March 03, 2014

Tracy Grammer and Jim Henry in Southbury

I took a few hours out of my Sunday afternoon to trek down to the VFW Hall in Southbury for a concert by Tracy Grammer and Jim Henry. They played at the inaugural Blues Cafe, founded by George Martin.

Although she was not at Falcon Ridge last year, I've seen Tracy fairly recently (CT Folk, First Friday) but she was solo then. Adding Jim Henry, who fits so well musically with Tracy, was like seeing a completely different show. Not better, per se, but a little looser, with a more rockin' and bluesy selection of songs.

Tracy did a lot of Dave Carter's "greatest hits" (as usual) which were lovely and welcome, and accentuated with Jim's bluesy leads and harmonies. Jim played "Vincent White Lightning" (on Tracy's borrowed guitar and with a strap way too high, and he was awesome, with Tracy doing a great job on rhythm and harmonies) as well as an original dedicated to his daughter Ruby. They closed with the "eco-gospel anthem" Gentle Arms of Eden and played a single encore "Pancho and Lefty" before Tracy skedaddled to beat the snowstorm back to her home in PA.

But the best part of the afternoon, in my opinion, was a trio of songs that Tracy has written as part of Cary Cooper's (love her, just saying)  Real Women, Real Songs project. A collection of women artists are challenged to write a song a week, based on a prompt, throughout 2014. Tracy's been active in the group and played three songs - the Week 1 prompt (vulnerable), Week 5 prompt (satisfied) and the Week 6 prompt (puzzled). I really enjoyed the songs live (adding Jim just made them growl) but was surprised to see how well done they are on Youtube. Here's the Week 1 song.

Tracy has been tending Dave Carter's legacy for a decade now, and it's such a delight to see her pushing herself musically. I almost felt as loving and protective of her as I did of the young Dar Williams, schlepping around new England with a pre-Honesty Room box of cassettes. Although Tracy really needs no such coddling - she's such a professional musician and has been working with amazing songs for many years - so I'm sure amzing songwriting is deep in her bones at this point.

She entered the project with some hesitancy (a song a week, seriously? that's a lot!) but from what I have seen of Cary Cooper (in the Falcon Ridge merch trailer and out in the world) she's a force of nature, not to be denied. So let's give Cary an "assist" for these lovely songs!

Wish I could say I loved the venue - I did not. It was kind of a "house concert grown large" - most of the audience sat at tables arranged schoolroom style (so they were quite distant from the band, and sometimes seemed more into their pasta). That did leave the front two rows of regular seating free for late-comers like me (I was front row center). However, I struggled to stay present with the music due to other guests. The two women to my left (Tracy groupies, based on their tee shirts) took a lot of photos - one with an iPad (which requires one to hold it 2 feet in front of you to see the image) and the other with a large smart-phone with flash. Let's just ban flash photos and iPads used as cameras from here on in, OK?

In addition, the distaff half of a couple across the aisle, (who played the open mike, and not particularly noteworthy) talked throughout the set. Sorry honey, your talent is not 1% of that needed to excuse talking through Tracy's set. Also, your guitar (with butterfly motif) is cheesy.  I'm generally pretty charitable towards Open Mic participants, but come on, just because you are the star of your small town folk community does not mean you can talk through the headliner, and especially not seated in the front row.

Finally, the sound system, while technically adequate, did not sound as it it had been set up. It was positioned behind the performers (no attempt to have someone run it) and not tweaked or adjusted at all (judging by the visibly flat EQ sliders). Tracy's vocal reverb was a little much to start - not sure if they tweaked it down or I got used to it. Tracy and Jim swap out instruments a bit (Tracy had two guitars and her violin, Jim played electric, mandolin, and and Tracy's guitar) - I'd have felt a little better had the mixing console been off to the side and somebody had stepped up to it once in a while to adjust something for each song.

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