Saturday afternoon, on the last day of the Folk Alliance Conference, I checked out a song circle in the Canadian/Australian suite, which was highlighted by Rosie Burgess, from Australia, singing “Half a Girl,” and liked that so much that I was determined to catch the official showcase of the Rosie Burgess Trio that evening. But after Canadian Dave Gunning sang “There’s a Game Going On,” an ode to pond hockey that he co-wrote with David Francey, I realized it was almost 3—and time for me to take a break from the music to watch the KU-MU basketball game. Well worth doing so!
The Forge, earlier in the week, but got a bigger helping of great tunes and song at their official showcase. I had previously heard harpist Maeve Gilchrist, from Edinburgh, Scotland, at a past conference, and she was joined by three outstanding young players, flute and whistle player Nicole Rabata, fiddler Cara Frankowicz, and Anna Colliton on bodrahn (the Irish hand drum). Very inventive arrangements of tunes, especially on the Tie the Bonnet set, which began with two Cape Breton fiddle tunes, after a very tasty introduction on bodrahn. The one song I heard from the band was a rather little known Sandy Denny song, "Sweet Rosemary," with a lovely vocal from Gilchrist.I had caught just a bit of the all-female Irish music band,
From Irish music to Americana as I moved on to see the Crooked Brothers, though perhaps I should call their music Canadiana as this group of folk/roots/country/blues singers and songwriters hail from north of the border, in Falcon Lake, Manitoba. I got there during their song “17 Horses,” and was totally taken with their swampy blues groove and the contrasts among the vocalists as there was lots of call and response and more than a taste of down home Gospel vocal style. On that tune, the mandolin player broke a string, but he switched to guitar as the band slid into “Sweet Lemons,” with a very tasty harmonica introduction by the band’s quite excellent dobro player. While the instrumentation looked like bluegrass (mandolin, banjo, dobro, with a guest bassist backing the trio), the sound was much more classic country and acoustic roots music. And, as it turned out, a rare band with three strong lead singers. More tasty harmonica went with the song “Bluebirds,” inspired by November in Falcon Lake. At this point, someone in the audience had tracked down a mandolin for the band to borrow and it had even been tuned before it got to the stage (I just love Folk Alliance!), the song of a harrowing drive called "Stand Still" (“white knuckled fingers grip the steering wheel”) that musicians who have spent lots of time touring in old, old vans will recognize for sure.
The Crooked Brothers - 17 Horses
From one highlight to another, as I greatly enjoyed the Texas singer-songwriter Cary Cooper, playing her ukulele with a band that included Jagoda on drums and multi-talented Brad Yoder playing guitar, soprano sax and even a bit of glockenspiel. Even though she was battling a cold, Cooper’s highly original songwriting and her endearing stage presence shone through, as she told of reconnecting with a high school boyfriend, Jumbo. “I remember your old Camaro, it was loud and proud and fast as an arrow.” She noted that Jumbo, after all these years, still felt wronged by being dumped by Cary, so she wrote this song for him, where she explained, “I went and left you for Jesus, it seemed like the right thing to do. I went and left you for Jesus, but I always had more fun with you.” In another delightful story, she told of breaking down and buying a mini-van, which she had sworn she would never do. But she found a website that sold giant flower decals for your car, and promptly plastered the van with those, and then had a contest on her website to name the van, with the winning name being Zuzu (think It’s a Wonderful Life) and wrote a song about her van, with “I put Zuzu petals on my car, to remind me not to go too far.” Zuzu inspired another song, “In My Wildest Dreams,” which came about after her husband asked her why she had plastered her van with flower petals, and she responded, “Because I’m happy, they make my happy, and maybe they will make other people happy.” There was no doubt that Cary Cooper made the packed showcase room a happy one.
Rosie Burgess Trio - Half A GirlAnother packed room, and another happy one, grooved to the high energy Rosie Burgess Trio from Australia, with the lead singer and songwriter backed by the tasty bass and drum work of Tim Bennett and Sam Lohs. They kicked off with a catchy song, "Stackhat," about wearing your bicycle helmet to bed (Stackhat is to bicycle helmets in Australia and Kleenex is to tissue paper in the U.S.), showing off terrific harmonies on a very poppy tune. In their set, they demonstrated the ability to both rock out and sing quiet, beautiful songs. "Back in the Center Again" featured Bennett singing unison with his own jazzy bass solo. A lovely fingerstyle guitar intro led into a contemplative song with the refrain “All that I have known is in these seeds I have sown.” They wrapped up with “Skin and Bones,” which had the feel of a 1930s jazzy movie song, and got the audience singing along. Speaking of the audience, this was one of the most enthusiastic audience responses I saw this weekend.
Brother Sun - From an Upcoming CD
While I usually stay up really late (as in 3 a.m.) catching the unofficial showcases at the conference, I was pretty exhausted this last night (the KU game was the same time as my usual conference nap time), so I just caught a few of the unofficial late night showcases. I did greatly enjoy some old time and Western swing songs from The Carper Family, a very talented trio of women from Austin, as well as the songs of young singer-songwriter Bethel Steele and the lovely voice of Russian native Natasha Borzilova. But the final highlight of my conference came from seeing a few more songs by Brother Sun, the trio of Greg Greenway, Joe Jencks and Pat Wictor. Greg had asked if I had seen them do the Mose Allison song, "Everybody’s Crying Mercy," and when I said I hadn’t, he promised they would do it if I made it to another of their showcases. I did, and they did, and I was VERY impressed with Pat’s lead vocal and the wordless harmonies of Greg and Joe on this bluesy Mose Allison masterpiece. As they did last year, Brother Sun knocked out many people at the conference, including a number of festival promoters, at least one of whom signed Brother Sun on the spot. Even better news—they hope to come perform at KPR next year.