Memory can be a funny thing, especially at my age. We had seen the group Blame Sally a couple of times back a few years ago, once at a houseconcert and once at a festival. I do remember liking them and that I found their instrumentation interesting, but, other than a general positive feeling towards them, I remembered little else. And, in what I always call the ultimate review, we hadn't bought any of their CDs at either event. So when this concert was announced somewhat late, since we had nothing else planned, we decided to go see them again, but with somewhat muted expectations. And now I feel VERY lucky making that choice, because, as I have suggested, either my memory of them was very faulty or this band has gotten WAY better in the last few years or maybe there is a combination of both at work!
We arrived at the Thousand Oak Library for this concert very early because we were worried about traffic, with Conejo Valley Days going on right across the street. But we had no trouble getting there, so we were some of the first inside. We settled into some front row seats in front of the percussion set up because we remembered that the band had a very interesting percussionist and, with Becky studying hand percussion, we wanted a good view of both technique and equipment. The room quickly filled up behind us, not a sell-out but a real nice large crowd especially considering the somewhat short notice that this show was happening.
The traditional opening announcements and introductions were done by our hostess, Renee Bodie and Library Director Steve Brogden. The band then took the stage and launched into their first number, "I'm Waiting", a haunting dark tune with a rolling rhythm and some great electric guitar licks by Jeri Jones that were very reminiscent of the playing of Mark Knopfler, which is a HUGE compliment in my book! My thought when it was over was that many groups would use a song this great as an encore, a real good sign for the rest of the show! The second song was a total change of pace and feel. "Trouble" was a uptempo rockabilly workout that featured a kick-ass guitar solo by Jeri.
A pause is in order here to introduce the band a bit. Blame Sally are a quartet of female singer/songwriter/musicians from the Bay Area of California who have been playing together for at least a decade. They all are great singers. The bulk of the songwriting is done by Renee Harcourt or Monica Pasqual. Renee plays a whole variety of guitars along with bass, harmonica, banjo, mandolin, lap steel and lord knows what else. Monica plays a variety of keyboards and accordion and probably a lot of other instruments. They both are VERY accomplished, prolific songwriters and both have done multiple solo albums while still members of the group. Percussionist/guitarist Pam Delgado also contributes some great songs though she's not as prolific as Monica or Renee. Their latest CD includes two of Pam's songs, the rest are by either Renee or Monica. The final member of the band, Jeri Jones, plays guitars, mandolin, bass, and dobro and is quite adept at providing the songs with the sonic ornamentation that fully fleshes out their themes and meanings. Pam and Jeri also play sometimes as a duo, called "The Pam and Jeri Show". On this night, as well as the previous times we've seen them, the ladies were augmented by rock-solid 5 string bassist Rob Strom, who has what I consider one of the best sideman jobs in the music business! I will have more to say about each of them as this review progresses. ( above picture left - right, Monica, Jeri, Renee, Rob and Pam ).
The set continued with one of Renee's songs, the very poignant "All Rise", which she told us was written during and about her cancer treatment which I'm glad to report was successful. Its a really beautiful and moving song about confronting your fears of the unknown. And then came a new one, "Bird In Hand", a song of love gone wrong that had Pam playing her djembe drum with brushes and Jeri's rhythmic guitar figure reminding me of "Ghost Riders in the Sky"!Once more the mood and pace were changed, with Monica taking a solo turn with just her piano and beautiful voice for "I Knew You When" written for a loved one dealing with Multiple Sclerosis. Then Renee and Jeri took the stage as a duo with Renee on acoustic guitar and Jeri on mandolin doing Renee's song, "Carnival Ride" which she wrote as a love song to her friends and family on the occasion of her 50th birthday. It was a bouncy happy ditty which was perfect for its sentiment.
The whole band retook the stage with Monica playing accordion for the next tune, another of Renee's and one of my favorites, "Jump Start". With its driving, insistent rhythm as the perfect background, it delivered a wonderful description of the obsessive passion of new love,
" I stood out in left field watching
You snuck up on me like a wildfire
Sparks and flames flashing and flying
And I felt the light inside jumpstart"
Another powerfully moving song came next, Monica's "Night of 1000 Stars", the story of a soldier returning from war with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that drives him to domestic violence. This song is the title track to Blame Sally's latest album and its beautiful vocal melodies ran counter to the otherworldly sounds of Jeri's bottleneck guitar creating a dreamlike atmosphere. It was just one more example of the stunning subtlety of Jeri's understated guitar playing and, as we gave them an ovation as they left for intermission, I couldn't help but marvel at how GREAT this band had become or how flawed my memory of them was!
Intermission brought the usual sugar-rush snacks, some socializing with our hosts and other friends in the audience and of course a CD purchase and signing. Trying to economize in the face of an unpaid furlough at work, before the show I was determined not to spend the money, but this band was just too good to let the opportunity pass! I was very anxious to hear what else they had in store for us.
The band returned to the stage and began the second set with the straight-ahead folk-rocker "Fillmore Street". This song again made great use of Jeri's bottleneck guitar work and also Renee's harmonica solo, while playing on the similar lyrical sounds of "Fillmore" and "feel more". The next song was probably my favorite Blame Sally song and seems to be one of the band's "signature" tunes. With a jangly mandolin rhythm and Monica's bouncy accordion, Renee's song "Pass the Buddha" gave a humorous peek at the New Age and Eastern therapies that the world threw in her direction during her cancer treatments. "Please, pass the Buddha, a hit of Mr. B, open eye number three" is just part of one of the coolest lyrics I've heard in ages! This was one song I had remembered from hearing the band previously! After that came a slow love ballad, "Same Space" and then a stripped down, slowed down cover of Aretha's "Chain of Fools", with Pam delivering the soulful lead vocals. Another cover headed in a more country direction, Emmy Lou Harris and Rodney Crowell's "Tulsa Queen".
The night was headed into the home stretch but there were still some gems in store for us. Monica's "Pajaro Sin Allas" had the sound of a traditional latin folk song. Then came Pam's tour de force from the latest album, "Hurricane", a bluesy rave-up comparing a woman's rising passion to an impending storm. Another major crowd-pleaser, it featured Jeri's bottleneck National Steel guitar and a great accordion solo from Monica. Then came the show closer, "Dead Horse", a haunting bluesy ballad of the love-gone-wrong variety that sounded like it was written by Renee ( I haven't been able to verify this ). It used a great bottleneck solo by Jeri to help it build in intensity as the finale. And, of course, the crowd was wild as the ladies left the stage! We all wanted more, and of course we were rewarded with an encore.
The band came back and played the traditional Mexican folk song, "La Llorona", which sounded very different than the song we've heard Perla Batalla sing many times. But it was also a great tune and we got a chance at one last great piano solo by Monica and I got to hear one last tasty guitar solo by Jeri, who impressed me all night with the talent and taste in her understated playing. It was a really pleasing end to an exciting night of really great songs and musicianship and we were very glad to have been there to experience it!
So here's one last try at my question. As I finally finish this review, I've had the benefit of a few weeks to ponder some of this. Had I really forgotten how great this band was? Had they really made great improvements in a few years? I'll probably never totally figure it out, but one thing seems relevant. Most of the songs we heard on this night were songs we had previously heard a few years earlier. Clearly their material has been this good for a while! So while I allow that their playing of these songs may have improved some in the ensuing years, I personally think that I previously was just not in the right space to totally get them or had forgotten how GREAT they really were. And of course none of this really matters, the important thing is that I am now a huge Blame Sally fan and I hope you will soon be one, too!
Here's a link for Blame Sally :
and one for the Bodie Houseconcerts :