It never ceases to amaze me that, seemingly with every passing week, I can be presented with a "new" artist that is making incredible music that I had not previously discovered. When it's someone who has been making great music for decades, its all the more surprising they could have escaped my notice. And its one of my great joys to live where we do and have access to presenters like Renee Bodie and Russ and Julie Paris who we can always count on to bring in acts that, while they may be new to us, are consistently not only professional performers but ones with a unique point of view and voice. In other words interesting people who just happen to use music as their means of communicating with the world.
On this pre-Halloween eve at the Bodie House Concerts at The Thousand Oaks Library, Renee Bodie introduced her audience to Caroline Aiken, who, along with being an accomplished singer/songwriter/guitarist, just happens to be a long-time friend of hers. It seems one summer long ago they were maids together in Yosemite or something like that. I'm thankful of any connection that brought Caroline to my attention because, as I'll try to describe, she rocks!
The crowd was arriving late and still dribbling in as Caroline introduced her friend and opener whose name, I believe was Dave Mesnik (don't quote me on the name or spelling, I can't verify it). He did a short set of three pleasant if unremarkable tunes. Then Caroline took the stage and immediately the energy level in the room rose, and I noticed that the smallish-seeming audience had swelled to nearly packed. Caroline started off playing acoustic 6 string guitar which she had capo'd up real high on the neck, making her guitar sound a bit mandolin-like. Her first song, "Spirit Of Love" featured her rhythmic strumming on guitar and bluesy vocal delivery and instantly reminded me of an old favorite of mine from back east, back in the day, Ellen McIlwaine, which in my mind is VERY high praise!
As her set continued, Caroline switched to 12 string guitar which she played bottleneck style. The blues song, which she described as a true story and whose name I didn't catch, was about a street-scholar/handicrafter named Copper John. It really showed off her vocal chops and guitar playing while at the same time painting a moving portrait of human dignity in the face of misfortune. This led to an instrumental tour-de-force, another tune I can't name for you, but I can tell you it was very much in the spirit, style and level of vituosity of Leo Kotke, who we have also seen in recent weeks. I was mighty impressed and the show was just starting.
A move to the piano brought "Hello Cruel World", with Caroline sounding very jazzy and that song morphed into a killer rendition of one of my all-time favorite Elton John songs, "Madman Across The Water".
Caroline's voice was perfect for this dark-sounding tune and the audience seemed to be spellbound. She then showed off her considerable piano chops with an instrumental tune ,"Mad Michael", that started off sounding classical, and in turn became show-tunish, then folky, then a prog-rock style opus. To close the first set, she kept up the momentum she had generated with "Day By Day" an up-tempo rhythmic rocker that sounded like it could have been a hit by Heart. Wow! That was an opening set that covered a lot of musical ground at a high energy level.
Intermission involved the usual rituals involving chocolate and coffee and chocolate and mingling and more chocolate. It was the night before Halloween and chocolate was EVERYWHERE! I somehow managed to find time to buy a CD and chat a second with Caroline, who was very graciously flattered when I asked if she was influenced by Ellen McIlwaine. Further intermission entertainment was provided by the costumes some were wearing and there was even a quick costume contest before the second set. Even Caroline had brought a witch's hat! All that was left was to grab some chocolate and go in for the second set.
Caroline had done such a high energy opening set, but the rest of the night was just as strong. There were many highlights, not the least of which was a cover of Joni Mitchell's "Coyote". In our household no one is revered more than Joni and while we love to hear her covered, we can be critical of those who reach beyond their abilities but Caroline absolutely nailed a version that I know would do Joni proud. I also loved "Hotel At Highway One", its countryish feel giving that powerful sense of place and time. And then in "Mission of Angels", Caroline sang of relationship going south in one of the BIGGEST voices I've heard in a while, and I'm talking Janis Joplin big. For a change of musical pace and a tribute to her home , on St Simon's Island in Georgia, she did an a capella gospel singalong on the old field song "Turtledove".
Caroline finished the night with a great tribute to the power of the guitar, "My There For Me Guitar" a sentiment every guitarist has felt, no one understands me like my guitar! Of course there was an encore that really stood out with "Ground Zero" a beautifully positive statement of politics and religion. It was a remarkable evening of music, by a performer whose excellent songwriting is equalled by her powerful vocals and vituosic musicianship. And it was another reminder of how many amazing musicians are out there and how great it feels to discover one of them for the first time!
A link for Caroline Aiken:
and one for Bodie House Concerts: