Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ottawa Folk Festival Concert Review Part 1: Sean McCann and Hayes Carll

Yesterday, I wrote about my first excursion to the Ottawa Folk Festival, which was my first experience at such an event.  My focus of the day was to check out four acts on what was a very large bill.  Today's write up is on the first two artists that I had the pleasure of seeing on the main stage at the show, Sean McCann and Hayes Carll.

It was life and death trying to get to Hog's Back Park, the location for the folk festival, in time for the 4:45 start of Sean McCann's portion of the show.  It's not like Ottawa is around the corner from my hometown, and making a wrong turn on Riverside didn't help ... but luck was apparently on my side, as I reached the ticket booth at 4:43 and walked in to the festival area just in time to hear Sean McCann being introduced.  What followed was a wonderful hour long performance by one of the truly great veterans of Canadian and East Coast folk music.  Sean McCann is one of the founding members of the fabulous band from Newfoundland and Labrador, Great Big Sea.  McCann, understanding that there can only be one Great Big Sea, has embarked on solo career on the side where the music is much different than that of his GBS alter-ego.  The music of Sean McCann is much quieter, much softer, and more personal than the rocking-Celtic sound of Great Big Sea.  And, it pays off for McCann, as he shows fans old and new of another side to his great creativity.  With many years of performing on a stage behind him, and many more ahead of him for that matter, Sean McCann has such a welcoming stage presence and persona that no matter the size of the venue, it feels like you're sitting in Sean's living room -- or kitchen, as the tradition goes "down east" -- while Sean and his capable back-up musicians walk you through a personal history of growing up in Newfoundland.  The beautifully crafted song dedicated to his grandparents, "The Reply (The Ballad of John and Mary)", perfectly illustrates McCann's ability to capture a highly personal story and share it with his fans ... fans, who come away feeling more like friends by the time the show is over.  Sean has recorded two solo albums, "Lullabies for Bloodshot Eyes" and "Son of a Sailor", both of which are for sale via his web site or your local record store.  Sean's web site contains a sampler portion where you can listen to all the tracks from the two albums.  Many of these tracks are performed by Sean on stage, and they are all gems.  In addition to "The Reply", pay particular attention to "Wish", "Don't Cry (for Keegan)" and "Hold Me Steady."

Hayes Carll has been around for a number of years, but this year in particular has been somewhat of a breakthrough for this Americana singer, what with appearances on the Tonight Show and Imus in the Morning.  Hayes Carll is a wonderful stylist who is finding acceptance and appreciation from mainstream media who have placed his album "KMAG YOYO" at the top of many critic's choice lists.  The great appeals of Carll as a stage performer, is his deadpan delivery of stories from the road and his keen ability to capture life and society in a song.  Telling the story of his Tonight Show experience was from the point of view that some things don't quite work out the way we would like them to be ... for example, with the Tonight Show appearance, Hayes and the boys were looking forward to meeting a big-time celebrity and, with all do respect, got Kathie Lee Gifford instead.  You know what I mean ...

Hayes and his talented band rolled through tune after tune from his award-nominated album "KMAG YOYO" with tight precision.  Carll took care of the rest with his great vocals and more wonderful storytelling, as he deftly setup each performance by providing the back story to the song's creation.  Two particular stories and songs stand out in particular.  The story of two politically opposite, yet lonely and somewhat intoxicated, people falling for each other in "Another Like You."  As Carll has said before, and he said it in Ottawa, "alcohol and sexual attraction can overcome a lot. "  The other great story and song that was written, was a co-write with Bobby Bare, Jr.  a tune called "One Bed, Two Girls and Three Bottles of Wine."  This was a great song about a situation that is often fantasized about, yet has a somewhat tragic ending ... if you know what I mean.  I'm looking forward to catching Hayes Carll and his band in Nashville this October at the Americana Music Festival and Conference.  The album, on Lost Highway Records, is nominated at this year's Americana Music Awards for Album of the Year.

Both Sean McCann and Hayes Carll are on tour throughout the United States this fall.  Check out their respective web sites for dates and cities, and be sure to check them out when they come to or near your hometown.

Tomorrow:  Reviews on Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison, and Jimmy Rankin.

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