LIVE: Sheesham & Lotus/Jan Bell & the Maybelles @ Caffe Lena, 1/20/12

Sheesham and Lotus (photo by Joseph Deuel)
Sheesham and Lotus (photo by Joseph Deuel)

Review and photograph by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Additional photograph by Joe Deuel

One of the problems facing a broad range of non-commercial musical styles today is attracting younger audiences. The other side of that problem is finding younger musicians playing in those styles of music.

When the average person thinks of folk music, it’s likely that a very small group of 1960s and ’70s icons come to mind. Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul & Mary, Jim Croce, Cat Stevens, Simon & Garfunkel, Don McLean, Carol King and James Taylor would be at the top of that list. It’s interesting to note that all of them crossed over to the commercial side of the musical coin, and because of that they are still being heard on “classic” radio today.

But what about the hundreds, if not thousands, of other folk performers from that era and in the now who have a fan base in the ever-graying audiences that frequent churches, small cafes and pint-sized venues that present these performers? In our area, we’re very lucky to have Caffe Lena, the Eighth Step, The Linda, Old Songs and other venues that feature these singer-songwriters or traditional musicians on a regular basis.

The question often asked is, “Where are the younger audiences?” They’re there and going to concerts, but their generation doesn’t call it folk. For example, they will by tickets in droves and sell out The Egg when a rock musician, like Soundgarden’s frontman Chris Cornell, brings in an acoustic guitar and performs “unplugged” for an hour-and-a-half.

If you closed your eyes to listen closely at that concert and didn’t know the artist, you think to yourself that it was a really good singer-songwriter performing. Ah, folk music!

To try to remedy the generation gap and attract younger audiences to younger performers who choose to play acoustic folk music, Caffe Lena has launched an intermittent series of showcase dates for upcoming and relatively unknown artists called “See The Future! Sampler Concert.”

Kicking off the series that Friday evening was the acoustic trio, Jan Bell & the Maybelles. The daughter of a Yorkshire coal miner, Bell is now based on this side of the pond in Brooklyn. She and her trio are mixing Celtic, country, Appalachian and bluegrass sounds into a broad framework of catchy songs that can be classified today as alternative country. Strong vocals and solid guitar work propel Bell’s contemporary lyrics and attitude into an acoustic bass driven rhythm with engaging violin accompaniment.

Closing out that night’s double-bill were the Canadian old-time song purveyors, Sheesham and Lotus. Though noticeably in their early 30s, most of the music played that night was from the 1920s, ’30s and maybe the ’40s.

If the Sheesham and Lotus trio stuck an original tune or two in the concert’s mix, you’d probably never have known it because the music and their presentation was a page right out of another time or era. Yet, in a way, it sounded refreshingly new, and it was really great fun to watch them perform in vintage clothing while singing and playing fiddle, banjo, Sousaphone, kazoo, harmonica and an array of other indescribable instruments.

Keep an eye out for future installments of the “See The Future! Sampler Concert” series at Caffe Lena because it’s a blast and only $10 a person to boot!

Jan Bell and The Maybelles
Jan Bell and The Maybelles

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