Stang with Gonzalez and Zisholtz with Hochfelsen
River of Grass Café – 04/20/12
Even when it rains, good music is like a good marriage with something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. It’s a peaceful blend of the traditional with the avant-garde, the known with the possible, and the give with what you will take. This past Friday at River of Grass Café, as water and lighting filled the skies outside, a comfortable, dry audience enjoyed the double header of Aaron Stang with Gary Gonzalez, followed by Paul Zisholtz with Jeff Hochfelsen, a show that combined the variety and virtue that go into both good music and good relationships.
The evening opened with Gary and Aaron playing the first half. Both admitted, self-deprecating Beatle-maniacs, they began with a delightful and airy version of Dear Prudence (1968, Apple Records). Everyone can read the watered-down Wikipedia tale about how this tune was written by John Lennon for Mia Farrow who had come to visit the Beatles while they were studying with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India. Once there, she supposedly became a bit of a meditative recluse and social introvert, so the song was written to extrovert Mia into a more social being. Now I’m not usually a gossip (ah, mea culpa, Mia), but the more interesting version I heard was that one day while meditating on psychedelics, Mia had a bit of a bad trip, locked herself into a tool shed and wouldn’t come out. The Beatles, in a dazed-high-who’s-got-a-guitar state of desperation sat outside the shed, wrote the song together and then sang it through the locked doorway to entice Mia’s return to reality. Okay, have it whichever way you like, but the second version is my favorite. And to open the show with such a musically, emotionally and historically rich song made for a grand start to the night’s entertainment.
Now for those of you who have never seen Aaron and Gary play together (a.k.a. – the grammy winner and the fire captain), they are both sites and sounds to behold. Using a variety of eclectic and classic guitars, they fuse their instrumentals into a resonant state that blends the crispness of cracking open a fresh head of iceberg lettuce with a tubular, lute-like chiming which captures and carries your attention effortlessly through each and every tune. Playing many of their own originals, Gary, the vocalist of the duo, writes and sings songs in which he sometimes resembles Livingston Taylor more than James Taylor as on his Swinging For Fences, sometimes Leonard Cohen more than James Taylor as on his All Right Now (which featured the beautiful harmonies of Gayle Giese), and at times more like James Taylor than even James Taylor as on his wonderfully expressive retirement ode Your Time Now.
Aaron, on the other hand is an award winning instrumentalist with incredible fingerstyle virtuosity and creativity who leaves his own indelible stamp of magic on everything his fingertips touch and play. His original The Road Home was written for his daughter and opens with a gentle instrumental akin to John Denver singing Danny Boy which then launches into a top-down drive along a leaf-strewn country road admist Vermont’s dazzling Fall colors. His tribute to Chet Atkins titled Chetfaced is a syncopated rag-time piece that has the flow and airiness of Harry Nilsson’s Think About Your Troubles (from the album The Point, 1971, RCA Victor) combined with anything by Chet Atkins you’d like to consider. And even Aaron’s arrangements of covers like Glen Campbell’s Wichita Lineman and Stephen Still’s For What It’s Worth carry that unmistakable Stang stamp of euphonic prose that truly make Aaron and Gary’s musical marriage one that will last a life time for both their and our enjoyment.
During the second half of the show, Paul Zisholtz took to the stage opening with That’ll Never Happen No More, a blues traditional dating back to Blind Blake (Arthur Blake, 1896-1934) which he aptly played on banjo with just a hint of Leon Redbone in his vocals. After that it was all Zisholtz originals, including Mistress Of The Night (a dreamy Mexican cantina sounding love song), Sailing Through The Years (a humorous discourse on marital discourse framed in the light-heartedness of Melanie Safka’s Brand New Key – 1971, Neighborhood Records), and Joshua Jennifer (an adorative testimonial to his own children). But the night would not have been complete without my favorite Zisholtz composition – Pelham Parkway Blues – where a scratch on the wall tells how much I grew, and you’re always yelling “Hey, Ma, throw down a quarter!” Paul mastered the first half of this set by himself, and then was accompanied by his friend and accomplished guitarist Jeff Hochfelsen for the latter pieces. Aaron and Gary also joined Paul and Jeff during the last tunes to create an effortless blend of four great talents playing harmoniously together. Now isn’t that what a great marriage is all about: musical or otherwise.
So for those in attendance, it was an evening with something Stang, something Gonzalez, something Zisholtz and something Hochfelsen that offered great variety, great virtuosity and easy listening for all to enjoy. What better way to spend a rainy south Florida evening?