Sunday, November 9, 2014

Richard Shindell, The Singer I Most Want to Be

I took my wife on a mystery date last weekend. We were celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary for about the sixth time. You see, my wife likes stretching celebrations, so we did this big anniversary up big, though in little pieces.

Saturday’s date was the last little piece, since it was November 1, and the statute of limitations had run out on October anniversaries. It was a mystery date because my wife didn’t know where we were going, and even if she had known, she wouldn’t have known what or who we were seeing.

I took her to the Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, Mass., to hear “The Pine Hill Project,” the latest collaboration of folk singers Richard Shindell and Lucy Kaplansky. In 1998, the pair made an album with Dar Williams called “Cry, Cry, Cry,” with its chilling version of “Cold Missouri Waters.”  “Cold Missouri Waters” is the only song I know of about the best nonfiction book I’ve ever read, Norman Maclean’s Young Men and Fire. (Links here are to videos. Watch the video of “Cold Missouri Waters.”)

The sound at the much-praised Shalin Liu was a disappointment. When we arrived fifteen minutes before showtime, house doors were still closed. “There was a power outage,” we were told, “and they’re running a sound check.” Apparently, they didn’t check enough. Voices were hard to make out all night; the instruments were amped up too high.

Anyhow, if there is one folk singer I would like to be it is Richard Shindell. He sings with a soulful lowing sound like a steer at the side of the Manger. His songs haunt me, almost every one. They’re not Catholic; they’re not even always Christian, and when they are, they stretch the boundaries of the label. Such is Shindell’s “Ballad of Mary Magdalene.” The link here is to another performance with Kaplansky, one with better sound apparently.

Here’s one more clip for you, my current fave. If you’ve never heard it, it may first strike you as a sacrilegious joke. I won’t spoil the joke, but I will give you a head start with the opening lyric:

It's the middle of the night
Near the Indiana line.
I'm pulling in a Christian station.
The signal's crystal clear,
But I cannot really hear
What he says about the Revelation.
I am wretched, I am tired,
But the preacher is on fire,
And I wish I could believe.

Now comes the heart of this great song: wishing he could believe, knowing himself for a “weary sinner,” and asking God to deliver him, deliver him, to . . .

Like I say, check it out.

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