WFUV DJ John Platt is a fixture at Landmark on Main Street. Whether advising the staff on who to book or providing introductions for the folk series concerts, Platt’s signature “Hello music lovers” is a familiar welcome to Landmark visitors. Saturday night’s triple bill of Martyn Joseph, Amy Speace, and Brother Sun was part of Platt’s “On Your Radar” series – usually held on the second Tuesday of the month in NYC – which aims to expose the audience to musicians who should be “on your radar.” Before each artist performed, Platt conducted a short interview, adding a whole new level to the concert.
The first performer was Martyn Joseph, a Welsh singer/songwriter who you may not have heard of, but you should listen to. Joseph has already had a long career and put out over 30 albums, but is not a household name. Like the famous folksingers Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie who were an inspiration to Joseph, his music focuses on social justice, meaningful lyrics, and a strong message. Joseph is an incredibly talented guitarist – his complex strumming created the illusion of at least two guitars. He was also quite proficient on the harmonica. His voice has been compared to that of another of his inspiration, Bruce Springsteen, and indeed there is quite a similarity (although occasionally I heard a bit of Neil Diamond as well).
Joseph began his set with a fabulous song – “Lonely Like America” – which blended great lyrics, his powerful voice, and some superb guitar playing. I especially liked how in the middle of the song he morphed into Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” briefly before returning to his own song. Joseph also covered Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” Other highlights included the beautiful and sad “Clara” which he played on a tenor guitar, and “Beyond Us” from his most recent studio CD.
The second performer, Amy Speace, approaches her music from a literary standpoint, and uses her background as a Shakespearian actress to create complex characters in her songs. Speace was famously discovered by the legendary Judy Collins, who recorded one of her songs (“Weight of the World” which Speace performed at this concert). Speace accompanied her lovely clear voice with guitar, and on one song, piano. She performed several songs from her latest CD, How to Sleep in a Stormy Boat, including the title track, “The Fortunate Ones,” and “Hunter Moon,” which she entertainingly described as “Othello living in Nashville.” But I think my favorite was the song “Ghost” which was made all the more real by Speace’s story about the 18-year engagement of her grandparents. Speace was joined on her last number by Brother Sun’s Pat Wictor on slide guitar.
The final performers were a folk trio called Brother Sun. The group is comprised of three veterans of the folk scene: Pat Wictor, Greg Greenway, and Joe Jencks. I have been listening to Wictor for years, since I first heard him at a library performance a decade ago, however I had not had the pleasure of seeing this trio before. Leaving their instruments on stands, the trio burst into an acapella version of “What Must be Done,” and the magic of this group was instantly apparent. The stunned crowd was silent for a heartbeat before bursting into raucous applause. During the rest of the set, the guys took turns singing lead, while the others provided beautiful soaring harmonies. Some of my favorites were the lovely “Sister Moon,” featuring Wictor on lead vocal and electric guitar, “Jericho Road,” with Greenway taking the lead, and “Lady of the Harbor” featuring a masterful bouzouki solo by Jencks. Greenway played the keyboards and also guitar, Jencks has an extremely beautiful voice and is an adept guitarist, and Wictor is a highly regarded slide guitarist (and this is a particularly difficult instrument to play). But aside from the beautiful sounds, it was clear that these musicians are also beautiful inside and their set had the uplifting feeling of a revival meeting. They also performed “Love is the Water” which I’ve heard Wictor perform on numerous occasions, but the trio’s rendition gave it a whole new feeling. Brother Sun closed with a mind-bending mashup of U2’s “Pride (In the Name of Love)” with original material. If you love harmony, you will love the beautiful sounds of Brother Sun.
The encore was a delight. Brother Sun invited Joseph and Speace out and the five musicians (plus the audience) did a rousing version of “Irene Goodnight.” The perfect ending to a perfect, 3-hour concert.