Category Archives: Folk

All those music lessons paid off for Judy Collins

Judy CollinsBy Barry Gilbert 

Her enormous blue-gray-green eyes were half closed, her long hair swung gently across her back and her white-stockinged ankles urged the heavy beat. Judy Collins performed for her friends at the Oakdale Muscial Theater Sunday night.”

This is the lead paragraph of a concert review I wrote for the Hartford Courant on July 16, 1968. I was 19 – it clearly reads that way to me now – and I had quite the crush on the performer.

By then, Judy Collins, a classically trained pianist, had been a teen prodigy in Denver, performing Mozart with the Denver Symphony Orchestra at age 13. She was a veteran of the folk circuit and, drawing on her training, had already expanded her palette from guitar-accompanied folk music to orchestrated pop songs, art songs and show tunes.

She had recorded the groundbreaking “In My Life” and “Wildflowers” albums in 1966 and 1967, respectively, and “Who Knows Where the Time Goes,” her eighth, would be released a couple of months later. It would include her own composition, “My Father,” and feature songs by writers she continued to champion: Leonard Cohen, Ian Tyson, Sandy Denny, Bob Dylan and Robin Williamson.

I interviewed Judy Collins before her concert in her green room, a small trailer behind the venue in Wallingford, Conn., sitting across from her in the cramped quarters and staring into those eyes. She was the first celebrity/artist I had ever interviewed. I was starstruck and smitten, no doubt about it. 

Collins turned 75 on May 1. She is a worldwide performer, PBS star and road warrior equally at home with large orchestras or simply with her piano and guitar. She has survived alcoholism and laser surgery to save her voice, and lived through the 1992 tragedy of losing her son to suicide. She wrote about that in bestselling books, “Singing Lessons” (1998) and “Sanity and Grace” (2003), and is an advocate for the mentally ill.

The recent “Live in Ireland” is her 50th release.

So it was a real treat to interview her again after all these years, by phone from her home in New York City in advance of her concert in Edwardsville, Ill., on May 17, 2014.

My only regret is I couldn’t see those eyes.

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My favorite roots-music CDs of 2013

By Barry Gilbert

It’s that time of year when I look back and think: Man, I dropped a lot of money on music this year. Again. So here’s my Top 10 list of the best roots music of 2013. Feel free to disagree. But keep in mind, these are the one’s that stuck among the albums I heard this year, and I didn’t hear anywhere close to everything. Nobody did.

And with 18 days remaining in the year, something great might slip into the mailbox before it’s over — like today, when Jimmer Podrasky’s “The Would-Be Plans” arrived. Can’t wait to dive into this long-overdue new work by the leader of the long-defunct Rave-Ups. Who knows, I might have to revise this list.

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Iris DeMent, a perfectionist of spirit, comes to a musical crossroad

Iris DeMent // Photo by Pieta Brown

By Barry Gilbert
Special to Go! Magazine

ST. LOUIS – The saying “good things come to those who wait” epitomizes folk singer Iris DeMent as well as her fans. It took 16 years for DeMent to release her fourth studio CD, last year’s “Sing the Delta.” And that gap says volumes about DeMent and, as she put it, “my music career, if you want to call it that.”

DeMent, who performs with a full band Friday (Nov. 22, 2013) at the Sheldon Concert Hall, is a perfectionist of spirit. If her writing doesn’t move her, she won’t record it.

As the years passed after the release of “The Way I Should” in 1996, “I kept trying to write, but there was just no life to it,” DeMent says by phone from her home in Iowa City, Iowa. “And I didn’t feel like making a record that was just a bunch of songs that didn’t have life and spirit to them. … My secret fear is that I’m a lazy ass, but I don’t think that’s it, because I (put in the work).”

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Peter Cooper hits it out of the park on ‘Opening Day’

Peter Cooper
Peter Cooper

By Barry Gilbert

As I write this, Opening Day is just three hours away – well, Opening Day of the 2013 World Series. A good time to listen anew to Peter Cooper’s recent CD, “Opening Day.”

The bases on “Opening Day” (Red Beet Records) are loaded – with the humor, warmth and honesty that have marked Cooper’s previous solo albums as well as his contributions to three CDs with duo partner Eric Brace (who harmonizes on this CD).

opening day cvr(2)The CD cover is evocative of the music within: a photo of Cooper as a boy at his first major league game, in 1978 in Atlanta. “I’ve been coming since before I can remember,” Cooper sings. “ I’ve seen the pictures to prove it was so.”

And with just the Cardinals and the Red Sox standing, out of the 30 teams that had such high hopes back in April, the chorus of the title track has never been sharper (Cubs fans might want to avert their eyes):

“All’s well that ends well/ ’round here things don’t end well/ but we’re tied for first with the whole summer left to play/ the fall breaks kind for the lucky ones/ winter comes even to the champions/ keep the aftermath and the epitaph/ give me Opening Day.”

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Curtis McMurtry, third-generation storyteller, begins his journey

By Barry Gilbert

curtis mcmurtry Jul 27, 2013 9-39 PM About six years ago, Kelly House Concerts in St. Louis presented Justin Townes Earle, a young man who was all but unknown save for his famous last name. On Saturday night, KHC presented Curtis McMurtry – son of musician James, grandson of novelist Larry – and it will be interesting to see whether this young college grad travels a career arc similar to that of the son of Steve Earle.

It shouldn’t be ruled out. As with the Earle show, a small audience of about 30 gathered in Kelly’s listening space, drawn by the enthusiasm of the hostess and curiosity about McMurtry. Would his voice hint of the droll, deadpan delivery of his dad? Would his songs convey details of time and place like the writing of both dad and granddad?

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