Sunday, July 12, 2009

John Batdorf and James Lee Stanley - House Concert Review

So, those of you who have been following this blog know that last night was the first house concert I was scheduled to attend since I started this blog and decided to review house concerts. So, of course, the cosmos, fickle friend to us all, decides that this should be the night I foolishly get the time wrong! We barge into the house concert a half an hour late, with it already started, and nearly bowl over the co star, James Lee Stanley and the host, Scott Duncan. Hugely embarrassing, but you know what? I later on figure out I picked the BEST time for a mishap like this. First, there are no more gracious hosts than Scott and Rosemary Duncan who made sure we got settled and comfortable. Second, we nearly bowled over probably the nicest, most affable, and unflappable man in show business, James Lee Stanley. And third, we missed a small portion of a night so hugely entertaining, so full of virtuosic guitar playing and soaring harmonies that we still got waaay more than our money's worth of entertainment.

If you are are not familiar, John Batdorf, back in the early seventies, was the talent-heavy half of the duo Batdorf and Rodney. They achieved some success recording for Ahmet Ertegun at Atlantic Records. No AM hits but lots of FM airplay. He wrote some wonderful songs back then, among them "Home Again" , "Don't You Hear Me Callin' " and"Let Me Go". Becky and I remember them fondly because they were on tapes we used at work at the Last National Bank Restaurant, the place we originally started dating and fell in love. John later spent a bunch of years doing TV and movie soundtrack work for the likes of "Touched By An Angel" and "The Promised Land" as well as singing for commercials. He recently has begun performing again as a solo artist and just released an amazing new album of all new material called "Old Man Dreamin' " that is fantastic. Check out this link for a review by someone far more eloquent than I am :

James Lee Stanley has been doing the singer/songwriter thing for decades also and has a CD catalog going back to the 70s as well. He is known as one of the best voices around and is revered for his storytelling and humor. He is also an amazing guitarist and has learned to incorporate looping to great effect without being gimmicky or over-the-top.

John and James have been friends since the early seventies and back in 2003 they got together and recorded "All Wood and Stones", a reworking of some of the early Rolling Stones catalog done as SoCal acoustic rock with harmony vocals. In addition to doing some of the mellower Stones stuff fairly true to the originals, they also attack some of the rockers greatly rearranged. It all works splendidly both on CD and done live.

So, as I have already reluctantly admitted, we missed a bit of the opening of the show, arriving as John was finishing his first solo section of the show. He had wowed the crowd with some of his new album, including "What D'Ya Got" an anthem to the down-sizing of the American Dream and the power of personal relationships to pull us all through. Like real life, a complete blend of cynical complaint and life-affirming celebration. Then James took the spotlight with some of his solo work and of course his patented introductions which often last twice as long as the songs themselves and always are hilarious. It has always amazed me that he can tell a hysterical anecdote about his mother's "clairvoyance" in finding his first Playboy Magazine in its elaborate hiding place, all in the way of introducing "Let the Tree Fall" the poignant song he wrote for his mom after she passed. It is a real glimpse at the true talent of this man; the chorus of this song says "let the tree fall, let the river flow, and when the time just let go". I would normally be the first to accuse him of New Age triteness, but sung in James' soothing full tenor, it becomes a moving paean to picking up the pieces of one's life. Another highlight was his cover of the classic "Its All in the Game" with his voice sounding like a rich blend of Nat King Cole meets Mel Torme (for the youngsters, those guys were singers many moons ago). And his brilliant "The Stolen Season" was made even more meaningful by his intro of how he was inspired by Gwyneth Paltrow in "Shakespeare in Love" ( one of my fave movies!).

After an intermission where we had a chance to mingle and munch and, most importantly, buy CDs, the second half began with the guys sharing the stage, helping each other out on their respective solo material and doing more "All Wood and Stones" . We heard some real gems including James' dark brooding vocal reading of "Paint It Black" , the transcendent guitar picking and harmonizing by both on John's Batdorf and Rodney classic, "Let Me Go" and a great rendition by James of Dylan's "Just Like Thom Thumb's Blues" . Also incredible was John's rearrangement of "19th Nervous Breakdown" of which James said, other than changing the chords, the melody, the rhythm and the lyrics, its a faithful rendition! And when, during the Stones' classic they both sing "this may be the last time" it truly sounds apocalyptic but we all were certainly hoping it wouldn't be the last we heard this duo. In fact, I said to Becky on the way home "Those guys should play together ALL THE TIME!" I can only imagine the bliss of hearing them with a full band live. I'm available guys if you need a road manager!

So now some links:

If you missed the link for the Duncan House Concerts here's that one again :

John Batdorf has a couple of websites and there's one for Batdorf and Rodney :

James Lee Stanley also has two sites, the first, Freelance Human Being, is his main site (I'd love to steal the name!) and his other site is a blog full of tips for musicians and house concert hosts and is VERY informative and entertaining :


  1. Hi Peter,

    Well done!

    May I reprint an abridged version of this review on our blog? I'll certainly credit you and link back. I like to support these guys, and get them exposure in front of our 400+ house concert presenters


    Fran Snyder

  2. Be my guest, I'm flattered you'd like to use it, just please use care in abridgement. Those words are my babies! Thanks so much.