Final show in the Fabulous Folk series was a winner for local concertgoers
One thing was clear by the end of the final performance in Landmark’s Fabulous Folk series — Girls Rule! The performance featured a well-chosen double bill of female folk performers: a trio, Red Molly, and the amazing Susan Werner.
This was Red Molly’s second appearance at Landmark. They previously did a double bill with Pat Wictor, one of my personal favorites. I liked them then, and I liked them even more this time around. The trio is made up of three attractive, young and talented women — Abbie Gardner (dobro, guitar), Laurie MacAllister (bass, guitar, banjo) and Carolann Solebello (guitar, bass). The three first harmonized around a campfire at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, and the magic was apparent immediately. The trio has such tight harmonies that it’s almost impossible to pick out a single voice. Plus, each woman’s voice is good enough to sing lead — and in fact they often switch off.
Two of my very favorite things about Red Molly are the way that they share instruments and their charming stage presence. Regarding the first — How many times have you seen male performers take off their instruments and trade with their fellow performers? The answer is probably “never.” Yet the three members of Red Molly traded their instruments around proving two things: girls are good at sharing, and these are some very talented women. Each is a multi-instrumentalist — adept at the guitar, and a second stringed instrument. On stage, they banter and charm the audience with their country-tinged folk. The trio’s announced that their latest CD, “James,” was at No. 4 on the Americana chart, which is quite a feat for a band on an independent label. They played a number of songs from the new CD, including “Jezebel,” “Falling In,” “The Last Call” and “Poor Boy.”
One of the highlights for me was “The Mind of the Soldier” — winner of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest. Written by Gardner, the song was touching and beautiful, as is Gardner’s exquisite slide guitar work. She makes playing seem absolutely effortless. Another highlight, and an audience favorite, was the encore — an a cappella version of Susan Werner’s “May I Suggest.” Werner joined the trio on stage and they sang in four-part harmony (with Werner taking the bass line — who knew she was capable of that?) Red Molly is a group that is definitely worth hearing, especially if you like Americana or country-style folk.
Werner was a real eye-opener for me. I had never seen or heard her before, and had no idea what a treat I was in for (although the person sitting next to me in the audience kept extolling Werner’s virtues throughout the intermission). If I were asked to describe Werner’s music, I would have to say that she sounds like the bastard child of Tom Lehrer and Joan Osborne, with a little bit of Broadway thrown in. Her vocal range is incredible, plus she combines a powerful voice with the ability to cover a variety of styles. Mix that in with a razor-sharp wit, humor and intellect, plus superb instrumental skills (on both guitar and piano) and you have Werner. She’s her own one-man band.
She treated the audience to a couple of songs from her 2007 CD “The Gospel Truth,” which is sort of an agnostic gospel album. During the clever “Our Father” (The New Revised Edition), I got my first glimpse of Werner’s Lehrer-like style. “Lord give us strength to bring compassion to every corner of the world. And please allow for women in the Catholic priesthood. And remind the Pope that he coulda been a girl.” The lyrics are witty and scathing, yet the song is upbeat Country. Werner was joined on stage by Red Molly during this song, and I wrote in my notes that it sounds like the Andrews Sisters on acid — sunny and twisted. Werner did other songs from this CD, including the excellent “(Why is Your) Heaven So Small,” and “Did Trouble Me.”
Werner switched effortlessly from the guitar to the piano, playing both expertly. In fact, I’ve rarely seen a guitarist who was such a good pianist. A highlight of her performance was a very timely rendition of Marvin Gaye’s 1971 hit “Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology).” Another standout was the poignant “I Can’t Be New,” a cabaret-style song. Werner described the style as “cabaret — popular with middle-aged women and gay boys everywhere.” She keeps up a patter between songs, witty and often self-deprecating. “Chicago Any Day” was a powerhouse take off of “I’ll Take Manhattan” where she expressed her love for her town.
But without a doubt, the highlight of the entire evening was Werner’s jaw-dropping performance of “Let’s Regret This in Advance.” The clever lyrics blended with the perfect Cole Porter-ish music had the audience laughing out loud as she sang: “If we’re about to do, what we set out to do, when we began this little dance. Let’s not wait until it’s over. Let’s just regret this in advance.” As if that wasn’t enough, in the middle of the song she began to do a vocal “trumpet” solo — which sounded, amazingly, like a trumpet. The “trumpet of remorse” she called it, much to the audience’s delight. Then she sang the final verse in a Louis Armstrong “Satchmo” voice. Basically, I could not believe the sounds that came out of that woman.
I will never, ever, miss a Werner performance again if she plays anywhere near me. (Susan — if you are reading this — you have a new fan.) Werner is an incredible talent who can cover a broad range of musical genres. She closed the evening with a heartrending piano ballad, “Manhattan, Kansas,” which will appear on her next CD release, scheduled for January 2011. I can’t wait.
This was the last show in Landmark’s Fabulous Folk series, and fabulous it was. The 2010-11 season is shaping up to be an outstanding one, with performances by Shawn Colvin, Loudon Wainwright III, and The Roches, among others.