Concert Review by Lou Wigdor
at Bob’s with Catie Curtis
do about one house gig a year, but they’re typically in big private
homes-nothing like this,” confessed Boston-based folk chanteuse Catie
Curtis in early January. The night’s venue was the unadorned living
room of Amherst songwriter/educator Bob Blue. Short on surface
area, but long on intimacy and good vibes, the Stone Soup Café,
as Bob calls the place when hosting folk artists each Saturday night,
played more than a supporting role in the escalating interactivity
between Catie and her nearly SRO audience of-brace yourself-just under
twenty. “Bob and I struck up a friendship about ten years ago, when we
were in a songwriters’ discussion group in Boston,” Catie revealed.
“This gig has been on the books for some time. When Bob asked me to
come out to Amherst, how could I refuse? As the date approached
though, I did a reality check: this really is about to happen,
When you leave room lights on and perform unmiked to an enthusiastic audience whose every gesture and foot tap you can drink in, you and they have an opportunity for two-way communication that eludes most days at the office (musically speaking). For Catie, that uncommon dynamic seemed at times therapeutic. “These small gigs are fun,” she exclaimed about 2/3 of the way through her two-set, eighty-minute performance. Several moments later, she added a second revelation: “I’m the Barry White of folk music, you know.” Should prominent performers like Catie Curtis [she has four albums to her credit on major labels, EMI and Ryko] weave more opportunities like this into their schedules? It won’t pay the bills, but it might well help them to recharge spiritually, let their hair down, and commune with the significant others that they call their audience.
Catie’s intimate, engaging music was tailor-made for chez Blue. Have you considered broadening your repertoire to include more songs beyond your own affairs of the heart? I asked Catie before the performance. Not especially, she responded, emphasizing her own creative need to remain true to her motivational instincts, adding that about 20% of her repertoire did in fact broach additional topics [e.g., religious hypocrisy, sugar cane workers, child adoption, gay rights, her father’s retirement role as a purveyor of antiques and things kitsch]. After hearing Catie in action, I realized that my question had been gratuitous. In performance, she wears her heart on her sleeve, without guile or musical mannerisms. But unlike many “confessional” performers, she rarely forces you below sea level with the gravity of her message. Part of the explanation is that she is essentially an optimist or at least strives to consider the prospect of a glass half full. Equally important, she infuses much of her music with a rhythmic buoyancy that keeps things moving and mercurial. And it’s all conveyed with perhaps her most distinctive asset: her richly hued, versatile alto, which is equally at home with nuance and down-home declarations.
In performance, Catie served up a veritable career resume in music, with animated versions of Magnolia Street, Tired, What’s the Matter? I’ll Cover You, and other favorites. She reached back to 1989 with Dandelion, and unveiled her most recent and as yet unrecorded tune, Hold On. “My perspective on Dandelion has changed,” she confessed. “I used to think of it as a love song. Now I see it as a statement of low self-esteem.” What a difference a decade and the right relationship can make. Her 2001 CD, My Shirt Looks Good on You, exudes confidence and commitment at every turn. Hearing her perform the album’s title tune and its up-tempo groove, The Kiss that Counted, offered bright, ecstatic moments. On The Kiss and several other tunes late in the program, the audience, sharing the love, joined in on choruses.
How do you capture moments like these on disc? Consider Catie’s newest release, Acoustic Valentine, an unplugged reframing of twelve of her most requested songs, plus a new one, Honest World. Released late in January, Valentine is a musically intimate collaboration between Catie and guitar virtuoso, John Jennings. With four CDs to her credit, Catie has traded in her corporate credentials for the picaresque indie life. Because her former employers own distribution rights to her previous output, you can only purchase the new disc at her concerts or on her web site. So act on this shameless pitch, follow the link, http://www.catiecurtis.com/, and buy yourself a valentine. Toward the evening’s end, Catie shared a couplet with her audience that surely holds deeper meaning for her now that she’s a bona fide indie.
Question: What’s your best kept secret?
Reply: That I’m famous! That gem, Catie continued, was authored
by none other than Bob Blue himself. What more evidence do we need
that Bob and Catie are inspirations to us all?
|©2003 by Lou Wigdor||
Hosted by Pioneer Valley Folklore Society