Thursday, September 06, 2007

On The Platter

I have friends who are absolutely bonkers over Richard Thompson -- his music, that is. I'd get CDs for my birthday (always welcome) and give them a spin, but I never quite caught his appeal. There was no denying the man's musical virtuosity: he's one of those rare singer-songwriters who'll move the song to either side of the 12th fret, and I can't think of anyone else who bends a note to quite the same degree (well ... Robbie Robertson, but what's he done for us lately?). But the man's vocal delivery frequently dipped below cool into a little too cool.

And who could blame him? Half his songs explore the inner lives of freaks and geeks who are bent on alienating everyone within spitting range. What person in his right mind wants to get close to, for instance, the young, angry, befuddled, would-be Casanova who's taken all his erotic leads from porno ("Read About Love")?

Then I saw him perform on stage -- just the man and his guitar. Thompson is a guy who loves an audience, and he knows how to keep them listening. His songs, even the sad ones, were a lark, and he usually acknowledged the raucous applause he received with, "Ah, but you're a wacky bunch!" This throw-away flaming of Kenny G. pretty much captures the mischief I experienced.

I picked up Live From Austin, TX, and wasn't at all sure what to expect. It's markedly different from my single-concert experience: he has a band backing him up, for one thing. He also reins in his more impish impulses, and delivers a very polished and professional performance. The "cool" factor is back, but I don't mind. In fact, I can almost see why he has fans who follow him around on tour. Almost.

Janiva Magness, on the other hand, is a very different performer. I've raved about her before, and played Do I Move You? at the cafe for three months running. Blues Ain't Pretty is pulling me deeper into the cult of Janiva. I can't muster the emotional distance to describe Magness's style, unless I summon Thompson as a counterpoint: when Magness sings, there is no distinction between the singer and the song. That makes for quite a heady experience, particularly when combined with guitar stylings that seem soaked in beer and cigarette smoke (courtesy of Kid Ramos and Kirk Fletcher). I love it, and very much hope to see the woman perform live.

Richard Thompson's site is here. Janiva Magness's site is here. And this is her MySpace page.

4 comments:

DarkoV said...

WP, glad to read that you're almost in the Thompson fold. His newest release, Sweet Warrior will most certainly put you in the Whirling Dervish Nut group for sure. He's gone back to full electric, while maintaining his full-tilt pain. It's an excellent and long overdue album. The last 3-4, while enjoyable, have not had that ooomph that only his electric playing can provide. Well, at least in this Whirling Dervish Nut group member.

Thanks again for introducing me to the hoittest grandmother around, Ms. Magness. Haven't listened to that particular cd, but it's now in the crosshairs.

A slight note: I think you meant Kid, not Kirk. Mr. Ramos has some great CD's of his own, these two being ones I'd highly recommend.

Yahmdallah said...

wp, thanks for the links to Janiva. Free samples! Love it! I like what I've heard so far. For some reason, she reminds me of Leon Redbone.

I have given Mr. Thompson a try a few times, because like you I never really got him. Even saw him live with a full rockin' band to see if that would help. I still just don't really enjoy his music. Alas. My bad.

Whisky Prajer said...

DV - right you are: I mixed up Kirk with Kid. And Sweet Warrior is being recommended to me a lot these days, so that particular title is in *my* cross-hairs.

Mr. Y - I could see (hear) similarities to Redbone. I think she's definitely worth a closer look (can't believe she's a grandmother!)

mdmnm said...

I've been a fan of Thompson's for years, though not terribly avid by many fannish standards. Like you, I somewhat recently saw him live, and solo. I was completely blown away and will make strong efforts to catch any of his performances that I can get to.