If my syntax seems a bit shaky, it’s because I’m writing from the “quiet” car of an Amtrak train I boarded at Williamsburg, VA, bound for Washington DC. It’s comfy enough, but now I know how a mango feels as it’s being pulverized into a smoothie.
Shaky would not be the word for last Saturday’s Sullivan County Songwriter Circle. Surprising, maybe. Dynamic. Unique. Energetic. Heartfelt. All of these might apply to Sara Hulse, performing songwriter from Loch S, who energized us with her beautiful songs, voice and personality. More on Sara in a minute.
The sun shone into the Catskill Distillery, proving that, at last, if you can persevere, spring will tease you, with a glimpse from behind winter’s curtain. OK, herein, I promise to wane poetic. Here’s how All Girl Saturday unfolded:
With my nod to The Great American Songbook, I performed the great standard, “Blues In The Night,” by Johnny Mercer (lyrics) and Harold Arlen (music). Covered by everyone from Ella to Sinatra, I choose the form and key (F) of Rosemary Clooney’s big hit. I like singing it in this key and, maybe it brings me a bit closer to her nephew, George…(in my dreams at least). Listen to the internal rhyme (“take my word, the mockingbird…”) and the form. When I perform one of my American Songbook shows, I always compare this tune to “St. Louis Woman,” the first blues standard, composed by W. Handy. The form of this Arlen/Mercer masterpiece is most definitely lifted from Handy’s breakthrough song (recorded by Bessie Smith, Mae West, et al).
Our audience surprised me by giving their full attention to the music. They were most appreciative. The more handmade spirits, the better I sound, I guess. I followed with my ditty, “Friends In High Places,” a two step, with Travis picking, up and down the fretboard. It was featured in my show, “Relative Pitch,” produced by The Cherry Lane Theatre last Feb/March. But enough about moi. Let’s get to Sara.
She took the stage with her “Fluke.” It’s a fiberglass, four string ukelele that she’s jerry-rigged with an electric pickup. Sara started her set with her song, “Under Your Wings,” a reggae-influenced beauty. (I hope she will post the lyrics here.) I was completely enthralled with her. It’s a wonderful song; I hope to hear it again soon. But the thing is: it’s Sara. She is a completely self-contained, original artist. With a voice as true and friendly as Taylor Swift, she digs deep and expresses a bouncy soulfulness. She followed with “Tabula Rasa,” a song with country and Celtic influences (Celtry?) and “Trouble,” with a home on the rangy feel. I got to play some guitar behind her and we curly girls rocked.
Sara is in the process of recording a cd of her originals. I’ll be lining up for one.
Carol Smith, who, with Aldo Troiani, will be hosting SC^2 in my absence next Saturday April 6, was in the house. She performed her 2-week old song, “White Bird,” and my fav, “Sycamore Tree.” She let me play some guitar licks and sing a couple o’ high notes behind her.
“Sara. Would you like to join us and sing some harmony?” Sure enough, Sara joined Carol and me on her catchy “Eliza.” Three part all-girl harmony. That’s what its all about. We continued with “In The Moonlight,” Carol’s rocker.
“Looks like it’s all girls today,” Sara said. Her friend, musician, Matthew Madri had accompanied Sara, Sara’s mom and Magnolia, Sara and Matthew’s child, to the afternoon session. While Sara was beaming about the girl thang, Matthew was auditioning my Baby Martin guitar.
“There’s nothing wrong with having a penis,” I heard him mutter. I turned on him and declared,
“Now that’s a song you need to write.” I started singing his words as a lilting, repetitive chorus. It definitely has a ring to it. Matthew, I expect you to carry out the full exposition of this story that you have to tell. (I can’t understand why he shrank to the back of the room at that point. BTW, he’s rather tall and easy to locate.)
We brought Sara back to the stage. She performed “Good Things,” a “feel good” song about what’s true (i.e. money’s not important) and “Guilty” a darker, bluesy song with redemption as subtext.
Carol and I added some harmonies and guitar backing. As I listened to Carol and Sara I hit upon the essence of who we are:
WE DON’T WRITE SONGS BECAUSE WE WANT TO…
WE WRITE SONGS BECAUSE WE HAVE TO.
In the back of the beautiful room, I noticed Carol and a lovely lady, going over a new tune. Turns out, another member of our audience is a songwriter. Her name is Joanne. After a few minutes, she and Carol took the microphones up front. Joanne sang her tune (sorry, I don’t have the title), which was a wonderful story about honoring the little girl in the mirror who gains wisdom as she grows into adulthood and beyond. I hope Joanne will come back again. This was her first time, I believe, performing her song in public. Major props to her!
Morgan Mc Carthy, Distillery tour guide and bartender, just back from the annual conference of theatrical tech in Milwaukee, came up and ripped through “Walking After Midnight.” She was awesome, full of power, as she experienced a feeding frenzy for her talents as a scenic designer at said conference. Morgan is a rising scenic design star. We bend the “originals only” rules for Morgan, but girl, I know you’re writing.
“Carol! Do you have any more songs with a strong chorus we can harmonize?” Sure enough, Carol took out her notebook and she launched into her freshly made, “Bakery Girl.” With three girl voices in harmony, it was a tasty mix. “I never played that song before for anyone,” Carol said.
And that one statement makes me happy. SC^2 continues to discover new artists, new songs, community.
Five pm arrived quickly. Stacy had appeared while we were packing up. She was grinning ear to ear. Our crowd had mostly dispersed. Sara picked up her Fluke and started singing “I Will Fly Away.” This is the hymn written in 1929 by Albert E. Brumley, who published over 600 songs, including “Turn Your Radio On.” Most recently we’ve heard Allison Kraus and Gillian Welch on the “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou” soundtrack. (Ah Clooney…swooney.) As Sara, our wandering minstrel, walked back to Stacy, Carol and me, we all chose our harmony notes on the ringing gospel chorus and filled the room with four big voices. Wow. A perfect ending to a gorgeous SC^2 session.
This coming Saturday, April 6, SC^2 will meet next door in The Dancing Cat Saloon, from 3-5, hosted by Little Sparrow (Carol and Aldo’s band). If you’d like to come early, you might just hear Little Sparrow rehearsing some of Carol’s original tunes…the ones we first heard at SC^2. But who’s counting!
My train seems to be pulling into a station. The conductor just said “staplesville.” Really? “Staplesville…next stop Richmond.” Great. I thought we might be stopping at the “Home Depot.” Oh…there’s a sign…It’s Staples Mill. Not Staplesville. My bad.
Have fun with Carol and Aldo at The Dancing Cat Saloon this Saturday. See you next week. BTW…boys are invited!
(For more on my Washington DC trip to join the rally to save public education, see http://www.yomizthebook.com.)