A Listening Party in the North Woods
We all tested Covid-free – Dennis from Northampton, Dan from Newburyport, and me. So we drove north past Saranac Lake, past Whiteface, to Stephen’s place (he tested negative, too) in the deep woods off a back road.
After two plague years off, we were excited to revive the listening party gathering we started in 1994. We would catch up with each other, with music new and old, and solve the world’s problems.
Well, that last one, not so much.
The other stuff: yes, indeed.
Stephen had a cauldron of chili simmering in wait, Dennis and Dan brought ingredients for a dinner each, and I had stocked up at Perreca’s with savory lunch goods; also a single-malt scotch and a mellow bourbon. And we brought boxes and boxes of CDs, though some of what we heard streamed via Dennis’s phone.
Happy as we were to geek out on tunes together, we also mourned both our late friend Chuck, a longtime member of this once-a-year music club who died last fall and musicians who’d left us. We played some John Coltrane in Chuck’s memory – Chuck always brought ‘Trane or Monk tunes to share – also songs by the relatively recently departed Wayne Shorter, John Prine, Jeff Beck, and Walter Wolfman Washington. I had brought some serene classical mourning music, but we only played a bit of that.
I grabbed the first CD slot to blast “All Come True” just to test the system. It passed big-time, with a feel-it-through-your-feet bass line, singing guitars, and Rosanne Cash’s calmly authoritative singing on this World Party rocker. (It appears only on her “Retrospective” album and the Columbia Records “Exampler 2.”)
As usual, we worked it this way: anybody could tote a tune into Stephen’s stereo closet and pump it through the big B&O speakers flanking the stone fireplace. The first song is free; then we look around for consensus to stick with that artist or not, and/or we honor the intent to play a single song by an artist or band.
That first night, Friday, Cecile McLorin Salvant scored the first all-the-way-through play: her bravely diverse, astonishingly well-sung “Ghost Song” album I’d saved for months to share the first listen with the guys.
Also, that first night, Stephen had selected/collected songs by folk singer-songwriter Richard Shindell into an album-long run that worked, all the way through. An English major, Stephen is more sensitive than most to lyrics, and Shindell’s words painted vivid pictures.
Saturday’s music leaned to New Orleans, land of Jazz Fest, where Dennis and I have pilgrimaged with friends for years, and of deep but often happy funk. The moonlight-on-the-bayou grace of Zachary Richard’s creole blues perfectly set up Cyril Neville’s post-Katrina rage in “This is My Country” – foreshadowing the wounded ideals of Ry Cooder’s “Jesus and Woody” the next night. But I digress.
The recently deceased Walter Wolfman Washington shone on Saturday, as did fellow (and very alive) New Orleans stars Irma Thomas and Texas/Louisiana border blueswoman Marcia Ball; also Gulf Coast honky-tonk troubadour Delbert McClinton, guitar-and-vocals powerhouse Dayna Kurtz, one-time New Orleanian Geoff Muldaur, and the southern Gospel choir Dixie Hummingbirds backed by both New Orleans players and member of Bob Dylan’s band.
My DJ’ing faltered Saturday: I tried to play Syd Straw’s heartbreaking “Almost Magic” but missed. Instead, I landed on her “Unanswered Question” before finding it later that night when it wielded its hypnotic power. Meanwhile, Stephen had sent Syd a Gazette clip of mine summarizing an earlier mountain music meet-up in which I praised “Almost Magic” as the breathtaking 3 a.m. peak of a QE2 show. Syd answered by sending a link to an NYC concert live track: “Toughest Girl in the World” – a fine video bonus.
In the “brag-on-my-bro” (Jim Hoke) department, I put on rocking sax-packed tracks from Delbert McClinton’s “Tall, Dark & Handsome” and Kacey Musgraves’s “There Is a Light” with Jim’s flute solo that was celebrated in Esquire magazine.
Sunday was all over the place, but with some geek-out parallels. We answered Dayna Kurtz’s bluesy “Reconsider Me” with Walter Wolfman Washington’s even sadder version. We also heard Washington backing the great soul singer Johnny Adams on several songs. “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” surged with Gospel uplift in the Dixie Hummingbirds’ voices, mourned in quiet grief in Ry Cooder’s. When we compared the audio impact of the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” on vinyl versus CD, vinyl won. After an intense Wayne Shorter sax blast, we chose a quieter saxophone ballad by John Coltrane. Despite David Bromberg’s humble self-deprecation about his voice, “Testify About My Love” proved how compelling a singer he really is. Snooks Eaglin’s three songs could have fit easily in Saturday’s New Orleans run. We heard the Youngbloods’ anthemic “Get Together” in the great voices of Lizz Wright and Eva Cassidy.
When Janis Joplin took that big breath right before her sky-splitting scream in “Take Another Little Piece of My Heart,” I think we all held our breath for what was to come.
Late Saturday, we played favorite contemporary women singers Rhiannon Giddens, Lizz Wright and Eva Cassidy – also the timeless Aretha Franklin; like Cassidy, gone too soon. The only sad classical number that found its way into the CD player was Arvo Part’s “Tabula Rasa” before we wound up – as we always, always do – with Allen Toussaint’s “American Tune.” In its quiet world-weary, dignified way, this great Paul Simon composition is as angry as Cyril Neville’s fierce claim “This Is My Country.”
Sadly, we left the gorgeous north woods and the comforts of Stephen’s place, with melodies and voices still echoing through us. And many albums went un-played. We never got around to a late album by (the late) David Crosby, an all-star roundup orbiting around Jerry Lee Lewis, some Oxford American magazine southern sampler CDs, a Joe Robinson album with Jim’s horn parts, Bonerama playing trombone-mutated Led Zeppelin classics – I could go on, and I think I have, as Leo Kottke says when he realizes he’s talked too long between songs onstage.
Maybe, and the four of us will bend our calendars every which way to make it happen.
But here’s the thing: Listening with intent, with friends, with time, is a richly happy, healing thing.
And, of course, that reminds me of another cool song we didn’t play over that three-day sonic and soul immersion: “Tootie Ma Is a Big Fine Thing” by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, of New Orleans, of course…
Friday night, after chili dinner
- “All Come True” – Rosanne Cash
- “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome” – Shawn Colvin
- “Ghosts in the Wind” – Richard Thompson
- “May You Never” – John Martyn
- “Ghost Song” (her entire killer album!) – Cecile McLorin Salvant
- “I Saw a Stranger with Your Hair” – John Gorka
- “This Sweet Old World” – Emmylou Harris
- “The Courier” – Richard Shindell
- “A Summer Wind, A Cotton Dress” – RS
- “Fishing” – RS
- “Next Best Western – RS
- “The Last Fare of the Day” – RS
- “Reunion Hill” – RS
- “Wisteria” – RS
Saturday, before and after snowshoeing
- “Danse” – Zachary Richard
- “The Levee Broke” – ZR
- “Last Kiss” – ZR
- “Give My Heart” – ZR
- “My Country” – Cyril Neville
- “Fortunate Son” – Ivan Neville
- “Look Up” – Irma Thomas and Marcia Ball
- “Wild Ox Moan” – Geoff Muldaur
- “This World Is Not My Home” – GM
- “Unanswered Question” – Syd Straw
- “Let’s Get Down Like We Used To” – Delbert McClinton
- “Gone to Mexico” – DMcC
- “Can’t Stay Here” – DMcC
- “Giving it Up for Your Love” – DMcC
- “The Pugilist is 59” – Tom Russell
- “Hello Stranger” – Walter Wolfman Washington
- “Is It Something You’ve Got/I Had it All the Time” – WWW
- “I Want to Know” – WWW
- “Peepin’” – WWW
- “St. James Infirmary” – Joe Krown Trio featuring WWW
- “Tipitina” – JKTfWWW
- “Almost Magic” – Syd Straw
- “City of Gold” – The Dixie Hummingbirds
- “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” – TDH
- “Reconsider Me” – Dayna Kurtz
- “I’ll Be a Liar” – DK
- “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” – Arnett Cobb and Dizzy Gillespie
Sunday, after snowshoeing and a visit/art talk in Stephen’s studio-gallery
- “Fat Man in the Bathtub” – Little Feat
- “All That You Dream” – LF
- “Oh, Atlanta” – LF
- “Reconsider Me” – Johnny Adams
- “Little Red Rooster” – Sam Cooke
- “Testify About My Love” – David Bromberg
- “Sideman Samba” – DB
- “Little Sparrow” – DB
- “Ain’t Hurtin’ Nobody” – John Prine
- “People My Age” John Gorka
- “You Don’t Know What Love Is” – Johnny Adams
- “Come Rain or Come Shine” – JA
- “Good Morning Heartache” – JA
- “Josephine” – Snooks Eaglin
- “Show Me the Way Back Home” – SE
- “Ling Ting Tong” – SE
- “Punta De Areia” – Wayne Shorter featuring Milton Nascimento
- “Beauty and the Beast” – WSfMN
- “After the Rain” – John Coltrane
- “Old Stockholm” – JC
- “There Is a Rose in Spanish Harlem” – Aretha Franklin
- ‘“Layla” – Derek & the Dominos
- “Yellow Moon” – The Neville Brothers
- “Sympathy for the Devil” – The Rolling Stones
- “Jumpin Jack Flash” – TRS
- “Fighting in the Streets” – TRS
- “Sympathy for the Devil” – TRS (audio comparison; this vinyl version kicked the CD’s ass)
- “Take Another Little Piece of My Heart” – Big Brother & the Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin
- “The Night Time is the Right Time” – Ray Charles & the Raelettes
- “What’d I Say” – RC&tR
- “Yes Indeed” – RC&tR
- “The Spirit-Feel” – RC&tR
- “The Weavers at Carnegie Hall” – The Weavers live album, in the background during dinner
- “Joan Baez” – Joan Baez, about half of her self-titled debut – it was a long dinner
- “There Is a Light” – Kacey Musgraves
- “What Mama Said” – Jeff Beck
- “Harbor of Love” – Ry Cooder
- “Jesus and Woody” – RC
- “In His Care” – RC
- “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” – RC
- “Birmingham Sunday” – Rhiannon Giddens
- “End of the Night” – Lizz Wright
- “Get Together” – LW
- “All the Pretty Little Horses” – Rhiannon Giddens
- “Wade in the Water” – Eva Cassidy
- “Get Together” – EC
- “Tabula Rasa” – Arvo Part
- “Don’t Give Up on Me” – Solomon Burke
- “American Tune” – Allen Toussaint
What a rich, wonderful musical menu for a fantastic weekend. If everybody got to do what you folks do, even just once a year, I’m sure things would be a lot better in every way. Thanks so much for the coverage!!