House of Mercy Series #5. Theme: Brothers (Sunday, January 30th,
2005, Turf Club, Minneapolis. Live Broadcast by Misplaced Music.org)
By Cyn Collins
Sam Keenan of MMR informed me that it is easily their most popular broadcast show. (At one point the number of listeners nearly crashed their server!) Equally, the Turf Club quickly becomes filled with audience members, eager to listen and to be a part of the old-timey radio show. This is my favorite show of the month anywhere, and I never miss a single one. It's a blast; funny, campy, vaudevillian, and heartwarming. A person might feel as though they've been transported back to the vaudevillian radio shows of the '20's and '30's, or the early day's of Prairie Home Companion. The show is a great way to get exposed to multitudes of Twin Cities artists briefly so you can suss whether you want to see more of them in the future, as each act ranges from 5 minutes to 1/2 hour, and at least 8 acts are featured during the evening.
Kudos to the Turf Club and to David Hazledine, booking Sundays, and St. Paul's House of Mercy musicians, and Misplaced Music for this brilliant lively show which happens the last Sunday of the month. Check the Turf Club calendar though because sometimes it's the 3rd Sunday. (http://turfclub.net/February.html.)
Suited and bespectacled show host Russell Rathbun introduces the House of Mercy musicians which include stage manager Chris (CP) Larson, and Raz (Mike) Russell, fiddler extraordinaire. (I apologize that I don't have all the house musicians names yet. Whoever is reading this, feel free to write and let me know.) A very talented bunch of musicians with fiddles, banjos, mandos, guitars, and drums, and in particular, voices with a large repertoire of old-time country and Appalachian and gospel songs, they start the show with this month's selected audience sing-a-long song "Farther Along". Armed with our beautiful programs that are designed like early 1900's wedding or funeral programs, depending upon how you want to look at it, we have the words and the tremendous schedule to follow along. They’re great souvenirs. You can take a look at 'em at the Turf if you want to learn more.
The theme was "Brothers," and as usual the campy humor and terrific banter of the show host with the musicians and the audience on this theme was hilarious. Rathbun is really funny and endearing. The House of Mercy band kicked off the show with Hank Williams, Sr.'s "Dear Brother", which I don't think I've heard before. I'm always happy to hear an unfamiliar Hank tune, as well as the familiar.
The show host got pretty artistic with the names of musicians, calling Raz "Frenchy Beguine, and ending all musicians with surname "Beguine" regardless of their own, because here they're all brothers, even the sisters were brothers tonight. 3 guys, with a woman fiddler, the Bequines played a Buck Owen's song, then "16 Tons", then "another Buck Owens tune, "In the Movies", (I know, if you're like me you might be thinking, "Buck Owens", sounds pretty hokey! But that's what this is all about, and trust me it's a good time. And those are good songs!) Then they did a rousting rendition of one of my very fave classics, "Maggie's Farm", covered by many it can't be covered too much. They closed with a Louvin Bros. song.
Then came a crowd favorite, the Radio K/First Ave. selected 2004 "Best New Band" the Get Up Brothers John, featuring Jake Hyer and Josh Wenck. Rathbun, after informing audience of their recent award, goes on to say, "Josh is the handsome one, and Jake is the pretty one." (Audience groans, and the "brothers" blush, the "pretty" one protesting). They start with their usual rousing starter, the old fiddle tune "Cluck Old Hen". Jake, a phenomenal fiddler, plays raw, dirty fiddle on this. Josh has a beautiful voice, one of the best I've heard in the world of old traditional music, yells out, a high lonesome, "Hi-i-i-yi-yo -o-oh-whoa", not a yodel, a mountain holler that sends chills. There's no one in town that can beat these two for calling up the old tunes in a beautiful, harmonious way. This received tremendous applause from the now full Turf Club house. The "Brothers" John are influenced by and cover the tunes of their favorite brothers, Stanley, Monroe, and Louvin as well as Carter Family, so they were perfect for the show. They proceeded to do a quiet rendering of "Sailor Boy". The enrapt, silent audience broke into quick hoots after Jake's mando solo which he's equally skilled at and plays about 50/50 switching with the fiddle. They covered the Louvin Bros. "Preach the Gospel" and then announced, "The next one's by our other favorite brothers, the Stanley Brothers, "Meet Me by the Moonlight", a heart-wrenching rendition featuring sweet sorrowful fiddle and unbelievably sweet harmonies. Commentary amongst musicians and audience members abounded about how beautifully and perfectly these two harmonize. They concluded with a faster, "Midnight Special" so the audience wouldn't be left in a low mood.
The first intermission featured Brother Molly Maher announced by host, to be "the next "Maher" of Mpls. (har har) and one of her Disbelievers, Brother Steve Murray, bass (also bassist for Friends Like These, and recently for Ben Weaver), along with Raz Russell (fiddler for the Creekdippers Mark Olson and Victoria Williams), Joe Savage on harp, and Pete Rasmussen, guitar. They did one song. . . Maher does fantastic slide guitar, Delta blues inspired, ala Lucinda Williams. Maher was a student of one of the best in town, Gabriella Sweet. Maher's slide and smooth, yet dry whiskey voice that reminds me of Kasey Chambers but more rough like Lucinda, were finely accompanied by fiddle and skilled harp. This one song was a treat.
Host Rathbun asks the next act, the Dungan Brothers (Nate of Trailer Trash and his real brother James), "Why do you play this old music?" Nate replies without a pause, "Because I'm obsessed by it." (There are many cheers from the audience, many of us knowing the feeling.) Nate adds, "It's honest. It's true." (Hallelujahs, feet stomping, and wild clapping ensue, with Josh Wenke saying in the back, "That's RIGHT." I was happy that Nate captured that, because we all get asked that question a lot (I'm an old-time Appalachian fiddler myself). Joe Savage played the harp again, and James Dungan played upright bass, and Nate, guitar. They tore through Woodie Guthrie's "Lonesome Wolf", slowed it way down for a moving Louvin Brother's "When I Stop Dreaming", and "In My Room" by Brian Wilson, a fantastic crowd-pleasing rendition of Monroe Bros. "Don't You Hear Me Calling" with an awesome fiddle solo by Raz, They closed with another favorite of mine, the Delmore Bros.' "Blues Stay Away from Me".
Brother "Hazy" Dave Hazledine took the next interlude with an original song, "The Ballad of Emmet Springer. Hazledine says his original songs sound old-timey, intentionally. But once in a while he writes one that doesn't sound so, just so the audience can hear the difference. If you haven't heard Hazledine yet, I can't recommend this Mammy Nun's solo act enough. He's got a great voice and guitar chops.
The Brothers Frantzich took the stage, and were introduced as warming up for the Replacement's 7 - day Tim CD release party at the Entry in 1985. Still looking quite young, the host adds, "They were 9 years old at the time." Larson informed me that they were actually quite young, 18. I wish I'd been there. He added that they're still active, putting out a CD each year and playing a couple times a year. Now exposed, I'll go see them more. Larson commented that "there's something about real brothers being able to harmonize possibly better than any that didn't grow up together. It's really amazing to hear." I had to agree once I heard them and upon hearing the earlier Dungan's. The Frantzich's played a medley of 3, 2 were about Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King, Jr. Joe Savage played the pedal steel guitar on this, and I was blown away. I learned it is no easy thing to play. Savage, is likely an equal to Eric Heywood and plays with Johnny's brother, Tommy Cash and Charlie Louvin when they're each in town. Wow.
Martin Devaney provided the next musical interlude for us, a very good song about prairies and whiskey.
Last up, but not least, Brother Suzanne Scholten, (one of Mike Gunther's Restless Souls) on the ukulele and singing sweetly, in a country/jazz voice reminiscent of Ricki Lee Jones. She bantered shyly and sweetly with the audience about the songs, "This is a song for everybody that has to work hard, a lot. You're gonna feel it in the morning." She charmed the audience, who grew even more attentive, so that they could hear her quiet beautiful rendering of songs that think she wrote. Another song, "this is to those who enjoy sitting on the propane tank in summer," soft laughter and chittering in the audience to her quirky charming sly humor before she sings a song about that very topic. It's a South Dakota thing, (from which both Scholten and I hail, it can be boring there). Finally, "This is my last song, and thanks to the House of Mercy, The Turf Club, and Misplaced Music. This is a song about water. It's called "Water, Water." Peals of laughter ripple through the audience at her "dry" humor. I was happy to hear her solo, and learn more of her skills beyond all the things she does with percussion and wind instruments as a Restless Soul. I learned that Suzanne is developing a website for a favorite band of mine, the Knotwells, so keep an eye out for that, because she's creative and it sounds like it'll be a fun and informative website, especially since their shows are all word-of-mouth in uncommon locations, not the usual venues.
The audience sang the closing, "Farther Along" and then the House of Mercy played a full-blown kick-ass dance party for about half an hour, post-broadcast that got many people of all ages out on the floor.
Once more, I and about 150 others had a whomping great time, and we look forward to the next shows. The proceeds support the House of Mercy which houses a number of fine local musicians. A note: Sunday's Old Stage at the Turf are always fun, and while you can see some of the performers on the Turf Club calendar, there are often surprises, such as Donna Simpson, Ben Weaver, Kristen Mooney and Eric Heywood, Dana Thompson, Rich Mattson, Baby Grant Johnson, John Ewing, Dave Hazledine, Paul Dickenson, and many more.
I talked with a lot of folks, catching up, and learned from Raz Russell that he'll be fiddling for Mark Olson and Gary Louris on their tour from February 18 - March 18, which will encompass 18 cities, including Albany, the Bowery Ballroom in NYC, Indianapolis, a couple towns in Maryland, Atlanta, Lexington, KY. When they return, there's a possibility (keep your fingers crossed) of a complete reunion of the Jayhawks, depending on how the tour goes. Hopefully, Raz will continue with them and with others more in the future as he's one of the best fiddlers in town.
Cyn Collins is firstname.lastname@example.org