The Best Things About Americana Music Week, Part I
by Kim Ruehl, for FolkAlley.com
1. Dr. John is a living legend. There are no two ways to put that.
He began his interview sitting on a chair, cane leaned against his knee, talking into a microphone like you might imagine one does when they’re being interviewed. But, it wasn’t long until Nick Spitzer [the interviewer] asked him to walk to the piano and deliver “one of those bebops your auntie taught you”, that the Doc truly seemed to enter his true skin. If that was a bebop his auntie taught him when he was just a boy, it was going to be serious business getting him to deliver anything he’s become capable of playing since. Of course, there was plenty of time for him to unleash his freakish talent, in between stories about Professor Longhair and other New Orleans music legends. His hands bounced up and down the keyboard with apparently effortless rhythm. Occasionally, under the bench, his foot would keep some kind of time for a few bars, then relent. For the most part, there was no basis, no foundation, no beat. Just old Malcolm’s hands, scampering across a keyboard, playing pure glory into the room.
2. Hurray for the Riff Raff is the real deal.
Speaking of New Orleans, Alynda Lee Segarra and her incredible band of Riff Raff, blew the roof off the tiny High Watt on Thursday night. I’d seen them do the same in a much bigger room (or, rather, a tent) at the Newport Folk Festival a month or so ago. But, seeing them delight and dazzle a room full of jaded industry folks was a whole other kind of amazing.
Segarra’s vocals are rich and deep, powerful and provocative, back by an old-soul-like weight which adds gravity to every lyric and note she unleashes.
3. Holly Williams makes people cry.
I tweeted after Holly Williams’ set at 3rd and Lindsley on Friday night that her song, “Waitin’ on June,” makes me cry every time. Several people responded that it does the same for them too – one man going so far as to say he noticed half the people in the front row at that same show were crying right along with us. The tune itself is a remarkable feat of folk-pop-country balladry, relaying the entire life story of her maternal grandparents, from the moment they met and fell in love, to their death and beyond. In six verses, she captures more nuance and import about the stuff in life that truly matters, than most songwriters her age could pull off in a whole album. Add to that a basics-only backing band and three-part harmonies that sound as often like a freight train as they do a gospel choir, and you get one of the finest showcase sets of the week so far.
(**CLICK HERE – to listen to the Americana Music Association Honors & Awards show and see more pictures from the event, plus other performances during the festival.**)