Sunday, December 20, 2009

Rhythm Angels - Duncan House Concert - October 4, 2009

I can't really explain why, but Nature and the Cosmos seem to be all about duos and the number two! There is a reason why there are two genders, why the world is viewed in terms of yin and yang, hot and cold, up and down, on and off, etc. I just don't really have a grasp on why it is that way. Maybe a basic natural binary code of on/off, it/not it? Who knows? But I have also noticed that in realm of music, the duo is the smallest and most pure expression of being a band and it is that "twoness" that allows for magical things like harmony and counterpoint to happen. So often musical duos become something more than the sum of the two parts. And it is this sort of transcendence that is the duo, Rhythm Angels' stock and trade.
Very often, in anticipation of a certain concert featuring a performer I haven't heard yet, I'll catch a bit of a buzz about a show. The host might point a out a certain upcoming show and say "Don't miss this one!" or another performer or house concert presenter will mention the artist positively. In the case of this show featuring the Rhythm Angels, ALL of the above happened. I was really anticipating a great night when we arrived at Scott and Rosemary Duncan's home that evening, and I knew, with the endorsements I had heard, there was no way I was going to be disappointed!
Rhythm Angels are the duo of Celeste Krenz and Rebecca Folsom, who originally hail from North Dakota and Colorado  respectively. They both had successful solo careers when they crossed paths in Nashville, began singing together at workshops and song circles and soon decided to join forces full time. This past year they released their first CD "girls like us" on High Horse Records and I had been hearing great things about them and their songs for a few months.
The duo took the "stage" and, without the benefit of microphones or PA systems, launched into their first song, a rocking blues called "Lets Kiss and Make Up" which immediately got the crowd into it and ready. From there they switched pace with the title tune from their CD "Girls Like Us", a gorgeous ballad with an anthem-like universality in its lyrics:
"Girls like us go with the wind
We risk it all, and if we fail, we risk it all again
We burn hot and we fall hard
Girls like us are like the stars"
Here's a video of this song not from this show:
I may never be a girl but I've known some who "burn hot and fall hard like the stars"! A really beautiful and amazing song!
I wondered to myself, what kind of songs must these two have to use up such a strong tune so early in the set? Well, the next tune REALLY floored me! "If I had A Gun" may be one of the most chillling and direct songs I have ever heard anywhere! I don't often quote lyrics in my reviews but already I feel compelled to quote these ladies for the second time. But dig these lyrics and tell me they don't make you squirm a bit, even without the haunting music!
"If I had a gun, you'd be dead
One to the heart,one to the head.
If I had a gun, I'd wipe in clean,
My fingerprints, off on these sheets.
They'd bury you in the cold hard ground,
Fist full of dirt would hold you down.
They'd bury you in the cold hard ground
It'd be the first night, I'd sleep sound."
Here's a link to a video of this song, also not from this show but worth viewing:
Heavy stuff but not heavy-handed in execution, these women can deal with the barest of emotions directly with grace and dignity and though you MAY squirm just a bit, they are always entertaining while doing so.
The set continued with one killer tune off their CD after another with no drops in intensity, either in subject matter or performance. Every song was a highlight and I could write on and on about each one, but I will TRY to restrain myself just a bit. But many tunes need to be mentioned if only in passing. I have to comment on the smoldering sex appeal of their version of "29 Ways", the Willie Dixon classic.  I'd be remiss not cite the universal feel-good healing vibe of "Sister Love's Cafe". And Rebecca's song "Mama's House" is so personal, so painful and intimate, that it would be hard to listen to if it were not such a beautifully crafted and sung composition. Celeste's powerful  "If I Don't Leave Now" really grabbed the audience and got a big ovation. And when the ladies finished the first set with the bluesy "She Loves To Love A Fool" I had to wonder what they left for the second set, the first was SO strong.
During intermission we mingled as usual and had some forbidden treats but my prime purpose during the break was to purchase the Rhythm Angels' CD and have it signed and to meet Celeste and Rebecca and let them know how much I was loving their music. They were both as friendly and personable face-to-face as they were on stage!
Well, as usual, I needn't have worried about the second set. They still had plenty of great tunes and, while the first set maybe had more of their killer tunes in it, front-loading your set with some of your best material can be an understandable survival strategy for acts playing in front of new audiences in unknown venues. Nonetheless there were lots of highlights left for the rest of the night. They started the second set with "If I Had A Boat" with its beautiful river imagery. Next was Rebecca's gorgeous ballad "Wish I Could Love That Way Again" a wistful look at innocence very much in the tradition of the Ronstadt/Waldman/Bonoff acoustic SoCal sound.
 I need to interject a thought here. I've written on and on already with hardly a mention of the fabulous voices these two possess or their professional musicianship as guitarists. I assure you that is only a testament to the quality and power of their songs!  I often find with world-class songwriters, it's easy to overlook their vocal or instrumental talent. I have done it in this forum when writing about John Batdorf, a world-class writer who is also world-class as a vocalist and guitarist. When's the last time someone spoke to you about Paul Simon's singing or guitar playing though he is a great vocalist and guitarist. The ability to write with such power,clarity and entertaiment is so much more rare a quality! Celeste and Rebecca are GREAT vocalists, whose voices complement each other wonderfully. Rebecca's voice is little more bluesy and more comfortable on lower parts and Celeste usually takes the higher parts. But their voices are also almost interchangable and I'm sure they'd be comfortable singing each other's parts. And their guitar work is professional, precise and rhythmically interesting. Great singers, players AND writers!
The other highlights of the second set included several from their CD. Celeste contributed "Listen To October" a pretty song about endings and Rebecca gave us "Something Good" which she described as a tribute to the joys of infidelity (her idea not mine!). Mixed in were a few non-originals and older songs not on the CD. It was a VERY entertaining second set, and it culminated with the encore tune , an a capella sing-along on "Amazing Grace" that left us all feeling the power of song! This show was definitely one of the best of the year and these are a pair of compelling singer/songwriters whose synergy together make them one of my favorite finds of 2009. And a note to my wife Becky, see I told you I could write a whole review on the Rhythm Angels without one mention of how beautiful they both are! OOPS!

A link for the Rhythm Angels:

and for Duncan House Concerts:

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