Bank One Lonesome Pin Series

By Paul Moffett

It was a case of "you pays your money and you takes your choice" at the Bank One Lonesome Pine Special's singer/songwriter show at the Macauley on July 13.

Did you want a Canadian singer with an expressive and powerful voice, who writes beautiful melodies that edge over into pop?

How about a roots-writer from Mississippi whose songs are picture-perfect sketches of real life but who speaks with a dialect that has not yet moved into the entertainment culture's list of way-cool accents?

Would you rather have a Los Angeles-raised daughter of Hollywood music writers, trained at the Berklee School of Music, who, together with her partner, writes songs that are very much after Maybelle Carter and the Skillet Lickers?

Those were the choices, approximately, presented to the audience by LPS Director Dick Van Kleeck and many there had already made their choice clear.

The Quebecker singer/songwriter, Lynn Miles, opened the show accompanied by Ian LeFeure, a manic wizard with two guitars and a large selection of effects. Miles' tunes reflected the diversity of the world culture as she experienced them, living in Spain, Alaska and Austin, Texas as well as travelling all around Canada.

Wearing a long dress with a red velvet vest, Miles' singing and McFeure's accompaniment convinced many in the audience that she was for real and a likely candidate for headliner down the line. She covered tunes from her two CDs, Chalk This One Up to the Moon and the just-released Slightly Haunted. The latter album title was quite representative of the music she and McFeure made.

New Orleans-born and Sledge, Mississippi-raised Kate Campbell's songs frequently are compared to Eudora Welty and Bobbie Gentry for their color. Witness the opening lines from "Mississippi and Me":

"Daddy was a preacher in Sledge, we were living on gospel and beans / Every Sunday night Deacon Jones would give a silver dollar to me.

On the way home, my poor momma would pry it from my hands / and say it fell from Heaven."

Campbell's set was straight-ahead folk, consisting mostly of songs from her debut release Songs from the Levee. Accompanied by Don Johnson on acoustic bass, she let the audience see the South she grew up in, from the poignant "Just a Cotton Field Away," a metaphorical measure of the distance between whites and blacks to "See Rock City" to the gospel tune "Jerusalem Inn." She also sang a deceptively simple, heartfelt love song, "I Will Be a River," and what she called a follow-up to Cissy, the beautician mentioned in "Mississippi and Me," called "Bound for the Promised Land."

Following the intermission, headliners Gillian Welch and David Rawlings made their appearance and promptly played "the hit," as Welch called it, "I Am an Orphan Girl." She was dressed the part, in a long black skirt and white stockings, with a light sienna, short-sleeved blouse and I swear somebody said "Olive Oyl?"

Rawlings looked for all the world like the figure of David from the Pieta, with curls of hair hanging down beside each eye and his head tilted ever-leftward towards 'Gill.'

Welch, the daughter of a pair of music writers for the Carol Burnett show, counts a range of music styles in her background, from Camper Van Beethoven to Rodgers and Hart to the Delmore Brothers. She teamed up with Rawlings while attending the Berklee School of Music in Boston. They moved to Nashville and began the long climb to songwriter stardom.

"We were those crazy people who wrote songs about sharecroppers," Welch explained as an introduction to "Anna Bell," a song about a sharecropper.

Their tunes have been covered by Emmylou Harris, the Nashville Bluegrass Band and Tim and Mollie O'Brien. They range from bluegrass to blues to old-timey to waltzes and bloody murder ballads.

They worked their way through cuts from their debut CD Revival, which has been on the receiving end of much 'buzz,' some of which was going around in the audience. Rawlings seemed at times to wrench melodies out of the guitar.

They ended their portion of the show with a song written by Eric Anderson, "Dusty Boxcar Wall," with new/old lyrics by Welch. She explained that she had learned the song from a mandolin player, but when she tried to play it, she couldn't remember all the words, so she "added a few verses," including a complete verse from "House of the Rising Sun."

The obligatory end-of-night jam session produced a choppy version of "Quinn the Eskimo," sung by Rawlings. At one point, Miles asserted herself and reeled off a slick guitar lick, even though (or because) she was being ignored by the men playing solos.