I went to *The Songs of Nanci Griffith,* a show in the Winter Rhythms series produced by my friend Tom Toce. I knew very little of Griffith - - I had *Other Voices, Other Rooms* on cassette tape back in the day, but didn’t listen to it very often. I don’t think this was one of Tom’s main purposes in producing the show, but I’m definitely going to be listening to some Griffith, I was really taken with her songwriting. Her songs don’t have the harmonic or structural complexity that I most like in pop music, but she knows how to tell a story and I can’t remember the last time I tapped my foot so much.
Tom opened the show singing “Ford Econoline,” He entered from the back of the auditorium and walked down the center aisle, singing and playing the ukulele. He was joined onstage by two guitarists, Maura and Pete Kennedy (aka The Kennedys), Maura also singing backup. They were the band for about 2/3 of the show. (I've listed the full program below.)
Tom found Madelyn Monaghan online when he was looking for singers to program on this show. She was sweet and sincere. Meg Flather had more polish, but was still sincere. Her second song had a driving beat, which felt good. Her first song was "Love at the Five and Dime" - - here's Griffith performing it on the BBC in 1994:
Tom said that Daryl Glenn was someone he knew from the cabaret world, and indeed he had a showbiz swagger - - but that didn’t get in the way of him delivering the truth of his songs. I’d heard Marissa Mulder do a show (also produced by Tom) a few years ago, and she was extraordinary. She impressed me less in this show, her voice sounded too much like Griffith’s own voice. That bothered me.
Lisa Asher and Jeff Waxman simply knocked me out. Waxman was the first person on the bill to play the piano (up to that point it had been all guitar or ukulele), and his playing was dark and intense. Asher’s singing was masterful, she exuded quiet confidence. And she seemed to not just sing the songs, she was inhabiting them, she seemed to be communicating thoughts that originated with her. I would go to Queens or Jersey to hear these two again. Maybe even Philadelphia!
Louise Mosrie was wonderfully direct in her singing. Griffith has a way of drawing you in with her songs, and Mosrie definitely did that.
Julie Gold was another stand-out. Her singing and piano playing were wonderful and distinctive, but it was the stories she told that really floored me. I’ll paraphrase:
“It was the 80s, and I was working as a secretary at Home Box Office, HBO. I made a cassette tape of ‘From a Distance’ and was sending it around, hoping someone would record it. Everyone was saying No. But I gave it to Christina Lavin, who gave it to Nanci, who left a message on my answering machine saying that it was the most beautiful song she ever heard, and she was going to record it. She did, and everything changed for me after that.
“Though I did continue to work as a secretary at HBO! A piano player in Nanci’s band had a baby and Nanci asked me if I would tour with her for a week. I took the week off work and we went up and down the eastern seaboard. I stole a towel from the hotel on our last stop because I didn’t know when I’d get such a nice towel again. It was a white towel.
“Nanci would send me an album in the mail, and she’d send it to my work address, because my mailbox in my apartment building wasn’t big enough for a big LP record album. So she sent me an advance copy of her new album, and there was my name, J Gold, in parentheses after the title of my song, right where I always dreamed it would be. I brought it into my boss’s office, he had a turntable in there. And we listened to the song and I cried. And I went back to my desk and worked the rest of the day.
“Nanci played a concert at Carnegie Hall and I played with her. I had family coming in from out of town, of course they weren’t going to miss me playing Carnegie Hall! My dressing room was on the sixth floor but I wanted to go down and see them so I went down to find them. I was wearing this new outfit, a sort of tux, and Nanci had given me a yellow rose to wear in my lapel. And people kept coming up to me and asking me where their seats were. I realized that I was dressed just like an usherette - - they were wearing tuxes, and they had red roses in their lapels, but I guess these people thought that since I had a yellow rose, that made me the head usherette. Christina Lavin always says in this business you have to be careful not to get a swelled head. Well, playing Carnegie Hall and being mistaken for an usherette, that’ll do it.”
The Kennedys had toured with Griffith for many years, they did a set, including a song Maura Kennedy had written with Griffith. They had a clear sense of the style and I was amazed at the depth of sound and variety of colors they got out of two guitars.
Gold sang one more song, which she dedicated to The Immigrant. And Tom ended the show with a song that he clearly loved very much. The show in general was a labor of love for him.
Tom Toce: "Ford Econoline"
Madelyn Monaghan: "There's a Light Behond These Woods (Mary Margaret)," "On Grafton Street"
Meg Flather: "Love at the Five and Dime," "Outbound Plane"
Daryl Glenn: "Listen to the Radio," "If Wishes Were Changes"
Marissa Mulder: "I Wish It Would Rain"
Lisa Asher and Jeff Waxman: "It's a Hard Life (Wherever You Go)," "More Than a Whisper," "These Days In an Open Book"
Louise Mosrie: "Late Night Grande Hotel"
Julie Gold: "From a Distance," "Anyone Can Be Somebody's Fool"
The Kennedys: "Trouble In the Fields," "Pearl's Eye View," "Gulf Coast Highway," "Down 'N' Outer"
Julie Gold: "Good Night, New York"
Tom Toce: "Little Love Affairs"