Hoot Review from Harriet Brewing, June 25, 2015
All Important Artists by Becca Marx
In this week’s Hoot preview, I wrote to the fact that art can be like a compulsion, a passion that can poison, or liberate. I encouraged the audience to free themselves, and let the music lead them wherever they let it. Arriving late, and rushed after a think tank reception with state Rep. John Lesch regarding the real issue of revenge porn, I found myself torn between tough reality, and musical escapism. I’ll write about both, but telling perhaps, that I write about music first?
Jim Walsh and Martin Devaney obviously share a tight bond. Walsh was the first music critic to give Devaney a chance back in the beginning of his musical career, something that Devaney conveyed gratitude for. However, this Walsh statement stuck with me: “We’ve hung out for years, but I know him best through his songs.” Hmm, is an artist so emotionally entwined in their art, that perhaps their music is their emotional safe place? I called Devaney a true troubadour, and I stand by that characterization. His 2011 song “Wise Blood” from The West End album gave me chills, my ears hearing the strains of Leadbelly and Dylan. Devaney started a rock tune towards the end of the night, but stopped midway, stating, “it didn’t feel right.” Instead, he played the lovesick “Flowers on the Doorstep,” and left us with the promise to hear more rock songs with his new band Gramofone.
A brand new, untitled song by J.W. Schuller had the audience voicing their opinions about whether it should be titled “Poor Little Us”, or “It’s Singer/Songwriter Night, It’s Supposed to be Depressing.” Myself, I voted for the former: it was shorter and matched the chorus of the song, which reminded me of Paul Westerberg on the solo album “Grandpaboy.” Both John Fenner and Jim Walsh made note of Schuller sounding similar to The Kinks. There does seem to be a resemblance, especially on “All Important Artists,” the title track of his 2013 album. The song initiated a conversation about whether the “tortured artist” stereotype is true. The truth might be somewhere in the gray area, the passion that drives an artist can be a savior, or a monkey on their back. One thing is sure, the audience was full on enchanted by the song, nearly shouting the chorus. Schuller also sang “Zelda” which references Zelda Fitzgerald, and how her husband F. Scott Fitzgerald took her youth, her secrets, her diaries, and letters, and used it for his art, destroying her in the process. The downside of being a muse is that once the infatuation that ignites the creativity is gone, the muse is most often used up, and discarded. Such was the story of Zelda Fitzgerald.
Vicky Emerson channels a real country feel with a healthy dose of Lucinda Williams. A classically trained pianist, she recently purchased a guitar from a questionable seller who invited her into his van to look at rock and roll pictures. Demurring, she named the guitar “Clarice” in honor of the “Silence of the Lambs” film. British native and Hoot veteran Katy Vernon borrowed “Clarice” to serenade her college roommate visiting from the UK, with a stunning soon to be released song “Lost My Head.” The crowd was treated to a new definition of the word “growler” from said roommate, a meaning that was found quite comical in its UK context. Emerson played the Minneapolis friendly song “Lyndale,” a street famous and infamous to Minneapolis musicheads. The song “Fever,” first recorded by the 1950’s R&B star Little Willie John, was covered by Emerson in such a way that it had the audience dancing in their seats, snapping and clapping along with the writhing melody.
Duluth chanteuse Mary Bue regaled the audience with her song “Put Up,” a confessional kind of a song about “putting up with someone’s shit.” The song channeled The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde’s lilting inflections, and Bue finished it with a sweet shout-out to her husband. She played several songs from her recently released record, including the title track “Holy Bones.” Bue’s final song was “Cheribum”, an ode to that little annoying angel “that follows you, knowing all about your love life.” The song and in fact, all of Bue’s set caused Martin Devaney to pause, and reflect that he found her songs well done and to the point, not long and drawn out. Offstage, it looked as though Bue’s eyes may have teared a bit, as she was clearly moved by Devaney’s praise. A touching moment of artistic camaraderie that felt dear to witness. Since Thursday night, Jim Walsh and Bue have made a pact to bring the Hoot to Duluth — fun times ahead!
Jim Walsh ended the night with the Lucinda Williams‘ tune, “Real Live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings,” in response to Schuller’s “All Important Artists” and a true-to-life song that Williams wrote about her friend, Paul Westerberg. All the singers sang the chorus knowingly; Williams doesn’t mince words as she sings out the price that can be paid when you play to your passion. Oh, the twisted mistress that music can be.
The night ended just before 10 p.m., almost four hours after it started, with an almost private Walsh-Devaney Hoot that included Jim singing his David Carr tribute tune for Martin, who responded with a gut-wrenching finishing song about life and love and hope. The night also featured guest cameos from Brianna Lane, who stopped by to share her crowd-hushing tune “Take Down Your Flag” — a collaboration with songwriter Peter Mulvey and many others — in response to the South Carolina church shootings, and Terry Walsh, who gifted the crowd with “Harriet,” his almost 30-year-old song that took on beautiful new meaning the night after the Belfast Cowboys’ triumphant lovefest at the Lake Harriet Bandshell.
Until next week, may you listen to music, often and actively. Let it take you where it will, and let it take you right back to the Mad Ripple Hootenanny, Thursday 7/2!
Becca Marx is a St. Paul-based freelance writer and critic and staff reporter for Rift Magazine.