Antje Duvekot coming to Boccelli’s 2 July 2009

Richard Shindell & Antje Duvekot performing at Boccelli's last March
Richard Shindell & Antje Duvekot performing at Boccelli's last March

For many watching Richard Shindell’s performance at Boccelli’s last March, the high point came when Antje Duvekot joined him on stage.

Her airy voice hushed the room as the two worked through “Vertigo” – a song that typifies the beauty and danger coursing through much of Duvekot’s work.

Love is a balancing act at dizzying heights, with survival uncertain, “but I am teaching myself to be brave,” she sang.

Those who hungered for more of the German-born folksinger that night will get their wish when Antje Duvekot (pronounced Aunt-yuh Doo-va-kot) headlines Boccelli’s on the Canal next Thursday (July 2).; Chris O’Brien opens.

Duvekot’s second studio album, aptly titled “The Near Demise of the High Wire Dancer,” more than delivers on the promise of the many accolades Duvekot has received since arriving on the Boston music scene.

She looks inward on songs like “Lighthouse” and “Scream,” and sees a lot of sadness – “there’s not too many people that I really call my friends” she says at one point.  But she holds out hope for redemption on the sweet, spare “Coney Island” when she asks her lover to “kiss me on the mouth like it was the first time and I will pretend to resist /‘cause in a world so full of troubles I think that we’ve had enough.”

The self-reflection is a departure from earlier, topical songs like the hard-hitting “Judas,” which depicts the slow progression of an abused teenager into a Columbine-style killer.

“Jerusalem,” a standout track from Duvekot’s first official studio album (“Big Dream Boulevard”) painted the Israel/Palestine conflict as hopeless and endless, with both sides “casting poisonous seeds for your children to reap out of the rubble of hatred.”

“I still don’t know exactly why I am so fascinated by darkness and suffering,” Duvekot said in 2006.  “I guess because it’s so incomprehensible, when you process sad news like a shooting or a war, you can’t just wrap it up and find closure by just hearing about it.”

“You want to dissect it and interact with the emotions, because they’re really powerful,” she continued.  “I always felt like I needed to process that by creating or talking about it some more.  To handle it, that’s something I need to do.  I can’t really tell you why – it’s real and serious and important to me.”

Shindell produced the new record, but didn’t bring a heavy hand to his role.  “With a voice like hers, and songs as good as these,” he explains, “a producer … just tries to get out of the way, to do no harm, and to let the artist speak for herself.”

Four of the eleven songs on the new album appeared on earlier releases, and it’s a testament to Duvekot’s artistic maturity how fresh they sound today.

The buoyant “Merry-Go-Round” has been re-recorded twice since appearing on the self-released “Little Peppermints” in 2002 – most recently, for a Bank of America commercial.

The travelogue song “Long Way” (also from “Little Peppermints”) gets a fresh update with help from one of Duvekot’s personal heroes, John Gorka.  Gorka also sings backing vocals on “Reasonland,” reworked (along with “Dublin Boys”) from 2005’s indie release “Boys, Flowers and Miles.”

Folk world luminaries who have showered praise on Duvekot include Seamus Egan, who produced “Big Dream Boulevard”, and covered four of her songs with his band Solas.  Singer-songwriter Ellis Paul signed her to his Black Wolf Records label, and has provided musical support in the studio.

Noted rock critic Dave Marsh called Duvekot “the whole package,” adding that that the last time he’d been so moved by an artist was upon first hearing Patty Griffin.

The praise for Duvekot’s probing and knowing work could fill many more pages.

“When I first heard Antje I knew I was witnessing something very special,” said Neil Dorfsman, who’s produced Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Sting. “She creates an entire, detailed world in verse, and takes you there with beautiful and understated melody. Her songs are stunning paintings of color and shade and always generate the heat and light that real art should. In an un-poetic and ‘in your face’ world, she is lyrical and subtle.”

Weekend Review

boccellis.JPGIt felt like a fall evening in Bellow Falls last Friday, with a smattering of rain and overflowing cheer at Boccelli’s on the Canal. As Josh Maiocco took the stage, I was reminded why the scene there is so compelling. Josh played a couple of his original songs, then remarked, “it’s great to have an … audience.” Guys like Josh (and co-headliner Jesse Peters, and Colin McCaffrey, Jason Cann, Chris Kleeman) play songs which deserve to be heard, yet too often suffer the indignity of being background music. Not in BF, where Boccelli’s fans sat and paid attention.

Charlie Hunter, who came out of retirement to present shows for Boccelli’s, introduced the performers and also confirmed that the tentative Dave Alvin & the Lonely Men show is now confirmed for February 1. I haven’t seen Charlie looking so chuffed in a long time.

Also in attendance was Ezra Veitch, who had plans to leave the area for Arkansas last fall that “fell through.” Ezra’s been out of action due to a hand injury that’s fortunately now on the mend. He told me he’s mixing a Mr. Burns album; he also said it won’t be heard on MySpace. “I don’t like their policies,” he said, referring to the social networking site’s willingness to allow pages from “artists” who are really fans. This situation is benign sometimes – Shana Morrisonwas “surprised” to find out she had a MySpace page neither she nor her management set up, but professed that it stayed up to date and was basically a good tool for her fans. Not so in Ezra’s case.

I was only able to stick around for Josh’s set, but I did see a Josh/Jesse duet that was pretty good. Josh is s very talented songwriter, and line from one of his songs sort of summed up the night for me:

“It’s winter then it’s spring and now it’s winter/there should be a name for the season in between”

That’s the way the weather is, and that’s the way Bellows Falls has been, never letting the twin devastation of a big venue’s closing and the fire at Oona’s kill their spirit. A mostly packed house helped celebrate the return of spring to one of the area’s vital musical homes.

Later, I headed back to Claremont to catch Al Alessi and Bill Wightman’s second set at Sophie & Zeke’s. Bill’s looking forward to the next JOSA show, and both he and Al are exicited about January 20 at the Newport Opera House. Though the show’s being advertised as the Al Alessi Band, it’s really a full-band version of what Al and Bill do the first Monday of every month in Claremont – a dip into the Great American Songbook with a healthy dose of jazz. It’s a huge hit at Sophie & Zeke’s, and I’m sure it will wow the crowd in Newport.

I wasn’t able to get to Bistro Nouveau for Jason Cann’s Saturday set, but I assure you that he was a crowd pleaser. I took some guests to the Shana Morrison show December 29; Jason opened, and at least two of the women there wanted more Jason. Mr. Cann’s original songs are quite good. “Inside Information,” in particular, is timely, topical and soulful. He also does some clever covers – he re-worked Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” in a different key with a slowed down tempo and exposed a part of the song I’d not seen before.

Jason plays open mike at the cramped and often indifferent Skunk Hollow every Wednesday, and most every Friday in Ascutney.

Speaking of Ascutney, the next big show there is the duo of Barry Goudreau (Boston) and James Montgomery. I hope they do it in a different room than the Crow’s Nest, which is IMHO unsuitable for concerts. Background music, maybe, but if you actually want to concentrate on the band, there’s nary a good vantage point anywhere.

I also heard a rumor that there may be an outdoor CSN show in the summer. We’ll wait and see on that one.