Fall 2003 folk preview
by Seth Rogovoy

(BOSTON, Mass., September 11, 2003) -- “I call this ‘The Ugly Loggins and Messina Tour,’” says Vance Gilbert about hitting the road this fall with fellow singer-songwriter Ellis Paul. The two, who first met as aspiring performers at the Naked City Coffeehouse in Allston in 1989, have been best friends ever since and have occasionally shared concert bills, but they have never before embarked on a full-fledged tour together.

But with the release earlier this week of Side of the Road (Philo), the former roommates are now officially a duo – at least for the time being. They head out next month for a cross-country tour that brings them back to their hometown on November 22, when they perform at the Somerville Theatre (617-328-3390).

The duo album and tour were sparked in part by the desire to address the aftermath of 9/11 in song. “We sat down and went through our respective album collections, looking for more peer-oriented things that were healing,” said Gilbert.

Some of the tunes they came up with were written expressly about 9/11, like Mark Erelli’s “The Only Way” and the album’s only Gilbert/Paul co-write, “Citizen of the World.” Others, like the Lucinda Williams-penned title track and Neil Young’s “Comes a Time,” more generally address issues of comfort and healing. The two singers, who alternate lead vocals and harmonies on each track and who co-produced, were helped out by an all-star team of Boston-based instrumental talent, including guitarist Duke Levine, bassist Richard Gates, keyboardist Tom West and drummer Lorne Entress.

Gilbert says it’s their obvious differences that initially attracted the two mildly competitive friends to each other.

“We couldn’t be more diametrically opposed in our approach,” said the Philadelphia native who now calls Arlington home. “I think our bond or tie came from seeing what the other had that the other did not. I was initially duly impressed with his whole approach to telling a story with a song, and I guess he was impressed with the fact that I was an entertainer who could keep people laughing. We took those differences to heart and upped our antes, looking at what the other was doing. It was sort of a coagulation of differences that brought us together musically.”

While Gilbert and Paul, who recently moved back to his native Maine, haven’t given up their day jobs as solo singer-songwriters, they’re not ruling out the possibility of further duo projects in the future.

“Who knows, if something really big happened with it, we’d be fools to say no,” said Gilbert. “We’re just doing this for fun, but you never know -- anything could happen.
There’s no formal plan of us being the next Loggins and Messina. But if there were, I’d be Loggins.”

Born and raised in the small town of Moscow, Idaho, Josh Ritter planned to follow in his neuroscientist parents’ footsteps until Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash’s duet on “Girl from the North Country” hooked him on folk. After college, he moved to Boston and began gigging in places like Club Passim before touring Ireland, where he hit it big last year with a Top 40 single, “Me and Jiggs,” from his 2001 debut, Golden Age of Radio. Following in Dylan’s footsteps, he’s already placed a song from his haunting follow-up, Hello Starling (Signature Sounds) – which came out earlier this week -- on Joan Baez’s upcoming CD (see below). Ritter celebrates Hello Starling with a show tonight (September 12) at the Paradise (617-562-8800).

On his upcoming album, Old Futures Gone (Red House), due out on September 23, John Gorka -- now a 45-year-old father of two young children -- peppers his new songs with soulful keyboards, upbeat, guitar-driven melodies colored by harmonies provided by Lucy Kaplansky and Alice Peacock, and references to his kids (“Do you make them crazy or do they start that way?”). Former award-winning Boston restaurateur Mary Gauthier will warm up the crowd for Gorka when he celebrates the release of Old Features Gone at the Somerville Theatre (617-661-1252).

Ever since she introduced mainstream audiences to songwriters like Bob Dylan, Robbie Robertson and Tim Hardin in the Sixties, Joan Baez has drawn her repertoire from the pool of well-known and lesser-known contemporary songwriters. Dark Chords on a Big Guitar (Koch), released earlier this week, continues in this vein. Her first album in six years boasts songs by Steve Earle, Gillian Welch, Ryan Adams, Natalie Merchant and Greg Brown, among others. Baez will also be the subject of a four-CD retrospective, The Complete A&M Years, due out on September 23, which will include previously unreleased material as well as her landmark Diamonds and Rust album. Baez performs at
the Berklee Performance Center (617-747-2261) on October 11.

Six-time Boston Music Award nominee Kris Delmhorst has been a steady presence on the Boston folk scene since the mid-‘90s, selling 25,000 copies of her two self-released CDs and touring the U.S. and Europe with the likes of Dar Williams, Chris Smither, Catie Curtis and Mary Gauthier. Her latest album, Songs for a Hurricane (Signature Sounds), produced by Morphine’s Billy Conway and featuring a baker’s dozen rootsy, organic, turbulent new songs that will appeal equally to the Patty Larkin and Ani DiFranco crowds, is bound to propel her into the front ranks of the contemporary singer-songwriter crew. Fellow Boston singer-songwriter Peter Mulvey will be on hand to help Delmhorst celebrate her new CD at the Somerville Theatre (617-628-3390) on October 18.

Among the nearly 100 musicians who will perform at the sixth annual Boston Folk Festival produced by folk radio station WUMB 91.9 FM on the campus of UMass-Boston (617-287-6911) on September 19-21 are Irish group Danu, country singer Emmylou Harris, singer-songwriters Richard Shindell, Kate Campbell, Catie Curtis and Greg Brown, Sixties legend Tom Rush, blues-folk singer Les Sampou, Irish singer-songwriter Paul Brady, and Carol Noonan, who has lately been exploring old-time country and western songs.

Chris Smither will finally get around to marking the release of his 11th album, Train Home (Hightone), which came out earlier this summer, with back-to-back concerts at the Regent Theatre in Arlington (781-646-4849) on October 31 and November 1. A mainstay of the Boston folk scene since the legendary Club 47 days, when he rubbed shoulders with the likes of Bob Dylan and Bonnie Raitt, Smither acknowledges that era with a version of Dylan’s “Desolation Row,” on which Raitt joins him on harmony vocals and slide guitar. Elsewhere on the album, Smither covers numbers by Mississippi John Hurt, Richie Furay and the late Dave Carter, but as fans know, the New Orleans native’s own songwriting – represented by seven new songs -- has grown ever more passionate and poetic in recent years.

Visionary violinist and bandleader Matt Glaser follows up Wayfaring Strangers’ wonderful debut of two years ago, Shifting Sands of Time, with This Train (Rounder). Like its predecessor, the album explores affinities between old-time and swing in arrangements of traditional folk and gospel filtered through jazz and other world musics. This time out the core of the band includes banjoist Tony Trischka, guitarist/mandolinist John McGann, pianist Laszlo Gardony, drummer Jamey Haddad, and bassist Jim Whitney, with Tracy Bonham, Ruth Ungar and Aoife O’Donovan supplying the vocals. The group performs at the Somerville Theatre (617-876-4275) on November 15.

In March 2002, Rosalie Sorrels’ 40-year career was the subject of a tribute concert at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge. Joining the 60-something folksinger and storyteller was a six-piece band and guest artists including Pat Sky, Jean Ritchie, Peggy Seeger, Christine Lavin, Loudon Wainwright III and David Bromberg, honoring her rich legacy on the occasion of her retirement from active touring. The concert, originally recorded for broadcast, has been completely re-mixed and will be released as a live album, My Last Go Round (Way Out in Idaho), in time for a rare live appearance by Sorrels on November 21 at the First Church of Cambridge, Congregational (617-661-1252).

Mercedes Sosa’s politically-oriented Latin folk was the voice of protest in her native Argentina in the late 1970s. She performs at the Berklee Performance Center (617-661-1252) on September 28. Folk legend Ronnie Gilbert tells the story of her life -- from learning union songs at her mother’s knee to her years with the Weavers, through surviving the 1950’s witch-hunt and blacklist to her work midwifing the women’s music movement with Holly Near – in her one-woman show, “Ronnie Gilbert: A Radical Life with Song” at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge (617-661-1252) on October 19. Righteous babe Ani DiFranco is at the Orpheum (617-661-1252) on November 16. Canadian art-folk singer Jane Siberry is at Sanders Theatre (617-661-1252) on November 22. Folk comediennes Cheryl Wheeler and Christine Lavin – whose a cappella Christmas album, The Runaway Christmas Tree (Appleseed), is due out on October 21 -- join forces at Tuckerman Hall in Worcester (508-754-1234) on November 29. Catie Curtis and Laura Love share a double-bill at the Somerville Theatre (617-661-1252) on December 5. Highlights of Club Passim’s (617-492-7679) fall season include Pamela Means on September 21, Nerissa and Katryna Nields on October 17, Mark Erelli on October 24 and Bill Morrissey on November 15.

[This article originally appeared in the Boston Phoenix on September 11, 2003. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]

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