented the teleprompter,” she told the crowd, out of the blue. “He’s a bum on Haight Street.”

After playing an audience request, Old Fashioned Morphine, her popular tribute to the drug set to an oldtime, minor-key gospel tune, she explained how that song and the one that followed came about. As it happened, she’d had a dream that she was William Burroughs’ girlfriend, waking up next to him in bed and wondering what the hell she was doing there. When she suggested that they take a walk together, he growled, “Don’t treat me like an old man.” She then explained how she’d told a Lawrence, Kansas audience that story and that during the show, somehow, word had gotten back to Burroughs’ longtime boyfriend, who then came down to the show, introduced himself as Burroughs’ “wife,” and then kissed Holland on the lips. Then, a couple of years later, she was offered a part in a musical, which turned out to be the role of – you guessed it – William Burrough’s wife.

Holland was bedeviled by the sound, which had suddenly gone haywire after being impressively crystal-clear for Bell. She brought up her twin sister Sam Parton of the Be Good Tanyas, who contributed charming, spot-on harmonies just like she does in her own band. But ultimately, Holland got schooled by the New Yorkers. What she does is stylized: Billie Holiday did it, Rickie Lee Jones does it and they’re perfectly valid artists, as Holland is. But she didn’t vary her vocal delivery all night. When she invited up a bunch of A-list Brooklyn types to close the show with an obviously under-rehearsed set of country harmony tunes, the crowd finally started getting impatient and it fell to blues guitarslinger Mamie Minch to take charge. “Hush, now,” she cautioned and it was clear she meant business. Along with Parton and Bell, they brought up a couple of guys including another mean blues artist, Will Scott, whose distinctive baritone would have been a terrific addition to the mix had it been audible. Not to be jingoistic or disrespectful to Holland – who’s no dummy and makes excellent albums – but the story of the night here was the hometown acts.

April 17, 2008 Posted by | blues music, concert, country music, folk music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment