2016 Folk Alliance International: Day Four, Part 1

Westin Crown Center / Kansas City, MO

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Photos by Mandy Pichler 

Saturday morning at Folk Alliance has an air of anxiety about it: if you haven’t seen an artist you’d like to, this is your last chance. Many artists, in fact, leave during the day on Saturday so they can get to their Saturday night gigs. Armed with increasingly dog-eared notes, we packed our totes and braved the performance floors in high gear.

First, as one of the highlights of Folk Alliance this year, Irish Mythen bowled over one of the larger rooms all by herself. With the energy of a boxer and a voice like a right hook, Mythen took folk to its rock ‘n’ roll limits. She rocks her acoustic guitar like a Fender, and her vocals have range and just enough rawness to keep an audience on its toes. Her “Sweet Serenade” is anything but sweet in the conventional sense, but “55 Years,” recalling the story of a man who never spent a night away from his wife in 55 years of marriage comes off tender, not mushy. Some syrupy folkies (you know who you are!) could learn a lesson from this gal. The only negative to her performance came when Mythen chugged a beer onstage (admittedly, to cheers). This artist is way too good for gimmicks.

Canadian David Francey performed in the big room, hushing the crowd with songs which capture the human condition in slices as precise as medical slides. The lonely “Waking Hour,” with crystal clear Francey lyrics like “the heart that’s breaking never makes a sound,” cause the crowd to pay strict attention. Francey spent his first 12 years in Scotland (and held on to his accent), and arrived in Canada just in time to have a boy’s dreams of love inspire his later songs, ones like “Broken Glass,” about going unnoticed in high school, a painful experience common to most of us. Straying from love toward the political, “Pandora’s Box” speaks to the perils of the Internet: “When any dog can have his day/No leash to keep the beast at bay” pretty much sums it up, and summing up seems to be Francey’s specialty.

Matt the Electrician has a new four-song EP, hopefully the genesis of another album. We caught him playing a few tunes off the new EP, with Dana Falconberry contributing harmony. In addition to his marvelous picking, Matt has a charming tic of delivering lines without worrying about cadence or rhyme; if there’s anything I hate, it’s a song whose words I can predict based on rhyming couplets; when I hear “rain/pain” I begin to see post offices. No danger here, though. We heard the new “Mountains,” and a song typical of Matt the Electrician, who crafted a thought-provoking existentialist turn about life, death and self-worth, as seen through the eyes of “The Bear,” who may or may not have four legs. The Electrician who’s been married 19 years also treated us to “Love on the Moon,” another quirky take on a much-discussed topic. This man is always a delight.

On the other end of the spectrum, Freight Train Rabbit Killer, delivering almost unintelligible punk blues, scared the bejesus out of their audience with their stage outfits and tunes like “I’m a Stone Cold Killer” accompanied by a homemade violin. Both costumes and instruments seem to rely heavily on kitchen equipment; thankfully, no cleavers in sight. I’m still not sure if I liked them or not, but no one seemed to leave, including me.

Halfway into loud, raucous Parsonfield’s first song, photographer Mandy Pichler announced, “This is my new favorite band.” Easy to see where she was coming from. It seems like the whole band can sing lead, but the keyboard player’s vocals really shine. Listening to their self-titled CD brimming with exuberance and excellent musicianship, people passing by in the office would pause and ask, “Who’s that?” I’m betting by next year everybody will know.

We barely caught fave Jimmy LaFave, but thankfully got him covering JJ Cale’s “Magnolia,” sweet and mournful, as it should be. We left as he set up with David Amram and Lance Canales, because even at 1:55 AM, the next artist beckoned.

To be continued….

—Suzanne Cadgène

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