Ad Vanderveen – Denver Nevada

Denver Nevada is a place that is not real, it’s made up. But it is real in the sense that it’s an anagram for Ad Vanderveen. As for Still Life; all meanings of the term can apply in this case.

Desolation, serenity; scenes like in a David Lynch movie or an Edward Hopper painting come to mind when listening to the singer-songwriter’s new album. Existential themes such as solitude, longing and resignation are expressed throughout the lyrics. But the album is also about the inexplicable and unstoppable drive and necessity to keep writing and creating.

Vanderveen can be counted among the most prolific songwriters in the new folk and roots genre, with over 30 albums to his name since the early 90s. As a person and a musicians, musician Ad is mostly geared towards growth and development and he tends to keep away from matters not involving music or spirituality. Dealing with  issues like name, fame and big sales numbers have never been one of his priorities. Among music lovers and critics, colleagues and peers however, he is highly regarded as a songwriter and musician; none other than Van Morrison, after hearing Ad’s album Worlds Within, personally invited him as his opening act in July 2017.

Another one of Vanderveen’s long-time favorites, John Gorka, joins him on the albums lead track to duet on “Another Song”. Denver Nevada strikes a certain melancholy atmosphere and mood that underscore the poems and lyrics at the core of the songs. The style can best be described as contemporary folk with influences of rock, jazz and classical. The songs and instrumentation are based around acoustic guitar and vocal; accompanied by piano, electric guitar, bass, percussion/drums, harmony vocals and augmented by strings and horns.

Ad’s previous album Worlds Within was hailed as a ‘classic’ by roots-americana critics and considered to be one of his best works. Fortunately the well has not run dry yet and folking.com agrees that the sequel Denver Nevada could top the former one, journeying further and deeper into new territory and changing soundscapes. Ad Vanderveen keeps challenging both himself and his roots music audience.

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Tracklisting:
01. Another Song
02. Big Old Lonely Feeling
03. Backroads of Hope
04. Castles
05. Denver Nevada
06. Ruminations
07. Wooden Shoes, Wooden Heart ,Wouldn’t Listen
08. Blackbird Singing a Blue Note
09. In The Name Of Rock ‘n’ Roll
10. My Sweet Crushed Angel
11. Afterthought – Groveling Grandeur

Artist Web Link: https://advanderveen.com/

JOHN GORKA – The Bright Side of Down (Red House Records)

gorkaIt’s been a while since I last crossed paths with a John Gorka album, but, listening to this, his twelfth, I’m pleased to find a seamless transition from my memories. Indeed, if anything he’s now so seasoned that he makes everything feel effortless, delivering a sound that’s as comfortable as your favourite old slippers.

At times, as with the waltzing ‘Bright Side of Down’ he reminds me of classic Tom Paxton while at others there’s echoes of Bruce Cockburn,  notably so on the laid back ‘Thirstier World’, a timely (and metaphorical) renewal song about the approaching spring and its victory over long winters, a season and theme to which he returns on ‘Really Spring’. There’s a touch of Cockburn too on the opening ‘Holed Up Mason City’, written after being snowed in while returning home after a tour, which, despite the Cajun flavoured accordion, has a similar jaunt to ‘Wondering Where The Lions Are’. As musicologists will know. Mason City was from where Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper took their last flight and both are referenced here, a reminder that he has an easy but effective way with an image or a phrase as on ‘Outnumbered’, a fingerpicked love song with steady tap beat rhythm, where he sings “I was never a player, maybe in song but not in love

Unfortunately, the downside of Gorka’s mellow mood is that sometimes the lyrics are rather less inspired, the lazy and undeniably catchy fiddle and banjo dappled ‘Mind To Think’ rhyming damage with sandwich, ham and cheese apparently, while the otherwise smartly written appropriately bluesy JJ Cale groove ‘Procrastination Blues’ with its soulful female oooh ooohs succumbs to the obvious cliché of ‘don’t put off till tomorrow what you can fail to do today’. And it will take a massive effort of will not to wince at the cooingly catchy but twee overload of ‘Honeybee’’s “the only girl worth thinking of, the  honeybee doodle bug.”

Thankfully, Gorka’s warm voice, relaxed delivery and hummable melodies are ample distraction in such moments and any minor blips are more than compensated for by ‘High Horse’ (with its hint of John Prine), one of the album’s two best  numbers, which addresses the economic downturn where “the neighbourhood’s gone quiet since the good jobs went south” as the narrator asks an old friend for help “for Gracie if not for my sake” and talks about memories and “scissors for thoughts”. Likewise on the musically circling title track and second standout where, joined by Eliza Gilkyson and Lucy Kaplansky on the chorus, he sings of hope and survival, observing that “maybe the key is thoughtful words and deeds to open up the voices of your dreams.”

There’s one non-original number, an unadorned, acoustic guitar accompanied ‘She’s That Kind Of Mystery’, a song written by the late Bill Morrissey who is also the subject of ‘Don’t Judge A Life’, a moving, emotion-stained tribute to his friend sung with breathy tenderness as he asks us to “measure a life by what was best”, closing with a reminder of love and mortality and that “we are here and then…..we’re not”.

Celebrating 30 years since he first found fame at the Kerville Folk Festival, it’s a little late in the day to be a game changer for what has been a steady and acclaimed if commercially unspectacular career, but anyone who’s followed him on the journey will be more than happy.

Mike Davies

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Artist website: www.johngorka.com

Tompkins Square Release ‘Live At Caffè Lena : Music From America’s Legendary Coffeehouse, 1967-2013,’ 3CD Box Set

TSQ2967_LiveAtCaffeLena150047 PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED TRACKS from DAVE VAN RONK, SLEEPY JOHN ESTES, KATE McGARRIGLE, RICK DANKO, RAMBLIN’ JACK ELLIOTT, TIFT MERRITT . . .

Nestled in the quaint upstate town of Saratoga Springs, New York is Caffè Lena, the oldest continuously operating folk music coffeehouse in the US. Opened by Lena Spencer in 1960, this tiny room has played host to influential artists across diverse genres of music; traditional folk, blues, singer-songwriters, jazz and bluegrass. Luckily, many performances were caught on tape through the years, offering the listener a thrilling seat inside this hallowed venue. ‘Live At Caffè Lena’, a 3-CD box set, the result of years of investigative research, contains 47 tracks, all released for the very first time, alongside previously unpublished photographs. Images include selections from the archive of esteemed photographer Joe Alper, who captured many iconic, intimate portraits from the folk era of the 1960s.

Live At Caffè Lena documents an important folk universe that was and is still happening in upstate New York, a story heretofore largely untold. The release of this collection comes at an auspicious time in light of renewed interest in the New York folk scene of the 60s as depicted in the forthcoming Coen Brothers film, ‘Inside Llewyn Davis.’ The film is loosely based on Dave Van Ronk’s 2005 memoir ‘The Mayor of Macdougal Street.’ Van Ronk, a Caffè Lena regular, served as a mentor to many artists, some who would go on to eclipse his fame. His 1974 recording of “Gaslight Rag” featured on the box set references the Gaslight Café, a famed Greenwich Village venue that along with Caffè Lena was a catalyst for the folk music revival.

Caffè Lena embodied the spirit of the folk boom, the era and its artistry, building a reputation as a hotbed of creativity and connection. It was also a safe haven and nurturing space for artists, its atmosphere cultivated personally by Lena Spencer herself. She would graciously house wayward artists, sometimes for months at a time. But she was not merely a host. She championed artists, from Bob Dylan as early as 1961 all the way through the 80s until her passing. Her passion for identifying and promoting talent is evident throughout this 3-CD set. That Caffè Lena is still open for business tonight is a testament to her legacy.

The producers are Steve Rosenthal (Three-time GRAMMY Award-winner, owner of The Magic Shop and The Living Room Music Club in NYC), Jocelyn Arem (Director of the CaffèLena History Project). Liner notes: Holly George-Warren & Robert Burke Warren, Scott Goldman, Michael Eck

Live At Caffè Lena: Music From America’s Legendary Coffeehouse, 1967-2013 is available Worldwide on Tompkins Square TSQ 2967 Distributed by INgrooves in North America, Cargo UK for Europe, FUSE for Australia.

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 Bob Dylan at Caffè Lena, 1962 (photo by Joe Alper)

Caffe Lena

Track list for Live At Caffè Lena: Music From America’s Legendary Coffeehouse, 1967-2013

DISC ONE
01 Intro by Lena Spencer / Guy Carawan Cripple Creek 1970
02 Hedy West Shady Grove 1968
03 Intro by Lena Spencer / Sleepy John Estes Holy Spirit 1974
04 Frank Wakefield and Friends Will The Circle Be Unbroken 1971
05 Jean Ritchie West Virginia Mine Disaster 1969
06 Billy Faier Hunt The Wren 1967
07 Greenbriar Boys Hit Parade of Love 1968
08 Mike Seeger O Death 1971
09 Jacqui and Bridie Hello Friend 1974
10 Tom Paxton Morning Again 1968
11 David Amram Little Mama 1974
12 Patrick Sky Reality Is Bad Enough 1971
13 Rosalie Sorrels Travelin’ Lady 1974
14 Smoke Dawson Devil’s Dream 1968
15 Utah Phillips The Green Rolling Hills of West Virginia 1974
16 Michael Cooney Thyme It Is A Precious Thing 1974
17 Kate McGarrigle and Roma Baran Caffè Lena 1972

DISC TWO
01 Intro by Lena Spencer / Dave Van Ronk Gaslight Rag 1974
02 Jerry Jeff Walker Mr. Bojangles 1968
03 Barbara Dane Mama Yancey’s Advice / Love With a Feeling 1968
04 Roy Book Binder Ain’t Nobody Home But Me 1974
05 Intro by Lena Spencer / David Bromberg The Holdup 1972
06 Ramblin’ Jack Elliott Pretty Boy Floyd 1992
07 Arlo Guthrie City of New Orleans 2010
08 Aztec Two Step The Persecution and Restoration of Dean Moriarty 1989
09 Happy And Artie Traum Trials Of Jonathan 1974
10 Rick Danko It Makes No Difference 1988
11 Paul Geremia Something’s Gotta Be Arranged 1989
12 Robin and Linda Williams S-A-V-E-D 1987
13 John Herald Ramblin’ Jack Elliott 1991
14 Pete Seeger Somos El Barco (We Are the Boat) 1985

DISC THREE
01 Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion Folksong 2013
02 Anais Mitchell Wedding Song 2013
03 Bill Morrissey The Last Day Of The Furlough 1990
04 Patty Larkin Island Of Time 1992
05 Greg Brown Flat Stuff 1989
06 Mary Gauthier I Drink 2013
07 Sean Rowe Old Black Dodge 2013
08 Tom Chapin Cat’s In The Cradle 1987
09 Intro by Lena Spencer / Christine Lavin Good Thing He Can’t Read My Mind 1987
10 Bill Staines Sweet Wyoming Home 1990
11 Bucky and John Pizzarelli I Like Jersey Best 1989
12 Rory Block That’s No Way To Get Along 1989
13 Chris Smither Killing The Blues 1989
14 Tift Merritt Traveling Alone 2013
15 John Gorka Down In The Milltown 1990
16 Lena Spencer Dear Little Cafe 1972