Monday, January 7, 2013

Sweet Baby James, at Hugh's Room (Jan.4/13)

The drive to Hugh's Room on a Friday evening is not as bad as it might be. You don't have to go on the Gardiner, so you save a lot of trouble and if you know enough to stay to the left as you go up Parkside, it's pretty smooth sailing. Free parking at the grocery store lot across the street is a real bonus in the Big Smoke. Then it's a short stroll across Dundas to the best (or certainly one of the best) music venues in Southern Ontario. A Man Called Wrycraft is dining with the musicians who will perform James Taylor's songs tonight, and as my wife and I enter the room his voice booms, "Kidney!...and, ummm, Mrs. Kidney!" It's nice to be noticed. There's a buzz in the room tonight, there was a full page article in the Sun today announcing this show, another in a series of Wrycraft organized tribute concerts. The way he does it is, select an artist (he does Tom Waits every year, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Randy Newman, The Beatles and even Pink Floyd) and ask eight singers/bands to do two songs each. Then you pays yer money and you takes yer chances! We take our table, order a drink, order dinner, dine and wait for 8:30. Michael Wrycraft is a big dude, wearing a black t-shirt with a design of his own creation on the front. He has a great head of hair and a finely trimmed beard, and a voice like Orson Welles. He knows a lot about music, and he especially knows what he likes...and he LIKES James Taylor. Me too. I first saw JT at Mariposa in 1970. The Sweet Baby James album was just being released so no-one knew what to expect. He'd been on Apple Records, and if he was good enough to pass the Beatles test, he was going to pass ours. We spent the day on Toronto Island listening to David Rea, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, and many others. JT was playing the big show at night. He seemed shy, self-effacing, maybe a bit clumsy...and he couldn't get his electric guitar to work when he tried singing the Coke ad for us. I bought his album the very next day! and have bought everything he's released ever since. Even records on which he sings harmony are in my collection because his harmonies are just downright amazing. Listen to "Back In The High Life" by Steve Winwood if you don't believe me! Anyway, suffice it to say expectation were high for a good time tonight. It started off well enough as Sam Turton and a few friends took the stage and did acceptable renditions of "Shower the People" and "Mexico"...and they were followed by Ivy Mairi who introduced "Blossom" a song she claimed to have heard on the Amchitka live album. "Blossom" is an older tune, from 1970's Sweet Baby James album, and the Amchitka concert was in October of '70, but the album wasn't released until 2009! Well, you can't expect everyone to have such a long history with these artists as old guys like me (and Wrycraft) do! Mexican guitarist Quique Escamilla did a reggae spiced "How Sweet It Is" and a rough "Gorilla" (Wrycraft had requested this tune, a forgotten gem from 1975's album of the same name). Then The Donefors provided the first real highlight of the night by doing spot on versions of two songs which are personal favourites of mine. First "Copperline" from 1991's New Moon Shine is almost perfect, harmonies, rhythms, instrumentation...aah! Then they top it with "In line, in line, they're all in a line, my ducks are all in a row..." The first half ends on a high! Dessert arrives during the break, and a cup of coffee. i run out to the lobby to pick up a copy of the poster Wrycraft designs for each of his tribute shows, and grab Sam Turton's CD since he mentions that he plays a lot of slide guitar, "this is my Ry Cooder hand, and this is my James Taylor hand" he says. I'm curious to hear how those two hands work together. Jory Nash opens the second half with powerful takes on "Fire and Rain" and "Something in the Way She Moves". Burke Carroll gives a two song workshop on the beauty of the pedal steel guitar, if Jadea Kelly (who joined him for vocals) had seemed familiar with the songs it would have been a highlight, too. She didn't even get the melody right for "Bartender's Blues". Her admission that the first time she heard James Taylor was on an episode of The Simpsons was terrifying! This iconic songwriter and singer is a yellow faced ink sketch now! (Shudder!) Jacob Moon proved that he takes his job seriously. All week he'd been promoting this Tribute Concert on facebook, and on his YouTube site. He posted a series of solo performances of JT tunes, and ran a little contest for free tickets. He sang a lovely version of "Song For You Far Away" from JT's That's Why I'm Here album. Next Jacob played the song that made him the absolute star of the night. He had remixed some of Taylor's own recording of "Traffic Jam" and sang and played guitar over JT's backing. It was stunning and deserved all the applause and cheers! Wrycraft admitted, "I don't even know what to say about that." If you can render Michael speechless you're really doin' something! Unfortunately the night reached its nadir right after Jacob's mountaintop experience. The duo Scarlett Jane took the stage and murdered both "You've Got a Friend" and "Steamroller". Their harmonies were off, their grasp of the blues non-existent, they acted as though they'd been practising looking 'sexy' in front of the mirror at home. They should've listened to the original recordings a couple more times. Hugely disappointing. Then Michael called all the artists back on stage for a rousing romp through the classic "Sweet Baby James". These closers are usually as loose as a goose (or a flock of geese) and Friday night was no exception, but it did help to take the sting off a bit. Out into the cold for an easy drive home, and a weekend spent listening to the originals. Gotta love that sweet lovin' man JT! Baby, don't you loose your lip on him!