My first showcase at this year's Folk Alliance featured Janice Jo Lee and Alysha Brilla. It was brilliant, very participatory including some Advil-as-shaker percussion. To say the set exceeded my expectations is saying a lot because I'd spent the night before working security and staring at the two artists' beautiful posters--each promising music that mattered. What I overheard in the hall before the set raised my hopes all the more.
A man asked one of the two, "So what kind of thing do you do?"
One of my new heroes replied, "Social justice."
The man said, "That's really important these days."
She said, "It's always been important; people are just thinking about it more."
I'll be ordering their catalogues, and I'll be writing more....
Meanwhile, Janice Jo Lee--
As my friend (OKC's Blue Door owner) Greg Johnson pointed out on his Facebook page, many songs took on new meaning in this political climate. It so happens that much of what I've posted so far illustrates that, but there are particularly relevant specifics that will be coming to mind for weeks. One was John Fullbright' s "Fat Man," which had made such a transition from a sort of "found song" about the 19th Century "Monopoly Man" Capitalist villain into something dangerous enough Fullbright assured his audience he didn't really want to kill anyone. Ariana Gillis also pointed out her two year old "Freedom" was written about inhumanity in the age before President Trump. However, she admitted it had new power now, telling a funny story about accidentally buying an Ivanka Trump shirt for a photo shoot....Instead of wearing it, she went without one. In the Gillis's sets, the song that seemed all-but-mystifying because it was so on point was David Gillis's giddily empowering, "I'm Walking Away from a Fight." Such a foot stomping celebration of precious-but-guttering values, it was breathtaking.
This is not from the conference, but of the versions I've found on line it best captures Gillis's defiant energy from last Saturday..... https://youtu.be/fubZCdxRZvY
Bonuses of that show, Ariana shouted "Mama" and "Papa" on the off beat answering the brilliant chorus. Plus, David claims to have remembered all the lyrics, which he apparently didn't in this video. Oh well....
At the more personal end of politics, I felt very fortunate to get to know Jane Kramer, who played this song and another powerful song "Good Woman" in a Saturday night songwriter's round. I was impressed by her voice, her imagery, her melodicism and her way of enjambing a lyric to allow one meaning to hang in the air before turning it with the following phrase.
Kramer does what all my favorite artists do, she validates our most deep seated fears about ourselves and uses vulnerability as the route to honest connection. That's the story of Jimmie Rodgers, Robert Johnson and Patsy Cline as well as Lou Reed and, yes, Mary J. Blige. And that's the story of compassion through confession that seems all but lost in today's politics.
This is the title track of Kramer' s most recent album, which I've had on my car stereo, alternating with Ariana Gillis's new EP, since the conference. I'm not a big fan of music videos proper, but I was happy to find this because it suggests the beauties the album uncovers with the tender delicacy Kramer uses to unwrap these horses. Oh, and the line for me is, "Unfurl my fist--all you're gonna find is a fraying rope." It's certainly the linchpin for this song if not the album (I'll soon write about at some length)--clinging to hope in an era built by cynicism.