by Seth Rogovoy
(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., May 20, 2004) – Two long-time Berkshire singer-songwriters unveil their latest recording projects at Club Helsinki (413-528-3394) on Sunday night at 8:30, when Michael Haynes and Fred Schane celebrate the release of their latest CDs. Haynes’s “Love and War” is a stripped-down affair, a Woody Guthrie-influenced effort with songs that ache with disappointment in the political leadership of the U.S. since the events of 9/11. But President Bush isn’t Haynes’s only target. In one of the album’s best songs, “The American Pie,” Haynes decries what he perceives as our cultures loss of purpose: “”We learned how to run, guess we ran too fast/Looks like our feet finally caught up to the past.” In “Joe,” Haynes salutes the sacrifices made by soldiers who bear the brunt of our government’s misguided war efforts.
The entire album isn’t about war – Haynes mixes things up with a few songs about relationships gone bad, and there are even a few genuinely optimistic song that earns the album the other half of its title. The CD has an intimate feel, with most of the songs featuring Haynes alone on acoustic guitar or mandolin, as if he’s just casually sitting on his back porch in Chesterfield, where the Dalton native now lives, and running through his songs only for you in an achy, resigned voice.
Fred Schane’s “Happy Now” is more of a solo rock affair than Haynes’s folksy effort. It boasts a minimalist feel, too, but includes rhythm tracks and dark, bubbling keyboard textures. The title could be meant ironically, as the songs have a dark, twisted feel – on “True,” he repeats “I will always be true to you” so many times that the protestation begins to undermine itself.
Michael Haynes isn’t the only Berkshire songwriter who’s been busy putting pen to paper in opposition to President Bush. A North County folksinger who goes by the moniker FolKenS.uch has rewritten the lyrics to the Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love” as “Bye Bye Bush,” and has burned a limited number of CD singles that he hopes will spur people to learn the song and sing it together, and then follow its suggestion in voting Bush out of office next November. “Bye bye Bush, bye bye Dick Cheney/ Hello democracy, I think I’m gonna smile/My vote is now worthwhile,” he sings. As a federal employee by day, FolKenS.uch has chosen to remain anonymous so as not to violate the Hatch Act regulating political speech by government workers. His CD is available, however, by sending e-mail to FolKenS.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hot Club of Cowtown
On “Continental Stomp” (Hightone), swing trio Hot Club of Cowtown makes so much music it’s hard to believe there are only three of them. But somehow, violinist/singer Elana Fremerman, guitarist/singer Whit Smith and bassist Jake Erwin have figured out a way to make their blend of Gypsy jazz, pre-rock pop standards, old-time country, and Bob Wills-inspired Western swing boast the dynamic punch of a big band. The Austin-based group brings its Texas-fried swing to Club Helsinki in Great Barrington on Tuesday, May 25, at 8.
Long before Mary Shelley dreamed up the tale of the Frankenstein monster, there was a Jewish legend about a golem – a man of clay who could be brought to life through an esoteric, mystical incantation. There is nothing esoteric or claylike about Golem the band, but the New York-based ensemble does breathe new life into its repertoire of classic and obscure Yiddish and Eastern European songs and ballads like “Belz” and “Roumania.” Golem -- led by singer/accordionist Annette Ezekiel and featuring fiddler Alicia Jo Rabins, a co-founder of the folk group The Mammals and a member of the Pioneer Valley-based string trio Underbelly -- shares a double bill on Thursday, May 20, at Club Helsinki, with the all-female, all-star klezmer ensemble Mikveh.
[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on May 20, 2004. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2004. All rights reserved.]
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