Sunday, December 5, 2010

Live: Dust To Digital New Releases Showcase, 12/2/2010, Jalopy Theatre, Brooklyn

Last Thursday night, Jalopy Theatre in Brooklyn, hosted the Dust to Digital New Release Showcase Show. The evening included live music, two film screenings and some old time buckdancing!

The night kicked off with a screening of Ten Thousand Points of Light. This endearing, funny, and unique film was originally shot on VHS in 1989 and 1990, and documents the Townsend family's  eight-year tradition of transforming their brick ranch house into a blaze of Christmas lights. Their suburban Atlanta-area home became known as both “the Christmas House” and the “the Elvis House” during the duration of their annual holiday tradition. The film celebrates the family's traditions, and through interviews, we get to meet a generous, humble, and welcoming family, that possesses lots of big personalities, and that really loves Elvis, Christmas, and the spirit of opening their home for the enjoyment of others. Lots of fun!

Next up was Stewart Copeland's heartwarming documentary, Let Your Feet Do The Talkin'. The film tells the story of American buckdancer, Thomas Maupin, and the close relationship between him and his banjo playing grandson Daniel. The film presented an intimate portrait of the then 70 year old Maupin, including his life as a performer, the unique art of buckdancing, and the special bond between the man and his grandson through music and the joys of performing together. Along with Dust to Digital's release of Desperate Man Blues, this is one of the best films I saw this year, and I highly recommend it to anyone.

When the film ended, none other than Mr. Maupin walked down the aisle of the theatre, and was met with a warm loud applause from the crowd. This sparked a wide smile and a wave from Mr. Maupin, but also a short round of buckdancing to the music of Matt Kinman, who would later close the evening with an authentically moving performance, once again joined by Mr. Maupin dancing along.

The East River String Band took the stage next, and offered a set of old-time styled renditions of the original tunes compiled on Baby How Can It Be?: Songs of Love, Lust, And Contempt. The release is compiled from East River String Band's guitar player and record collector, John Heneghan's collection of old 78 rpm records. The three CD set includes sixty-six rare recordings. You can link to, and listen to some audio samples of the tunes here.

To celebrate the release, The East River String Band ran through a rich set of tunes, including some drawn from the newly released collection. Some of the songs they performed included "Ain't No Tellin", "Baby, All Night Long", "Yellow Bee", the title track of the collection "Baby How Can It Be", "Some Cold Rainy Day", and "There's More Pretty Girls Than One". The band, which includes Mr. Heneghan and Eden Brower, was joined by harmonica player Ernesto Gomez for the set, which included uptempo rags, mournful ballads, and bluesy stomps.

For the final act of the evening, Matt Kinman, who was billed on the show poster as an American songster and balladeer, returned to the stage and began the galloping "Cold Icy Mountain", with banjo in hand. He continued on, pausing briefly to site Clint Howard and Doc Watson before launching into the achingly beautiful "Saw A Man At The Close Of Day". 

Dressed in denim overalls, blue work shirt, boots, and brimmed hat, Mr. Kinman was the genuine article. His virtuosic playing on the banjo, guitar, and fiddle effortlessly provided the crowd with a revue-style collection of material throughout his set. Mr. Kinman's lone voice called and lamented from the stage and carried throughout the room, almost seemingly filling it with the authenticity and power of truly traditional southern, appalachian, and mountain music.

It definitely felt like a special opportunity to see Mr. Kinman perform that evening. He joked throughout the night, told stories, and shared his knowledge of the music he so clearly loves. It was a powerfully moving set of traditional material. He talked of the threads that connect Charlie Poole's "Leavin Home" and Jimmie Rodgers' "Frankie And Johnny", describing how they were, at their essence, the same tune, with only stylistic variations. Mr Kinman then launched into his own bare rendition, which he quickly abandoned, only to pick it back up later on in his set and and give the epic an unxpectedly treatment of bouncing swagger. 

Carl Sprague's "When The Work's All Done This Fall" came on next, and then two Jimmie Rodgers' numbers followed,  "Anniversary Blue Yodel (Blue Yodel No. 7)" and "Pistol Packin' Papa". Mr. Kinman then played the traditional fiddle tunes "Rosa Lee McFall" and  "Ragtime Annie".  He closed the set with a haunting rendition of Merle Travis' "Dark As A Dungeon". Matt Kinman's performance was beautifully authentic, and I am really looking forward to digging into his CD that we picked up, Matt Kinman & The Oldtime Serenaders, as well as scouring for the other recordings he has available.

The evening was truly a remarkably memorable one.  I've only recently discovered the Dust to Digital label, and it's quickly become an obsession to me (in the best possible way) to learn, study, and share all of the wonderful music, films, and books they are unearthing and making available.  To think that some of the material they are uncovering could have been lost, or unavailable for us to enjoy is truly a sad notion. 

As a newcomer to the label's output, and an instantly excited enthusiast for their efforts, the showcase at Jalopy last Thursday easily exceeded any expectations, and was one event that could not have been timed better for me personally. It easily was one of the best, and uniquely singular nights I've had recently. The show was just a staggeringly joyous event of music, history, performance, and film.

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