Sunday, October 25, 2009

Jimmy LaFave - Bodie House Concerts - September 20, 2009

So, in the interest of full disclosure, I admit I've had a thing for Texan singer/songwriters for decades.  It began back in the 60's and early 70's with folks like John Prine, Jerry Jeff Walker and Kris Kristofferson (yes, he used to be a songwriter and a good one too!). It continued over the years with people like Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark,  John Hiatt, Steve Earle, Rodney Crowell, Lyle Lovett and Joe Ely. And while these Texans have styles that vary from country to blues to swing to folk, the one thing they all share seems to be powerful storytelling in the form of song. And after this beautiful September evening in Thousand Oaks, I can now add the name Jimmy La Fave to that impressive list. Although he grew up in Oklahoma, he has spent decades as a prominent member of the Austin, Texas music scene.

Renee Bodie, who runs these Bodie House Concerts at the Thousand Oak Library, this past summer put on the first LA Acoustic Music Festival on the Santa Monica Pier. Because of date conflicts with an already-booked other festival, we were unable to attend, but I heard a lot about it from folks who were there. And the name I heard brought up most often for praise was Jimmy La Fave. So , that coupled with my long-standing love of Texas songwriters, made me anticipate this show for months. I was not disappointed!

So, as we are known to do, we arrived fairly early and made the donation at the door, which on this night was manned by Severin Browne, singer/songwriter extraordinaire. We found some pretty good seats in about the fourth row and watched as the room filled. During opening introductions we learned that there were more first time attendees than regulars including a contingent of 41 folks from Hemet. Clearly this act had some drawing power.

The band took the stage with Radislav Lorkovich on baby grand piano and accordion, Glenn Schuetz on electric standup 5 string bass, John Inmon on electric guitar and of course Jimmy on acoustic guitar and vocals. They kicked off the night with a tune which I believe was called "Bluebird" (I had some trouble verifying this title), a blues tune that featured a rollicking piano solo by Rad. The next couple of tunes were some of my favorites of the night , first of all "Deep South 61 Delta Highway Blues" which had an incredible John Enmon guitar solo, followed by "Only One Angel" a love song with a bit of Cajun two step flavor and Rad playing squeeze box style accordion.

 "Secret Garden" had John's guitar sounding like  a violin and then a very soulful guitar solo. I need to pause and talk about John Inman. I'm sorry, Jimmy, to spend review time talking about a sideman so much, but Jimmy knows how special a player he has! This is world-class guitarist who has spent decades backing up the likes of Jerry Jeff Walker and Delbert McClinton among many others.  A player of such talent that a teenaged Stevie Ray Vaughn idolized him and followed him around Austin, Texas. As a bit of a guitar player myself  I can't help but rave about one of the most talented players I've heard in a long time. And much to the credit of Jimmy LaFave, not a whole lot of singer/songwriter types have the talent, self-confidence and generosity of spirit to not only put together a band of such strong players but also give them the musical space to work out.

The first set closed with a quartet of great songs. First, the Dylan classic "Just Like A Woman" done Texas Highway style with an epic guitar solo by John and a piano interlude by Rad that was quiet, contrapuntal classical sounding and wonderful. And then the rocking boogie of "Rockin' Little Baby", with nods to Chuck Berry but sounding fresh with the usual great solos by Rad and John. Then came Woody Guthrie's classic "This Land is Your Land", which I still say should be this country's national anthem which featured Rad's accordion work that was reminiscent of the great Tex-Mex sounds of Flaco Jimenez and , of course the audience singing along.  The last song of the set was my very favorite of Jimmy's compositions. "Deportee" is one of the only and certainly one of the best songs documenting the travails of illegal aliens entering this country only to be become prey of the elements, the authorities and people's attitudes. This was an extremely moving song and it brought the first set to a close on a very high note.

Intermission brought the usual, pot-luck treats, mingling with friends new and old and of course a chance to purchase CDs and have them signed. Among the familiar faces in the crowd, besides the aforementioned Severin Browne, were Russ and Julie, house concert presenters extraordinaire, Kenny Edwards, who we had seen the previous night in Goleta and Steve Brogdan, who runs the Thousand Oaks Library and is somewhat of a cohost of this concert with Renee Bodie. I also got a brief chance to speak with John Inmon and learned that HE doesn't hear those "violin" sounds he makes though he is often told others do. To him they're just electric guitar sounds he achieves with the use of only some overdrive distortion and a volume pedal and some finger technique. There was no attempt to make fiddle sounds but I wasn't the only one who heard it like that!

The second set began with another of Jimmy's great compositions, "River Road", a tribute to the spiritual healing that love can bring. Next up was "Blues in C Minor" which served as an intro to "Highway 49 Driving Blues" yet another example of Texans' obsession with both the blues and with driving and yet another chance for John  to show off his amazing skills on electric guitar. After a couple of typically great originals,"On My Mind" and "Desperate Men Do Desperate Things"and another Dylan cover, "Tomorrow Is A Long Time" the set built momentum towards a conclusion.

But there still was a lot of ground to cover!  "Indian Nation" about the Oklahoma hills where Jimmy grew up featured Rad on accordion again and Jimmy making the same accordion jokes that we heard Dan Navarro tell a couple of months ago on the same stage. After a cover of Van Morrison's "Have I told You Lately That I Love You" that was made popular by Rod Stewart, the set began to really cook with Jimmy's "Bohemian Cowboy Blues", a blue shuffle with shades of Lyle Lovett that featured a  wonderful, very melodic bass solo by Glenn.  Next up was "Revival" another of Jimmy's inspiring "religious" love songs and then, by request of our hostess, Renee Bodie, Jimmy's great total rearrangement of the 60's classic, "Walk Away Renee" which was a big crowd-.pleaser.

The night was drawing to a close. The band out-did itself on "That's The Way It Goes", a rocking boogie-woogie with the usual incredible guitar solo by John and Rad doing his best Jerry Lee Lewis impression, just wailing on the piano while standing up and kicking away his bench! The crowd loved it and very quickly made enough noise to coax the expected encore. The encore began with Jesse Colin Young and the Youngbloods' 60s peace anthem "Get Together" with the whole audience joining in and John's solo at turns nodding to the original and also sounding incredibly like a pedal-steel guitar. The night finished with a medley that started as an uptempo version of the bluegrass classic, "I'll Fly Away" and turned into the classic "Will The Circle Be Unbroken?" that had the audience singing along again and John's hyper-speed guitar-picking on his solo that made John stand while playing for the first time that evening!

Wow, this was a very fun evening. Jimmy LaFave is not only a first-class songwriter and expressive vocalist but as a band leader he has assembled a world -class band featuring musicians totally capable of fronting their own bands. It's a testament to Jimmy's talent and personality that these guys are having so much fun playing with him!

1 comment:

  1. Nice job on this review. I was at the show and also thought it was fantastic. Jimmy is a recent discovery for me and has become a major musical interest. Yes, John Inmon deserves as much attention as you can give him -- he and the rest of the band played important roles in making this a great show. A couple of minor points: If I'm not mistaken, Revival is written by Gretchen Peters and Deportee is another Woody Guthrie song. No insult to Jimmy, who has established a substantial part of his musical identity through his stunning covers of great material by other songwriters.