Monday morning notebook

Jun 24, 2012

Dar Williams invited more than 200 folks over Saturday night for a spirited evening of songs and stories.

In lieu of hosting at her house, which is in New York, Williams  turned the Redmoor in Mount Lookout into a suitable stand-in as she played eight of the 10 tunes from “In the Time of Gods,” and six others with the help of keyboard player Bryn Roberts and guitarist Josh Kaler. 

The music was certainly the centerpiece, but it was some unexpected moments that lent the night its homey feel. 

The trio opened the show with “The Light and the Sea” from “Gods,” and after the last note, Williams told the audience that she had broken a string on her guitar, which might cause a blip in the proceedings. 

However, a voice called out from the crowd, as Justin Golden of opening act Ellery offered to change the string while the band went on to the next song. After thanking him profusely, Williams shared another surprise. Turned out that she had met a woman in the restroom who had a special request: Would the singer please  play “The Babysitter’s Here” for her 5-year-old, whose own babysitter just graduated from high school and was leaving for college in the fall?

So Williams, ever the earth mother, agreed and the local mom hurried home to wake the toddler and return for the special moment. Armed with her newly strung guitar, the singer offered a heartfelt version of the tune after explaining how important the real babysitter was to her and her family as she was growing up.

And this was just the first 15 minutes. Williams was playing with house money from that point on.

In talking about “Gods” recently, Williams said the project was based on Greek mythology, but listeners didn’t necessarily need a working knowledge to appreciate the songs. As the night went on, however, she provided an entertaining lesson on the roles that the gods and goddesses played, not only for the record, but in her youth. Sharing stories of her father explaining the cosmos to her as a child, Williams proudly proclaimed her nerd cred as she recited the roles played by Hermes, Dionysus and Prometheus among others.

In between the banter, the music was top notch. “Gods” is filled with strong songs, with “I Am the One Who Will Remember Everything,” “You Will Ride with Me Tonight,” and “Summer Child” standing out. In addition, “Spring Street,” “What Do You Hear in These Sounds?” and “Mercy of the Fallen” from earlier albums were fine choices as well.

And it was only fair to have Golden and his wife, Tasha, share the spotlight for a haunting version of Jay Clifford’s “Cathedrals,” a song Joan Osborne memorably recorded on her “Little Wild One” album. In addition to playing guitar tech early on, Golden cleaned the stage after Kaler later spilled his beer, then delivered a fresh one. Brothers in brews.

Williams had one more heartfelt tale to tell when she returned for an encore. She paid tribute to her neighbor, Pete Seeger, comparing him to Storm King Mountain near their Hudson Valley home. 

When she finished “Storm King,” her guests knew it was time to head for their own homes, giddy with the memory of a delightful evening with a perfect hostess.

‘Mindy Smith’ by Mindy Smith

After listening to “Mindy Smith,” the new album by the Nashville singer-songwriter by way of Cincinnati Bible College, it seems appropriate that she waited until her fifth album before using the eponymous title. 

Each record is a snapshot of a particular time, and Smith states her case that now is when she is closing in on some answers for the big questions that she has asked since her 2004 debut “One Moment More.”

“Closer” kicks off the new disc with the distinctive Smith sound of her soaring soprano above a mid-tempo beat featuring the twang of a banjo and pedal steel, the combination that defines the project.

The highlight is “Pretending the Stars,” which Smith co-wrote with Daniel Tashian. The closest thing to a rock song on the record, “Stars” will have Smith fans hoping that she can/will find contentment.

But with titles such as “Take Me Back,” “Cure for Love” and “When You’re Walking On My Grave,” it’s likely that bliss might not be within her reach at the moment. But the pastor’s daughter isn’t about to give up the quest for spiritual fulfillment, and that journey continues to produce quality songs. 

Pokey LaFarge goes back in time

Jack White’s track record speaks for itself, so if he chose Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three to play on “I Guess I Should Go to Sleep” on his “Blunderbuss” album and to open shows for him recently, he must be on to something.

The group has won two straight Independent Music awards for best Americana album with last year’s “Middle of Everywhere” and 2010’s “Riverboat Soul.” 

LaFarge, whose old-timey sound is appropriately accented by his suit and a Stetson appearance, brings the Three to the Taft Theatre Ballroom Friday night. 

Look who’s coming to town

A number of solid shows have been added to the local calendar in the the past week or so. Save the dates. 

Lucinda Williams, July 25, Madison Theater. The queen of alt-country has been generous over the past year since the release of her Grammy nominated “Blessed” album. She has contributed to “Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan” that benefitted  Amnesty International, and “Occupy This Album,” the four-CD set that helps raise money for the Occupy Wall Street movement. She also appears on “Kin,” the Rodney Crowell-Mary Karr project.

Shawn Colvin, Aug. 1, 20th Century. Buddy Miller produced “All Fall Down,” which features four tunes co-written with John Leventhal (“Sunny Came Home”) and an all-star band that includes Bill Frisell, Viktor Krauss and Brian Blade, plus harmonies with  Emmylou Harris, Julie Miller and Jakob Dylan.

Bob Dylan, Aug. 26, PNC Pavilion at Riverbend. The master's never-ending tour returns to Cincinnati for the first time since 2008 (he played NKU's Bank of Kentucky Center in 2010). Dylan recently added the Presidential Medal of Freedom to his list of honors. 

Toad the Wet Sprocket, Sept. 6, Taft Theatre. The California quartet had an enthusiastic following in Cincinnati in its ’90s’ heyday. Lead singer Glen Phillips went on to a solo career and was instrumental in putting together Works Progress Administration, the collective that included Sara and Sean Watkins, all-star guitarist Greg Leisz and Tom Petty keyboard player Benmont Tench among others.

ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd, Sept. 14, Riverbend.  The only night of the year when shouting for “Free Bird” might actually work. 

Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Robert Cray, Sept. 16, Taft Theatre.  The two solid blues veterans team up for a night of sizzling guitar work. The bonus is the return of Noah Hunt, the Cincinnati singer who joined Shepherd’s band 15 years ago.

Fiona Apple, Oct. 6, Aronoff Center. Critically acclaimed singer popped up for the first time in seven years with a new album, “The Idler Wheel ...” 

Bunbury recommendations

Jane’s Addiction, Weezer and Death Cab for Cutie will draw the biggest crowds during the Bunbury Festival July 13-15 on the Cincinnati riverfront, but who are some of the other acts that you are anxious to see?

My guess is that there will be plenty of fans in front of Guided By Voices, Airborne Toxic Event, Gaslight Anthem and O.A.R., but the cool part of an event of this size – there are more than 100 acts scheduled to play – is finding that band that hasn’t hit it big yet. 

Send an email with a paragraph about why you will be in the front row for a favorite, and I’ll share them before the event.

Album of the week

“Charlatans at the Gate,” Tristen. After listing the Nashville singer-songwriter last week as one of the acts to see at Bunbury, this album continued to intrigue. “Baby Drugs” and “Heart and Hope to Die” are the catchiest of the 11 tracks, but “Eager for Your Love,” “Matchstick Murder” and “Tadpole” offer their own nuggets of pop music gold. 

Some of the credit goes to Gaspadarek’s Music City compadre Caitlin Rose, who co-wrote “Drugs” and “Tadpole.” Rose, who released her debut album “Own Side Now” in 2010, sings with Tristen on “Special Kind of Fear.” The voices, paired with Matt Moody’s Farfisa-sounding organ and Chris Scruggs’ guitar work, recall a simpler time when young women sounded sweet and innocent even if the subject matter didn’t share those qualities.