LIVE: Jim Kweskin & Happy Traum @ Caffe Lena, 11/13/14
Review by Greg Haymes
Photographs by Joseph Deuel
Jim Kweskin, the leader of the ’60s jug band revival, has had a revival of his own in recent years, and he’s made several Nippertown tour stops with longtime musical partner Geoff Muldaur in recent years, both at The Egg and Caffe Lena.
Last month, back at Caffe Lena in front of a near-packed house, he switched things up, teaming with Woodstock folk luminary Happy Traum, rather than Muldaur. Traum dubbed the duo of veterans “the Sunshine Boys of Folk Music.” The results, however, were not particularly sparkling. But to be fair, it was their first night playing together and the start of their East Coast week-long tour.
It’s unfair to compare Traum (or anyone else, for that matter) to Geoff Muldaur, who doesn’t merely sing the blues, but rather climbs inside and completely inhabits them. Traum and Kweskin played together on stage for two hour-long sets, mostly alternately who took over the lead vocals. Traum offered selections from such legends as Pete Seeger (“Quite Early Morning”), Jimmie Rodgers (“Danville Girl”) and Bob Dylan (“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”), as well as digging into the blues songbag for selections by Brownie McGee (“Careless Love”) and Lead Belly (“House of the Rising Sun” and “Midnight Special”).
Traum also served up the tribute song, “Mississippi John,” which Kweskin followed with Mississippi John Hurt’s own scintillating, ribald “Candy Man.” “This is not a children’s song,” Kweskin pointed out. Traum added, “Yeah, that’s what you call a single-entendre song.”
Kweskin hit the mark when he was digging into the classic repertoire of the Jim Kweskin Jug Band for vintage nuggets like “Mornin’ Blues” and “Sweet Sue,” but his strongest performance of the night was the dark and spooky “Cuckoo.” His biggest misstep was a seemingly never-ending sing-along rendition of Donovan’s “Colors,” accompanying himself on banjo.