Beatin’ the blues with a bodhran & fiddle

Posted: July 12, 2011 in Uncategorized
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McKrell, Moody & McKrell lift spirits with Tang concert

Here’s something to think about: You’re driving along the highway and suddenly come to a dip in the road. Unless you’re going so fast that you jump it, the car hugs the road and the tires stay on the pavement. The springs allow this to occur while the car body dips a little more slowly so that the distance from the top of the hood to the center of a hubcap increases a bit.

However, you, the driver or passenger, dip even more slowly so that it seems for an instant you are almost airborne … depending on how tight your seat belt/harness is, of course.

Why is that? You are in the car, after all.

L to R Doug Moody, Katie McKrell and Kevin McKrell in concert at the Tang Museum.

OK, so you’ve thought that through and you’ve got an understanding of what is happening. The car seat also acts as a spring … and so, too, does the human body … the fact that it’s mostly fluid has something to do with it, too. It’s not that difficult after all. I just wanted you have that sensation in mind when talking about a musical performance with Kevin McKrell as the frontman. Rather than just watching a car go by it’s like being in a car going down the highway with a guitar-playing McKrell narrating or serving as a tour guide (he literally does this in another dimension, so to speak, as he actually arranges tours to Ireland and Scotland).

This is one way of describing the way McKrell engages the audience. He does so in a very informal manner and he does so in employing various types of humor: There is misdirection and the unexpected: “We should introduce everybody,” he says, and as the audience anticipates the obligatory naming of band members, he instead points to the audience itself … “if you’ll just start in the back there …” There is absurdism: “I have Sirius radio … which is spelled with an “I” … and psy-confessional: “I write it down and sing it to you folks – it leaves me alone.”

With journeyman percussionist Brian Melick at a Midwest gig with Cathy Ryan, the lineup of (Doug) Moody, Melick and McKrell was changed to bring Moody, McKrell and McKrell to the Tang Museum “Upbeat on the Roof” concert series Friday, July 10, as Kevin’s daughter Katie took up the bodhran and shared both her wit with the audience and harmony singing with Moody.

Moody’s fiddle was very much a second lead voice in the lineup. Perhaps one of his better solos was in a song that goes, “You Couldn’t Have Come at a Better Time.” Moody doesn’t do a whole lot of talking during a show and his facial expression doesn’t change a great deal; he is, somehow, a showman in spite or because of it.

A standing-room group of approximately 200 people … many of them, it appeared, longtime McKrell fans … saw the trio perform in a first floor lecture hall as threatening weather prompted organizers to move the show indoors.

Many of the songs the trio presented, like “I Miss the Rain,” from the 1998 McKrells collection, Better Days, describe the sadness of being far from home. McKrell has the ability to come up with some very interesting lines that audience members will probably remember through the years … “the Berkshires changin’ color right before my eyes” … “leaving behind the fog and rain to head for the ice and snow,” etc. Mostly, though, McKrell just writes right: “You can bet that it’s raining in Dublin,” etc.

The audience at the Tang Museum definitely included a number of longtime fans who sang the chorus of “All of the Hard Days Are Gone” quite robustly. Which … going back to the idea of the car on the road … prompts us to ask whether we have the cruise control engaged! While corporate CEOs are doing very well, indeed, these are VERY hard times for many people, after all. Yet as the Great Depression showed us, people seek escape in song and dance from the terrible circumstances of life in hard times … of course … this audience might have included quite a few retired people not doing so badly as all that. They’re old enough to remember TV personality Danny Terrio (1970s) and his headband and still laugh at McKrells comments on the same … so “cruise control” is certainly in use, at least during stretches of level road.

For some fans (and we’ve had this discussion with various players), it appears, a dose of familiarity appears to be important … perhaps even necessary as it smooths out the road for them, giving them a chance to “own” — by virtue of their “insider” knowledge — a bit of the show … in a manner of speaking. These fans know the band in its various incarnations well enough to appreciate jokes about percussionist Melick even when he’s not actually present. They realize that McKrell is grateful for the success that he’s had in music so that when he doesn’t lose their attention when he pauses to talk about Irish folk and bluegrass greats he’s shared stages with over the years.

I believe, too, that they understand that, while McKrell is certain an Irish folk performer with some bluegrass abilities, he’s also a “New Folk” performer … now there’s an 80s term that hasn’t come up in a while … since old folk was still hanging around, in fact! His songs often describe the terrible tension between longing to be at home and the inability to actually stay at home. Such is the music trade … if it’s not actual wanderlust it’s the business itself. This tension can be heard in McKrell’s voice. He’s for real, alright, and sings with the kind of conviction that tells you he has to sing.

Kevin’s daughter, Katie, has a special singing talent, too – for that matter, so does Moody. They step up to the microphone just as casual as you please and hit their harmony parts right on key every time. In case you didn’t know, Katie also writes songs and has done some solo shows. It was quite a treat to hear her perform.

High points: The thing is there aren’t really “lows” in a show with this outfit … so how can you point to a “high point?” Tell ya what: Let me say that the trio’s treatment of the “John Barleycorn” legend is quite interesting … and that’s saying quite a bit, given the number of treatments it has received in the music world! One could point to certain violin solos, danceable tunes, etc. The thing is, with five McKrells albums, the Train of Fools album and a Moody, Melick & McKrell disc, the group can draw from quite a well of material, so pointing out highlights in a single 90-minute show doesn’t even make much sense.

Best to just wish them all well … especially to Katie with the arrival of her baby boy due in just two months. Kevin noted that he will also be performing with Donnybrook Fair, one of the groups he was involved in prior to forming the McKrells. Watch for it.

This week’s free and open to the public “Upbeat on the Roof” concert at the Tang Museum, Skidmore College (7 p.m. Friday), features the Brian Patneaude Quartet (jazz).

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