Three for the road

Posted: August 10, 2011 in Uncategorized

Caleb Hawley, A.J. Roach, Ana Egge
Caffé Lena, Saturday, August 6

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY – No, “See the Future” is not Caffé Lena’s homage to Chevy Chase and Caddyshack.

Rather it has been a series supported, in part, by the NYS Council on the Arts, to introduce Caffé Lena members and local audiences to folk artists they might not have heard or otherwise might not have an opportunity to see.

Ana Egge (left); A.J. Roach.

It’s also a bit of a misnomer. All of the artists presented August 6 have paid their dues, seen success and have more than one recorded CD. Coincidentally all three live at present in New York City.

Each is a singer-songwriter accompanying themselves on guitar.

Their talents were evident. Midwestern transplant Caleb Hawley’s (yep, the Caleb Hawley from American Idol Season 10) guitar skills are almost intimidating as he is able to deftly put together various riffs and tricks in quick succession.

To get a better idea of what he was like, well, consider this carefully – it’s a comparison but not an identification. What if John Mayer played an acoustic guitar, had a grittier, huskier voice, a grittier, huskier education, and … instead of looking for a neat hook or clever phrase, gave us some pleasantly ragged edges and a whole lot more unrestrained passion? And was accessible? And displayed a kind of hunger? You still wouldn’t have Caleb Hawley. Well … of course you wouldn’t. You’d just have an idea based on a bunch of words I wrote.

Hawley’s songwriting seems to have hit a new height as he ventured … maybe a little early in the program … into the arena of moral psychology … “you don’t feel validation” … “empty path, empty road and an empty pot of gold” … “so bothered by what you’re not that you’re blinded by what you’ve become” … etc. Interesting ideas, the last bit being deceptively difficult to parse.

This is gritty songwriting and this is why Caleb gets paid the big bucks. Well he would where there are audiences really ready for something that challenging and more … because I expect he’ll forge ahead in that direction. Now … hopefully … that place is or will be Caffé Lena. I think so but I have no way to really gauge it. Do you? And then the next song or at least the song after would always have to be special, too, although not necessarily that tough or blunt and there ya go … deeper and deeper and here I am, talking to myself as reviewer.

And already Hawley is picking up the audience with a song about getting through this second Great Depression and I’m about to miss it, although I got a little preview of it earlier in the week.

A.J. Roach had a bit of fun joking with the “See the Future” theme. He ran a gamut from songs that were deliberately loony (consider the late Jake Thackray) to moving and heartfelt.

In a memorable tune addressing songwriting tutor (the late) Jack Hardy called, “The Poet,” Roach gives us, “to hollow out the robots and make room for ghosts to live there.” This … and of course I’m thinking of Richard Thompson’s “The Uninhabited Man,” gives us pause, having watched area political activists on different sides blindly follow programs set by some national committees somewhere. Or considering decades of television viewing and the accompanying patterns of values, social activity, wants and desires, spending and perhaps even dreams. If television personalities invade even your childhood dreams, what else is happening to you? Good God I’ve digressed.

“Whiskey’s My Shepherd” – same thing. More thinking.

Suffice to say that’s what these artists do: They make you question things and they make you think.

Ana Egge is no exception. Now that she’s had a record produced by Steve Earle, who, with Allison Moorer, added a vocal, one could say she’s become established. Although I’d better be careful about calling Steve Earle “the establishment.” Ya think?

It’s a good thing Ana Egge’s catching on because she brings along the folk tradition of the people’s struggle against the machine – evidenced in “Fiero, New Mexico,” a sing-a-long that the audience seemed to have some feeling for. Interesting surprise ending, too. Fiero indeed. Hmm.

Other tunes like “A Hole in Your Halo” put Egge squarely in the “flow” of contemporary folk/folk rock.

She also gave us, among other things, a motorcycle song. Motorcycle songs are important – you know that. Because they’re not so much “about” motorcycles as they are about freedom.

Egge projects the idea she has vision and also, that she is a little bit like a tree, which is generally thought of as sturdy and time-tested – it represents the long view, in other words. How? Because she’s tall. No. That isn’t it. It’s because the speaker in her songs stands firm and stays cool in spite of the mess that someone’s making (in “Bad Blood”).

Just as the Saturday Night Sampler has afforded audience a broad view, in a way. Much broader than anything I could put in a review.


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