Barry and Holly Tashian
(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., June 20, 2004) – Barry Tashian is the kind of performer who makes everything look easy. As seen in his duo show with his wife, Holly, on Saturday night at the Guthrie Center, Tashian makes standing on stage, singing, playing the guitar, and bantering with the audience seem about as stressful as doing a load of wash.

He even joked during the show about the secret of his success. It had something to do with making the right decisions (and making the right wrong decisions), but it had more to do with experience, and in this case, experience was the ticket. Tashian has been performing for about 40 years, and although he has never become a household name (in spite of touring as an opening act with The Beatles), he has been around long enough to know how to combine innate talent, practice, and discipline and make them all seamless and invisible.

He and his wife, both Connecticut natives who have called Nashville home for over two decades, accomplished this in their first of two sets on an eclectic series of folk, country and swing tunes that played to their own strengths, especially their affinity for harmony singing. Country music in particular has a long tradition of close harmonizing, and on a version of Webb Pierce’s “More and More” and their own “Graveside Song,” adapted from an anonymous poem, the Tashians evoked the classic, high-lonesome style of harmonies most often associated with bluegrass.

But there was nothing purist about their program, either. Tashian’s earliest professional musical experience was playing rock ‘n’ roll, and in ever-so-subtle ways his rock roots kept showing. You could hear them in the chunky, low-register guitar licks on “Graveside Song,” reminiscent of Johnny Cash or Buck Owens. You could hear it in the Chuck Berry-like riffs running through “Hello Sorrow, Hello Pain,” a song they wrote for Del McCoury, in which Tashian’s acoustic guitar fulfilled the role of banjo. And you could hear it in the rockabilly-fueled train rhythms powering “My Window Faces South” that were miraculously met by the actual rhythms of a freight train flying past the Guthrie Center at the precise time they played the song. If you didn’t know better, you’d have thought they had consulted the train schedule and planned it that way.

Tashian also boasted a clear and very youthful voice and demeanor, one that blended ever so sweetly with his wife’s. The effect on songs including “That’s All I Know,” “My Happiness” and “Straw Into Gold” was similar to that of the Everly Brothers.

New York-based folk duo David Fishkin and Ellen Groves warmed up the crowd with a set of traditional and contemporary folk staples by the likes of Tim Hardin (“Reason to Believe”), Gillian Welch (“Orphan Girl”) and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott (“Cool Water”). The duo, who have done research at the Guthrie Archives in New York and who also harmonized beautifully, acknowledged the venue by performing some of Woody Guthrie’s music, too.

[This review originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on June 22, 2004. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2004. All rights reserved.]

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