Amy Fairchild's deep heart
by Seth Rogovoy
(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., February 19, 2002) – Anyone wanting proof about how screwed up the recording industry is need only listen to Amy Fairchild’s new, self-released CD, Mr. Heart (So Fair).
If the record business was about fresh, catchy, radio-ready songs performed with flair, then it would be Fairchild with the $80 million contract, and not Mariah Carey. And the
record company wouldn’t have to buy her out of the deal, either.
But it’s been years since the record business was about good songs – the kind of tunes that fill Mr. Heart, songs that have won over the judges of music competitions ranging from Kerrville’s New Folk award to Lilith Fair’s Talent Competition, songs that have delighted critics from Billboard Magazine to Dave Marsh to this one.
It’s been a delight following Fairchild’s career since she first burst on the scene in Northampton in the mid-‘90s with her debut CD, She’s Not Herself. Fairchild moved to New York several years ago, where she’s been building a following at rock clubs like Arlene’s Grocery, Fez and the Bitter End.
Mr. Heart, the long-awaited follow-up to She’s Not Herself, is a great leap forward for Fairchild. Featuring 11 mainstream pop-rock songs, the album was produced by Adam Steinberg, who has worked with the Dixie Chicks, Sheryl Crow and Patty Griffin, among others.
Multi-instrumentalist Steinberg will be on hand next Thursday, February 28, as well as other members of Fairchild’s band, including drummer Phil Antoniades, bassist Jeff St. Pierre and guitarist Matty Cullen, when Fairchild celebrates the release of Mr. Heart at Club Helsinki at 9 p.m. For tickets call 528-3394.
Mr. Heart, which was recorded and mixed at the Clubhouse studio in Rhinebeck, N.Y., will appeal to fans of Sheryl Crow, Suzanne Vega and Shawn Colvin. Fairchild is an insinuating, versatile vocalist. She has a way of cutting through to a listener and singing with a relaxed, regular-girl intimacy, but not at the expense of the beauty and charm of her vocals.
She’s a rugged rock singer on “Beautiful Secret,” exposing the ragged edges of her voice, and a delicate balladeer on “Humble Pie,” a solo piano number in the vein of early Joni Mitchell. “Home” is a sensual bit of pop-soul, and “Movie” is a rootsy, folk-pop examination of self-absorption.
“Tuesday” is Fairchild’s contribution to the growing genre of “where were you on 9/11” songs. A stark, solo acoustic number featuring just her voice and guitar, the song captures with economical simplicity the paradigm-changing nature of the event, especially for those living and working in New York on that day. The Roy Orbison-style neo-rockabilly of “Shade of Blue” also seems to allude to the events of 9/11: “I see the F-16s in the September sky/I think this time they’re here to stay.”
Mr. Heart features instrumental contributions from drummer Gary Burke and bassist Graham Maby, noted for his work with Natalie Merchant and Joe Jackson. Steinberg’s brother, Sebastian Steinberg, of Soul Coughing, played bass on two tracks.
If you’re a white blues-rock guitar player, you couldn’t ask for a better endorsement than that of Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon. The drummer and bassist are better known as Double Trouble, the rhythm section that backed up the late great Texas blues-rock guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan.
So when Layton and Shannon offered to produce an album by Williamstown’s own Albert Cummings, whose main influence was Vaughan, the 33-year-old singer/guitarist was, needless to say, thrilled.
The resulting album, From the Heart, will have its official unveiling tomorrow night at Bennington College in Bennington, Vt., in a CD release concert to benefit the Pine Cobble School in Williamstown. Not only did Layton and Shannon produce the album, which features 11 songs, eight by Cummings, they also played on it, and called on keyboardist Reese Wynans to lend his funky touch.
The album includes modern, Robert Cray-style blues songs like “Your Own Way,” Clapton-style blues-rockers like “The Long Way,” and blues ballads like “Together As One.” “Regular Man” is a jazzy, B.B. King-style blues, and “Tell It Like It Is” is pure Texas boogie-rock. There’s plenty of electric guitar, and Cummings handles all the leads.
Cummings is quickly becoming well-known in the blues world, having performed with Double Trouble in Houston, San Antonio and Dallas, headlined at “Bluestock” in Memphis and other blues festivals, and most recently opening a dozen concerts for B.B. King in the Northeast and Florida.
From the Heart is available for purchase at most Berkshire music outlets.
The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown concludes its Southern Roots music series tonight with a sold-out show by Michael Doucet and Beausoleil. For a quarter century, Doucet has led the ensemble, playing rootsy, upbeat renditions of Cajun music, the folk and dance music of rural Louisianans, spiced with rock ‘n’ roll energy.
In Beausoleil’s hands, the fiddle and accordion-based acoustic Cajun music is spiced with electric bass and guitar and juiced with rock-style drumming. The group’s live album, Looking Back Tomorrow, is up for a Grammy Award next Wednesday in the Best Traditional Folk Album category, an award the group won in 1997 for L’Amour Ou La Folie.
Pop-rock outfit Smit-Haus makes its Albany debut at Valentines tonight. The group, led by Christopher “Smitty” Smith, a native of New Jersey and an alumnus of Brown University in Providence, plays a big, arena-size style of pop-rock akin to Matchbox 20 and Third Eye Blind, with a bit of a funk edge out of Red Hot Chili Peppers.
It’s been four years since the Pat Metheny Group, one of the most popular jazz ensembles of all time, has been heard from. During the hiatus, guitarist Metheny has experimented with several alternative lineups and formats, including a traditional jazz trio with Larry Grenadier and Bill Stewart.
But with Speaking of Now (Warner Bros.), the PMG’s 11th album, Metheny returns to the forefront of one of the most successful crossover jazz groups of all time. While the new CD features several new members of the PMG, including drummer Antonio Sanchez, vocalist/percussionist Richard Bona, and avant-garde trumpeter Cuong Vu, the music on Speaking of Now continues in the vein of PMG’s world-influenced, smooth pop-jazz with wordless vocals.
Welcoming Home the Astronauts (Epic)
It would be easiest to dis Flickerstick as a made-for-TV band, given its role in VH-1’s “Bands on the Run” series. But the Dallas-based quintet was a band before the TV show, and anyway they’re guilty of plenty more than just using TV to get to the top. From the evidence herein, guilty of listening to way too much Journey and Loverboy. But they do have some great song titles -- “Sorry, Wrong Trajectory,” “Hey or When the Drugs Wear Off” and “Direct Line to the Telepathic” – and on some of their moodier songs, such as “Smile” and “Coke,” they show evidence of actually having listened to Radiohead. But apparently in Texas everything is bigger, including overly-emotive male rock vocals.
Songs in A Minor (J)
Alicia Keys is the odds-on favorite to come out of Wednesday’s Grammy Awards the big winner for her debut album, a surprisingly smooth, mature, understated and retro-flavored, mainstream r&b effort that, as the title indicates, looks to Stevie Wonder’s landmark “Songs in the Key of Life” for its primary inspiration. While it’s not quite an achievement on a par with Wonder’s masterpiece, it’s a worthy tribute to Wonder’s influence, with its authentic jazz and classical shadings – the hit single, “Fallin’,” combines James Brown and Chopin – and it doesn’t pander. Keys exudes talent, but she has yet to demonstrate the distinctive voice or personality to make her a superstar, in spite of the very Aretha-like “Lovin U.”
[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on February 22, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]
[an error occurred while processing this directive]