Monday, July 13, 2009

See You Next Week

We are off to WorldFest in Grass Valley, CA on Wednesday, so this is my last blog until we're back in a week. I'd hoped to have been further along in my festival reviews but fun has intruded repeatedly. I'm taking full advantage of all that goes on this time of year , I have all winter to get caught up! All in all I'm pretty proud of my output in my first eight days of blogging. I hope there are at least a few of you out there enjoying it! I'd love to hear from any of you out there.

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 :

Duncan House Concerts - Venue Review

So, between rushing to concerts, trying to figure out the nuts and bolts of this blogging thing, rushing to write reviews on shows I've already seen, and getting ready for next week's WorldFest trip, and oh yeah I DO have a job too! , (I'm getting tired just typing all that) I want to squeeze in a quick overview of the venue for the show I'm about to review. I'm sorry if its brief but that's the best I can do now, and I can make it right later when there's time.

Good fortune fell our way when Scott Duncan (that's him in the pic to the left) (pics stolen from Scott's website!) and his wife Rosemary moved to Ventura, about 5 miles from our home. They had done house concerts in West LA near the airport for about ten years before moving our way. They have been doing shows in Ventura since last October and this was I think the third or fourth show we've seen there. Its a comfortable place to see a show. In a very nice but unpretentious tract home in a nice neighborhood in Ventura (see top pic), his living room holds I guess about 60-70 max. in mainly resin patio type chairs, some with cushions! These chairs are actually more comfortable then the folding chairs we often end up in and are a welcome place to park my aging butt. Scott and Rosemary are very gracious hosts. Rosemary, in particular, goes really far out of her way to make all feel comfortable and welcome.

Like all house concerts there is a bowl on a table as you walk in for your $15 artist "donation". This keeps it all a private party for zoning, etc. Like most house concerts they have a "potluck" appetizer, dessert, beverage bar out in the back yard for pre concert and intermission refreshment. They provide soft drinks and cups, etc. Most or at least many of us audience members bring goodies with us. Chocolate abounds and we can never resist it. I usually bring a carved up pineapple with strawberries and a bunch of toothpicks just to be different and healthy. To help defray their costs, the Duncans put contribution jars out with the refreshments but give out raffle tickets with donations, then raffle off small prizes at intermission's end. Some items are provided by the artists, some by the Duncans.Its a different way to help out, and I like it. Some other venues recruit sponsors to help with costs which is totally cool, but this is a little more fun.

This venue operates with no house PA system. Occasionally an act will bring one but, more often than not, its a straight acoustic show. This is almost never a problem, its a small room with nice, live, hardwood floors (the sound is live, the wood is not, if that sounds funny) and the acoustics are excellent. The crowd here, while it will vary a bit act to act, is very friendly, tends to be oldish (like me) but not at all flashy-money people, very middle of the road. We've made friends here, we've seen people we know from the community here, and we've seen other faces we recognize from shows elsewhere here.

One word of warning. Scott books acts on various weekend nights including very often on Sundays. The start times can vary quite a bit. Don't be like me last night (you'll read about it soon in the review), check the day, date ,and time very closely when making plans and avoid dangerous assumptions.

So far Scott has booked a wide range of acts, and does many co bill, two act shows also which is a great way to hear even more of a variety of acts. Some have been acts I already know, some acts I've heard of but not heard and some that are totally new to me. And this is just as I think it should be. Acts I know put my mind at ease and make me more confident in hearing the acts I've never heard of. But I'm always looking to hear new stuff and Scott has turned us on to some great ones!