Tim Grimm's estimable company
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., June 17, 2004) – If you measure a man by the company he keeps, Tim Grimm is rather estimable. On his new CD, “Coyote’s Dream” (Vault), he is accompanied by Ramblin’ Jack Elliott on one number and Stacey Earle on another. But it’s Grimm’s own voice that grabs a listener from the get-go – that and the spare, acoustic string-band arrangements peppered with piano and percussion. The Indiana native and singer-songwriter who also includes storyteller, actor and hay farmer on his resume, writes modern American folk songs bolstered by his Midwestern authenticity. His concerts at the Steppenwolf Theatre and Schubas earned him the label as 2000’s “Best Discovery” on the roots/Americana scene in the Chicago Sun-Times, and Indianapolis Monthly included him as its favorite singer-songwriter in its year-end “Best of Indy” issue. “Coyote’s Dream” includes several Woody Guthrie-associated tunes, including “Buffalo Skinners” and “1913 Massacre,” so it’s only appropriate that Grimm performs at the Guthrie Center (413-528-1955) in Great Barrington on Friday night at 8.

Eric Clapton: Battling the blues

“A thoroughly gentrified version of the blues.” “Worse than being bad, the album’s just kind of vacant.” “Rehearsed and controlled.” “A vanity project.” “Unnecessarily tame.” Eric Clapton certainly took his critical drubbings for his latest album, “Me and Mr. Johnson” (Reprise), a 14-song tribute to his greatest influence, the delta blues pioneer Robert Johnson. Blues aficionados can be hard on latter-day pretenders – insisting on nothing less than faithful reconstructions of the originals, and then claiming inauthenticity or worse. But for the general listener and this one in particular, Clapton’s arrangements on his latest CD are soulful – his singing has matured gracefully over the years – and even innovative on occasion – he plays a swinging, jug-band version of “They’re Red Hot.” And more than that, they make clear his love for Johnson’s music, which after all, is what it was all about. In any case, the 16-time Grammy Award winner and the only triple Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee will undoubtedly perform songs from his vast catalog of solo originals and his work with bands including Cream, Blind Faith, the Yardbirds and Derek and the Dominos when he performs at the Pepsi Arena in Albany on Wednesday, June 23.

Fred Eaglesmith: Manic sensitivity

Just when you think Fred Eaglesmith is an antic, maniacal performer – a latter-day, Canadian version of Warren Zevon, perhaps – such as when he barrels through one of his most popular, rowdy songs, “Freight Train,” he throws you a sentimental curve with a beautiful, haunting ballad, such as “Summerlea.” As heard on “The Official Bootleg Series Vol. 1: Live Solo 2002,” for every song that seemingly pokes good-natured fun at his subjects Eaglesmith invests tenderness and sympathy in characters like those in “He’s a Good Dog.” If at times he straddles the line between sympathy and sarcasm, it’s with the artful songcraft of a Randy Newman. “God never wanted me to be a musician, and then finally after twenty years he said OK, I’m gonna let you be one because you’re so bad,” Eaglesmith told the Eagle in an interview several years ago. Who knew he’d turn out to be so good? Eaglesmith is at Club Helsinki (413-528-3394) in Great Barrington tonight at 8.

Ed Kohn: Remembering Berkshires’ best

A group of local musicians, family members and friends will gather at the Water Street Grill (413-458-2175) in Williamstown tonight at 8 to remember Ed Kohn, the late Berkshire singer-songwriter who died too young and too early in the summer of 1999. Among those expected to be on hand to pay tribute to Kohn, who was among the regulars who used to perform at the regular Acoustic Brew song-swaps that took place at Water Street throughout the 1990s, are a who’s who of local musical talent, including JoAnne Spies, Bruce Wheat, Charlie Mead, Jared Polens, Joel and Lisa Sturz, Bob Brooks, Phil Remillard, Robin Lehleitner, Bob Ouellette, and Kohn’s son Ben.

Last year, Kohn’s wife, Valerie, and Williamstown producer Keith Forman produced “Times Gone By,” a posthumous recording featuring 23 previously-unreleased tracks by Kohn, who was a terrific songwriter as comfortable writing nature ballads as family epics, break-up songs, children’s songs, satirical tunes and topical numbers that sent up socio-cultural trends, like Internet dating (“A Ten”), grade inflation (“Grades in D”) and psychopharmacology (“Prozac”).

Kohn, a native of Glens Falls, N.Y., who lived in Windsor and who variously worked as a college financial aid director, a city redevelopment planner, a teacher of English as a second language, and a family magazine editor, was a prolific writer, completing about 115 songs in the last decade of his life. He released several cassette recordings before he died, including “Pressure-Treated Town,” “The Greens,” and “Double Yellow Line.” Towards the end of his life, he began garnering some national recognition -- one of his best-loved songs, the novelty number “Six,” was recorded by Trout Fishing in America, and “The Greens” won a “Parent’s Choice” award.

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on June 17, 2004. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2004. All rights reserved.]

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