Monthly Archives: December 2015

Get a taste of Nyack violoist Martha Mooke’s new CD, ‘No Ordinary Window,’ with brunch this Sunday

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Pioneering composer and electro-acoustic violist Martha Mooke of Nyack at the Art Cafe in Nyack on Nov. 17, 2015. (Photo: Peter Carr/The Journal News)

Veteran electro-acoustic violist Martha Mooke is unleashing her new CD on the world with a brunch and concert on Sunday, Jan. 13, at Manhattan’s Cutting Room.

She’s no ordinary violist, so it’s fitting that her new disc, with its beautifully rhythmic, meditative tunes that open windows that offer a peek at the sonic world of her imagination, is titled “No Ordinary Window.”

“I slip through the cracks of defined boundaries,” she says. “I keep re-creating my way…. I try to take on challenges.”

I had a chance to spend an hour talking with Mooke about the project, her career, and her life in Nyack.

Click here to read the full interview I wrote for The Journal News/lohud.com.

And be sure to check out her live performance on Sunday.

IF YOU GO

When: Sunday, Dec. 13. Doors at 11:30 a.m., show at 1 p.m.

Where: The Cutting Room 44 E. 32nd St., Manhattan, thecuttingroomnyc.com/.

Tickets: $30, including brunch, concert, and cocktail. Available online at Ticketfly by clicking here.

 

Suzanne Vega keeps Carson McCullers alive

Suzanne Vega onstate as novelist Carson McCullers.

Suzanne Vega onstage as novelist Carson McCullers.

New York singer-songwriter Vega has ‘rewritten’ her intimate one-woman portrait of the novelist and is recording the songs

Good news: New York singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega’s one-woman musical play about Southern writer Carson McCullers is getting a second life.

I’ve rewritten the entire play. Recording the songs today,” she told me Wednesday in response to a Facebook inquire about the show. The album is expected to come out in the Spring. 

That’s just the latest fantastic news about Vegas efforts to push her talent into the world of theater — efforts that I feared she might have abandoned.

Vega showed the world a new face in 2011 with her one-woman play “Carson McCullers Talks About Love.” She wrote and starred in the play, which featured music co-written with pop artist and “Spring Awakening” composer Duncan Sheik.

Someone who knows Vega well told me she was urged to do an out-of-town tryout before staging it in New York. But she apparently ignored the advice and launched it at the small, well-worn Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre in downtown Manhattan.

As predicted, didn’t get the results or critical response she had hoped for.

Charles Isherwood of The New York Times described the show as a “funky ramble through the life of that Southern writer,” but assessed it as a “messy” project.

Joe Dziemianowicz, the longtime New York Daily News theater critic who was unceremoniously dumped by the tabloid earlier this year, was a bit kinder, but didin’t offer glowing praise:

Vega traces McCullers’ life with great warmth, but at times the play’s matter-of-factness chafes. Vega isn’t fully comfortable acting a role, which is also an issue.

I saw the spare production and was delighted by Vega’s transformation into McCullers — who was only 50 years old (a couple of years younger than Vega was during the Rattlestick run) when she died in 1967 in Nyack, where had lived off and on for 30 years.

The story was fascinating and the music was full of life and told the story of the writer quite well.

Vega’s not the only artist inspired at least in part by McCullers at the  time. Gabriel Kahane’s well-received musical “February House,”  staged in 2012 at The Public Theater, was based an the book of the same name that featured McCullers and a cast of early 20th century arts icons — from Gypsy Rose Lee to W.H.Auden — who lived in a house in Brooklyn Heights for a short, intense time in the 1940s.

But Vega’s show seemed to vanish when the run ended.

While it dropped off the radar, I certainly didn’t forget about it.

I rarely respond to calls for audience requests at concerts, but even have to admit I called out for “anything from the Carson McCullers show” when Vega asked for requests at The Bell House a few years later.

She laughed and politely declined. I figured she just wanted to forget about it.

But it seems I was wrong.

Vega is performing some of the songs from the show  in concert Jan. 15 at Joe’s Pub on Jan. 15.

She rewrote the title, too, while reworking the play. It’s now called “Unjoined: An Evening With Carson McCullers” — a title that appears to be influenced by the final moments of the writer’s 1946 novel, “The Member of the Wedding,” which describes 13-year-old motherless character Frankie Addams feeling like “an unjoined person who hung around in doorways, and she was afraid.”

For a little more from Vega about the show, check out this interview with Richmond Magazine.

“Unjoined: An Evening With Carson McCullers” is on track to return to the stage in 2016. I, for one, can hardly wait to see what Vega’s done with it.

 

 

 

Late discovery: Robert Earl Keen revisits his past by going where he’s never been before

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Listening to Texas singer-songwriter icon Robert Earl Keen‘s new collection of bluegrass, “Happy Prisoner,” for the first time can be a bit of a shock — in a good way.

I know, it was released 10 months ago, but I avoided listening to it. I guess I feared it would feature more of the frat-boy, Shiner Bock-swilling tomfoolery that has defined much of his career.

Truth be told, I fell in love with Keen’s broken-down-sounding voice and folksy sensibility in 1984, when he (with “Jr.” appended to his name in those early days, though it’s hard to imagine anyone would have confused him with his geologist father) released “No Kinda Dancer” on Rounder Records. It was a nearly perfect document of one of that era’s freshest new singer-songwriter voices.

He quickly moved from the one guy, one guitar sound to a the bigger, boisterous sound he’s known for today. And, while I liked the persona much less, I continued to follow his music and went to his shows from time to time. Despite his over-the-top fans — I witnessed one of Barbara Bush’s troublemaking friends get expertly cut from the herd at an REK show at  the Bowery Ballroom in 2001 — I have to admit I still love that voice and sensibility.

“Happy Prisoner” may be Keen’s first, and probably only, dalliance on record with bluegrass. But I’ve got to say that it feels like it has far more in common with the singer-songwriter he started out being than it does with the Texas icon he’s become.

Tradition sounds good on him.

His take isn’t one of hidebound traditionalism, though, on any of the tracks. Keen — with a little help from his Texas A&M pal and onetime roommate Lyle Lovett and Natalie Maines of Dixie Chicks fame on a couple of tracks — serves up a fresh, entertaining helping of  rootsy storytelling.

I can’t get enough of this album, which includes bluegrass classics such as “Wayfaring Stranger” and “Hot Corn, Cold Corn,” alongside his peppy take on Richard Thompson’s “52 Vincent Black Lightning.” He even does a credible job on 1959’s “Long Black Veil,” first recorded by Lefty Frizzell but most closely associated in my mind with Johnny Cash, who released two versions of it — a studio cut in 1965 and a live version on the 1968 album “Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison.”

In all, this project went a long way toward reminding me what a genuine, original voice Keen has. And I have little doubt that it will help me — and maybe you — hear his back catalogue with fresh ears.