Archive for the ‘1999’ Category

As part of The Old Grey Cat’s ongoing 23rd anniversary shindig, here’s a favorite review/Q&A from 1999.

New England-based singer-songwriter Dana Pomfret came to my attention by way of her husband, guitarist Jeff Pevar (they since split up), who I interviewed in early 1999. I soon checked out her CD, Soul Collage, and was surprised at just how good it was. In fact, I liked it so much that I reached out and asked if she’d answer a few questions; she graciously consented. (Although the album is no longer in print, her 2004 Tracks compilation is available on the usual streaming services. It’s well worth a few dozen listens.)

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Soul Collage is the audio equivalent of a powerful, seductive drug: One listen and you’ll be hooked. Dana’s intoxicating vocals weave in and out of the catchy melodies, conjuring comparisons to such singers as Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones, Laura Nyro and Carly Simon, among others. Soon enough, however, those comparisons fade and you’re left with Dana, who takes you down funky and slow, alternately wooing and cooing you into her soul.

It was toward the end of my interview with CPR’s Jeff Pevar, I’d asked about his work with his wife, the singer-songwriter Dana Pomfret. I’d never heard of her and, as is my wont, admitted my ignorance. “You’d like her,” he assured me. Spoken like a proud husband? You bet. Yet, to be honest, I harbored my doubts. Blame it on my ever-increasing cynicical outlook on life. I mean, what was Jeff going to say? “She’s terrible”?

Imagine my surprise, then, when a few weeks later I plunked Soul Collage into my CD player. “In the ’50s they had the hula hoop” – Dana’s vocals immediately swoop in, and swoop you into the groove from the get-go. The first song, “Buttermilk Highway,” hitches a hook-laden ride into a then-now comparison of the ’50s and the present. A lot’s changed. A lot hasn’t: “Riding high on a buttermilk highway/Keepin’ tight on a jigger of gin/On our way to the pearly skyway/Pass the buck and I know I’m in…” Kids gunned down in Denver, hate crimes on the rise, ethnic cleansing in Kosovo…the list goes on. And rather than doing something about it, we tend to look the other way and pray the problems will disappear on their own. “Buttermilk Highway” makes you think – as well as hum its chorus while walking down the hallway at work.

The rest of the album’s just as potent as that opening track. “Girls In Their Cars” is a mid-tempo gem that comes across–to my ears, at least–as a marriage between early Rickie Lee Jones (minus her hipster lingo) and the Beach Boys. “Girls in their cars sing with the radio….” 

Accompanied by a deft backing track (featuring a nice mandolin solo plucked by the omni-present Jeff Pevar), it could very easily be a trip down a foggy nostalgia lane, but it’s not: “And girls on their feet/still raise up their kids alone.” There’s more going on here than the lush, to-die-for vocals, in other words. Rather than hitting the listeners over the head, Dana seduces us into the groove, into the stories she tells, and allows us to draw our own conclusions. Another such moment arises with the album’s gorgeous closing track, “Sally,” which draws us into prepubescent innocence, painting a picture of kids playing kick-the-can.  “I’ve been waiting on my change,” she sings. “Sitting here waiting for my change/thinking I would shed my skin/come back new and strange.” But innocence isn’t as innocent as we might like to think: “I see her Dad’s belt buckle out/He ‘really means it this time’/so banged up – she never cried.” 

That’s not to say Soul Collage is just about “important” issues. To the contrary, it’s about life large and small–the world around us as well as the world within. For every “Buttermilk Highway” there’s “Trick’s on You”: “When my Grandma calls out to me/I curl up on her breast/she says ‘don’t sweat the b.s. baby and just forget about the rest.'”

Like many of the albums – CPR’s, Stacey Earle’s – reviewed within these pages, this one stands head-and-shoulders above the “product” the major labels and today’s static radio stations routinely push at consumers. As I stated above, I approached this disc with some trepidation–and wound up a convert.

My (Email) Q&A with Dana:

You dedicate the album to Sammie Coleman. Who is she?

Sammie Coleman was a brilliant, poetic, fierce, funny woman. Born and raised in rural Georgia, she came North to try and make a better living for herself after graduating high school. When we moved to NYC, mom went back to school to get her teaching degre–and Sammie came to take care of my little brother and me, Tuesdays and Thursdays. She was my “second mom”–as she put it. We baked, played, danced and sang. Early on, she was one of the people who gave me genuine, unconditional support and love–and she encouraged me to become a singer. “Don’t be a doubtin’ Thomas” and “take what you got and get what you want” were two of her favorite expressions. She taught me to follow my heart and never give up. Sadly, she died in Feb of  ’98, so I dedicated the CD to her…

Looking back at when you recorded Soul Collage, is there any moment that crystallizes the process? In other words, what’s the first thing you think of?

Heh…Here are a few:

  • Doing vocal takes in between plane landings (we’re in a bucolic spot – but close to the airport).
  • Living with ALL the musicians in our little cabin while we recorded the basic tracks nearby at Jim Chapdelaine’s studio – who worked long hours with his screaming cockatiel Dizzy perched on his shoulder.
  • Taking the drummer, Franck Ridacker–who’d come all the way from Paris to record–on 
  • a 2 a.m. tromp through the woods, where we got lost. All he could say was, “where is my bed?”

Where’d the title come from?

I’d written a little poem with that title – just a word list, really. I thought it applied to the record; the cover painting ended up being a collage, the music is an amalgam of styles, all music comes from the soul, and a wonderful mix of people came together (from Paris, NY, CT, past & present) to help make it happen. My whole feeling about life-on-the-planet is that it’s a kind of moving collage – everything all-at-once: choose your vision.

Who are your influences? I hear Laura Nyro in there…

It’s funny – because I never had any of LN’s records – but I heard her on the radio and liked her a lot. My folks were into wonderful jazz – Jelly Roll Morton, Oscar Peterson, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, etc. – and classical (courtesy of my dad). And incredible folk stuff – everyone from Odetta to Pete Seeger to Woodie Guthrie to the Weavers (courtesy of my mom). My own picks were Marvin Gaye – his hits as well as the more obscure stuff – the Beatles, Sly & the Family Stone, CSNY, The Persuasions, The Temptations, Gladys Knight, Aretha, Jethro Tull, Prince, Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones, Sweet Honey in the Rock. ETC! – everything I could get my hands on and especially music that moved and harmonized. Couldn’t get enough.

What comes first – the words or the melody?

It depends on the day, the minute, the mood. Sometimes it’ll be a bass line, sometimes a rhythm, sometimes (and I kiss the floor when this happens) whole songs just seem to spontaneously write themselves. I carry a tape recorder everywhere because inspiration always hits in the weirdest places.

For “Tricks on You,” you credit the novel The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon by Tom Spanbauer… 

The book is a big, moving picture about the underbelly of the ‘wild west’. It’s poetry, pornography, love, tragedy, humor. An inspired yarn with a lot of soul and some incredible images.

Crosby & Nash…how’d their contributions come about? Martin Sexton?

I met David & Graham through Jeff – and eventually they each got copies of my first disc. Graham knew I was recording a second CD, and emailed Jeff that he could “sing his ass off” for me if I wanted. WOW! I went through the ceiling, then emailed David and asked if he’d do it as well. He agreed – they are both incredibly generous spirits – and we did the back-ups to “Permanent Bitter Pill” and “Underground World” at Graham’s studio in Los Angeles. It was a lovely rush to work with them; I learned so much about harmony from listening to their records – and there we were doing “aaahhhhhs” together!

And Sexton… I saw Sexton sing his ass off one night at a little coffee shop upstate, so I called him up and asked him to sing on the disc. I was especially interested in his trumpet impersonation. He came down to the cabin with his daughter and just nailed it.

The second of the three Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band reunion-tour shows I attended was no mere concert, but a blow-out bash; and while not the favorite Springsteen concert that I’ve enjoyed, it ranks near the top. Originally slated to take place on September 16th, it was pushed back eight days due to Hurricane Floyd’s unexpected visit to the East Coast. That meant the shindig fell on the day following a major Springsteen milestone: His 50th birthday. 

Unlike the other five nights in Philly, the concert took place at the Spectrum, which seemed positively tiny and quaint in comparison to the barn-like First Union Center. The site holds a special place in Springsteen lore for two reasons: When he and the E Street Band first played it on June 6th, 1973, during a 13-date stint opening for Chicago, they were greeted – for the first and possibly last time – not by shouts of “Bruuuuce!” but actual boos; in response, Bruce is said to have flipped the finger to the over-eager fans, who were no doubt clamoring for “Roxie” instead “Rosalita.” (Oh, wait – wrong Chicago!) Fast forward three years, however, and he and the band played their first and second large arena shows as a headliner at the venue on Oct. 25th and 27th, 1976. (Both nights, as all nights in Philly, sold out.)

My first memory of this show: The traffic and parking, which were insane. The Phillies were at Veterans Stadium, which was situated across the street from the Spectrum, and the Flyers were hosting the New York Rangers at the F.U. Center, which was next door. The Schuylkill Expressway and I-95 were both backed up, and Broad Street was at a standstill. We pulled into and parked in a distant lot that, I’m fairly certain, was in Timbuktu.

Although – as I mentioned in my post on the Sept. 20th F.U. Center concert – my ticket stubs have been lost to time, I recall Diane and I being situated in first or second-level seats, about 5 o’clock to the stage’s midnight. Not the world’s best, obviously, but much better than one show in ’92 when I found myself sitting in one of the Spectrum’s “obstructed” seats (aka behind a cement pylon).

My next memory: Bruce strolling stage center with a boom box, which he held to the microphone. He played a song that a fan – a neighbor of his mother’s, no less – had sent to him for his birthday. After that, he launched into one of my favorite songs by him, “Growin’ Up,” and soon enough we were havin’ a party. As on the 20th and the 25th, highlights included the five-song stretch from “Youngstown to “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.” In short, the night was raucous and meaningful at once, exactly what this thing called rock ’n’ roll is supposed to be about. 

Unfortunately, video-capable cell phones were still a ways away, so YouTube is not littered with clips of the concert. But two cool, fan-shot videos, both from behind the stage, are present. The first: the first performance of “The Fever” since the Darkness tour…

The other: the closing number of the night, “Blinded by the Light.”

All in all, for me and mine, it was a great show.

The set:

  1. Growin’ Up
  2. No Surrender
  3. Prove It All Night
  4. Two Hearts
  5. The Promised Land
  6. Spirit in the Night
  7. Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street
  8. Mansion on the Hill
  9. Independence Day
  10. Youngstown
  11. Murder Incorporated
  12. Badlands
  13. Out in the Street
  14. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
  15. Working on a Highway
  16. The Fever
  17. Backstreets
  18. Light of Day
  19. Bobby Jean
  20. Born to Run
  21. Thunder Road
  22. If I Should Fall Behind
  23. Land of Hope and Dreams
  24. Blinded by the Light

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

Last Sunday, I tripped back to 1999 via a favorite concert; this week, I’m revisiting the same year via one of my revered albums, Natalie Merchant’s Live in Concert. Released on November 2nd, 1999, the set collects 11 songs recorded five months earlier at the Neil Simon Theatre on Broadway.

The easiest way to break it down: Five Tigerlily songs; three covers; two 10,000 Maniacs tracks; and one offering from Ophelia. But that doesn’t do it justice. In short, it’s the kind of album that pulls you into its mid-tempo (and slower) grooves. It’s low-key and atmospheric, and less a career summary and more an artistic statement. The songs rise and fall as one.

The album opens with three Tigerlily tunes: “Wonder,” “San Andreas Fault” and “Beloved Wife.”  Each is stirring in its own right, accented by gentle undertows that ebb and flow. A few songs later, on “Carnival,” the undertow grows strong and pulls the listener under.

That leads into one of the things her eyes may have seen while wandering around that street festival: poverty. “Dust Bowl Days” (from Blind Man’s Zoo) is an empathetic portrait of society’s oft-hidden underclass. It may not be the first 10,000 Maniacs song most fans think of, yet it’s here, and it’s as hypnotic and mesmerizing as “Carnival.”

The song selection is less about the hits than the feel, in other words, with further evidence provided by Ophelia’s title track in the stead of “Break My Heart,” “Kind and Generous” or “Life Is Sweet.” Back in the day, after all, it didn’t garner any airplay, so – on the surface – it’s inclusion is an oddity. As is one of her covers…

To my ears, Natalie’s reading of the David Bowie trippy classic, which was inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, is nothing short of tremendous – it takes us through the same secret doors down corridors as “Ophelia.” The same goes, to an extent, with her rendition of Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush,” which finds her alone in a burned-out basement. At one point, the instruments drop out, leaving Natalie breathing the lyrics for a verse. It’s haunting.

As good as those covers are, however, nothing prepares one for her compelling take on Katell Keinig’s “The Gulf of Araby.”

Live in Concert was released at a time when the music marketplace was near the end of a decade-long expansion, with a slew of teen-driven pop acts topping the charts; it was a metaphoric October 23, 1929, in a sense, as the Napster-era crash was in the offing. The headwinds alone don’t explain why the album only reached No. 82 on the charts, however. I’d argue that demographics played a larger role; those who discovered Natalie during her 10K days or via Tigerlily had since become adults with adult concerns, and had less money to burn. But no matter. Twenty years on, it’s safe to say that – whether one’s a new or old fan – Live in Concert is an essential set.

The track listing:

(A live DVD culled from the same concert features a slightly different set. Unlike the CD, it’s no longer in print, but is well worth seeking out – used copies are available on both Amazon and Ebay.)

In 1999, after a decade apart, Bruce Springsteen reformed the E Street Band. March saw the band engaged in private and public rehearsals at Atlantic City’s famed Convention Hall, where the Beatles played in 1964, with the practice interrupted only by Bruce being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The 15-month tour began in Spain on April 8th, and remained in Europe for the next two-and-a-half months – a smart plan, really, as it guaranteed the band was in peak form by the time they hit the States.

And hit the States they did: On July 15th, Bruce and band kicked off a sold-out 15-night run at the Continental Airlines (aka Meadowlands) Arena in East Rutherford, N.J., followed by five nights in Boston, three in D.C., two in Michigan, and a half dozen in the city that championed him first, Philadelphia. (In total, including Europe and Canada, Bruce and the band played 133 concerts in 62 cities; as the tour wore on, there were more one-and-dones.) Most tickets cost $67.50 (or $103.76 in 2019 dollars) prior to the TicketMaster charges.

That six-night residence in the City of Brotherly Love, I should mention, saw him play five nights at the home of the Flyers and 76ers, the F.U. (aka First Union) Center, and one at the former home of the same sports teams, the hallowed Spectrum, the site of his first headlining arena show in 1976. I had tickets for three (Diane had five) and, in fact, my first night of the fun was slated to occur on the 16th at the Spectrum, but Hurricane Floyd caused the concert to be pushed back to the day after Bruce’s birthday, the 24th. As a result, this night – our 18th wedding anniversary, no less – turned out to be the first that I took in.

Though the ticket stubs have been long lost, memories of each concert remain, including one (the 25th) where Diane I sat exactly opposite the stage in the last row of the second level; and the Spectrum gig (which has gone down in Bruce lore as one of his best – I plan to write about it in the future). This night, however, is the first that springs to mind – and not because of the music, but a little girl.

Diane and I were accompanied by our good friend (and Diane’s longtime Bruce buddy) Luanne and Luanne’s 6-year-old daughter Loren, with the four of us sitting in the first level – section 102 or 103, I believe, somewhere in the 8 o’clock range. Good seats, in other words, but far from great. On that tour, however, Bruce had a member of his crew roaming the hall to offer instant upgrades to the front row; while running into this person was akin to hitting the lottery, it happened, and not just for folks in the nose-bleed sections.

I know that last part for a fact, as it happened to us this very night – almost, that is. 

Let me set the stage: We arrived somewhat early, found our seats, ran to and from the bathrooms and food vendors, and sat back and watched the arena slowly fill while talking about what we hoped for from the night. I wanted “Candy’s Room,” and a set anchored by Darkness on the Edge of Town; Diane, who’d studied the set lists up until that point, thought that unlikely. Somewhere in there, we noticed the crew member navigating through our section toward us. (The backstage pass dangling around his neck was the tell.) Words were quickly exchanged. “I can’t,” he said once he realized Loren was with us. “She’d get crushed.” People rushed the stage, he explained, and little kids could get hurt.

He moved on.   

Still, it was a great show. “Candy’s Room” led into “Adam Raised a Cain,” and three more Darkness songs were sprinkled throughout the set (though not “Promised Land,” the lack of which always disappoints me). As with every night of the tour, though some sections of the set changed, others did not. So, as on all other nights, an electric “Youngstown” – one of my favorite live songs by Springsteen with the E Street Band, as it melds the folk and rock traditions (and also features a mesmerizing solo from Nils Lofgren) – gave way to “Murder Incorporated,” “Badlands,” “Out in the Street” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.” Everyone was on their feet, dancing and singing along, fists pumping the air.

Everyone, that is, except for Loren. At some juncture, as only little kids can, she sacked out. Her eyes closed and head drooped, and despite the joyous din she found herself in, she fell fast asleep. (To this day, it’s one of the sweetest things I’ve witnessed.) By the time Bruce and the E Street Band lit up the arena with “Light of Day” and “Ramrod,” wave upon wave of bodies crashed upon the stage as if it was a seawall; she heard and saw it not, but she was safe while her mother, Diane and I were thoroughly enjoying ourselves, our so-so seats notwithstanding.

Anyway, since no video of this night exists on YouTube, here’s “Youngstown” from Live in New York City, which was filmed in April of 2000:

And, from the fifth night (7/26) of the Meadowlands stand, here’s “Light of Day”:

And, last, since it was a highlight for Diane then and now (“I’ve got goosebumps,” she just said), here’s “Back in Your Arms” from the 14th night (8/4) at the Meadowlands:

The set:

  1. Candy’s Room
  2. Adam Raised a Cain
  3. The Ties That Bund
  4. Prove It All Night
  5. Two Hearts
  6. Darlington County
  7. Something in the Night
  8. Mansion on the Hill
  9. Independence Day
  10. Youngstown
  11. Murder Incorporated
  12. Badlands
  13. Out in the Street
  14. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
  15. Working on the Highway
  16. The Ghost of Tom Joad
  17. Back in Your Arms
  18. Backstreets
  19. Light of Day
  20. Ramrod
  21. Bobby Jean
  22. Born to Run
  23. Thunder Road
  24. If I Should Fall Behind
  25. Land of Hope and Dreams