Sunday, October 4, 2009

Kenny Edwards and Michael Frey - SongTree Concerts, Goleta,CA - September 19, 2009 - House Concert Review

One of the coolest parts of living in SoCal, going to house concerts regularly, and now doing reviews, is that I've gotten to see, listen to, meet and sometimes get to know a bit, some artists that I have followed and respected for many years. One of the most accomplished of these artists, though not that widely known, is Kenny Edwards, who we have had the pleasure of seeing live several times in the past few years. Even if you don't know the name, I guarantee you have heard many, many songs that have featured him as a writer, producer, vocalist, or sideman on a variety of instruments. His discography reads like a veritable Who's Who of Southern California rock music and he has worked with many country artists also. When we heard he would be playing at SongTree, a venue fairly local to us that we'd never been to before (see my venue review just below this one), there was no question that we'd be there.

We had no tickets or reservations, so we arrived nice and early to ensure that we would get in and to score some good seats. It was a good move, the room filled up pretty early and though we were in no danger of not getting in, the closer seats filled pretty quickly. The crowd here was on the oldish side and many seemed to know each other, leading me to guess many were members of the Congregation that sponsors these concerts.

The good thing about double billed concerts is that you get to hear acts that you've never heard before, the bad thing about them is you get to hear acts you've never heard before. Fortunately this was one of the former, a nice opportunity to hear a good artist. The opening act was a gentleman named Michael Frey, a singer/songwriter from the Santa Barbara area that I had heard of but never heard before. He did a nice set of tunes, most of them his own. Michael is a VERY  talented guitarist with a servicable if unremarkable voice who has written some nice songs and I gather he has a good following in the Santa Barbara area. Many there that night were there to see him in particular, from what I could discern. His songs ranged from the Cajun rocking chair rhythms of "The Bayou Teche" , the stylish fingerpicking ballads  "Way Out in The Desert" and "Old Soul" to my favorites "Making It Up" which really suited his voice best of any tunes I heard and "Its Not There Anymore" a beautifully constructed song that describes a hometown "before it got mall-ed" in his clever lyrics. The set closed with a bluesy cover of Hank Ballard's "Shelter From The Storm" and we went to intermission feeling quite entertained. Here's  a picture of Michael:

At intermission we bought a snack and drink at the outdoor snack table, had a nice chat with a friendly couple we met and enjoyed the cool night air. Unlike most of the house concerts we attend, familiar faces were few at this show, though we saw a couple of musicians we recognized in the audience. We re entered the concert really looking forward to Kenny's set.

So for those of you who aren't familiar with Kenny Edwards, here are just a few high points. In the mid 60's Kenny was a founding member of The Stone Ponies along with Linda Ronstadt, they had a hit with the song "Different Drum". From there he teamed with Karla Bonoff, Wendy Waldman, and Andrew Gold in the "supergroup"  Bryndle, and was a leader of Linda Ronstadt's touring and recording band, contributing material and expertise in creating her hit-making sound. Since then he has collaborated  and played with a wide variety of acts ranging from Don Henley, Warren Zevon, Stevie Nicks, and Ringo Starr to country artists like Juice Newton, Charlie Daniels, Wynona and Emmy Lou Harris. There may be no one as influential in establishing the SoCal acoustic rock sound. In 2002 Kenny released his first solo album, the wonderful "Kenny Edwards" and the exciting news this evening was that his second solo album "Resurrection Road" is just about to come out, my copy is on order!

On this evening, Kenny was accompanied by the wonderful multi-instrumentalist Freddy Koella who produced both of Kenny's solo albums.  The set started with the title tune from the new album "Resurrection Road" with Kenny laying down a groove on the mandolin and Freddy playing a tasty fiddle. The next tune, the bluesy "I Got That Fever" featured Kenny on acoustic guitar and Freddy playing dobro. Freddy is one of the most economical and tasty players you will ever hear; every note he plays has a purpose and serves the song itself, with not a drop of "virtuoso ego" in spite of his obvious virtuosity. Next was another song from the new CD "Will You Still Love Me" whose clock-like rhythm propelled its theme of the futility of trying to make someone love you. Here's a picture with Freddy on dobro:

"My Home Is Anywhere You Are", another new one, was a countryish tune with a bouncy, driving rhythm that again featured Freddy on fiddle.Here's a picture with Freddy on fiddle and Kenny on acoustic guitar:

 Kenny introduced the next song as one of those "internal mining disasters of folk music", a favorite from his first album, "No Tears", an examination of macho attitude full of heart-felt irony. Freddy's really exceptional dobro solo was one of his best moments in a night full of memorable playing. Freddy switched to a vintage Gibson acoustic guitar on "So Many Ways To Break A Heart" and then back to dobro, adding to the swamp-funk sound on a cover of Lowell George's classic "Roll Me Easy".  After Kenny urged the purists in the crowd to look away as he put a capo on his mandolin, he did the old R&B song "I Can't Stand The Rain", which at one point humorously became "I can't remember this song" as the lyrics evaded his memory temporarily.

Kenny's talent is enormous but in no way is he showy. His guitar playing has been so influential in establishing the distinctive sounds of SoCal folk rock, its easy to forget the crowd has followed HIM, rather than the other way around. His voice, while also never showy is full of emotional depth and has kept him in demand as a backup singer. And while his songwriting has never been hugely prolific, he writes really beautiful tunes and lyrics full of feeling. The next song, "I Saw It All There In Your Eyes" is an example of his beautiful, haunting  lyrics applied to music written by co writers, and then on the following tune, "On Our Way To Heaven", Freddy played some beautiful acoustic guitar licks to again highlight Kenny's great lyrics.

Well, all great nights have to draw to a close and Kenny closed this one with a couple of my favorites. "Statesboro Blues" is a Delta blues standard dating back to 1922 and covered innumerable times. Somehow, in doing a classically authentic arrangement, Kenny makes this song his own, easily the best version I've heard since Taj Mahal's first solo album, circa 1968.  Freddy's dobro backing and solo were as authentic-sounding yet fresh as the arrangement, a remarkable feat.  And then all that was left was the encore, a tune that Kenny describes as "my life story of obsessive compulsive love" (a theme I think we can all relate to!), "Misery and Happiness". Kenny played one of his driving mandolin rhythms with Freddy adding fiddle fills, making obsessive love seem like a whole lotta fun and bringing a great show to a rousing close!

Kenny Edwards is one of a handful of SoCal musical icons whose body of work DEMAND your attention. Please if you have a chance , don't miss out! Go see him live and buy both his CDs! You'll be a better person for the experiences, I guarantee!
Here's a link for Kenny:

and one for Michael Frey:

and one for Freddy Koella:

and one for SongTree Concerts:

As always, my love and thanks to my best friend and love of my life, Becky, for her photos and indulgences!