Monday, January 18, 2010

Joyful Noise

I used to like to watch people greet each other at the airport. Old friends and family who haven't seen each other in a while. There was always such a spontaneity to their greeting. Some people would just throw themselves at each other, others would be a bit more timid, and you could tell even the ones who might have a bit of a rift between them still experienced something that just brought them together. That's what I saw last night. That spontaneous kind of joy that people just can't resist; it's just there and there's not fighting it.

Last night we checked out Sally O'Brien's in Somerville to see our teacher, Lloyd Thayer, Thea Hopkins, and Bill McQuaid play. All three are such fine, talented, mature musicians, and it was a joy to sit at a table, sip a Harp, and watch three people find simple joy in being together and doing something that gives them so much happiness and fulfillment. Lloyd and Bill both were playing, along with other instruments, steel guitars, both from circa 1930. Beautiful instruments and I was looking at them thinking, who in God's name came up with something like that. Lloyd plays the Dobro and he plays the steel guitar on his lap with a slide and finger picks. Bill holds his like you normally hold a guitar. And just to round things out, Thea brought a Guild D30, that was her baby. We were all talking briefly before the show and I mentioned that just that day I was saw my dream guitar: a Guild D-40. If anyone has $2,000 they want to give me, just let me know.

They played in the round, each taking a turn at a song, sometimes one or the other filling in with an accompaniment on the guitar or vocals or Lloyd on the harmonica.

Bill plays songs almost exclusively from the 1920s and '30s. Well, what'd you expect with that National steel guitar? He's like an archivist, keeping those songs alive, playing and singing them authentically. I, like so many people, have heard recordings of say, Robert Johnson or some old guy like Mississippi John Hurt, and it's all crackly and echoing and that's cool, like ghosts from the past. But Bill brings the songs to life; you're listening just like other folks were hearing them when they were being played live, and the lyrics, in the simple words and phrases like people spoke in those days, and the topics of those day--women, hard times, jail--are eerily relevant today, with today's economy.

Thea Hopkins is such a soulful singer, her voice rich and deep and buttery. She's the one who seemed the most delighted to be on stage, sometimes smiling with her mouth and other times with her eyes in a very childlike way, and as the night wore on she wrapped her lanky frame more around her guitar and sort of slouched in her chair in the most comfortable way. She just was loving every minute of it. She played a lot of her own music, pretty, thoughtful, spiritual melodies. Definitely a feminine voice (again, what did you expect?) but a mature, feminine voice that spoke with wisdom. It's hard to label the kind of music we heard last night--Delta blues, country blues, spiritual, gospel; it all cross pollinates and that's what makes it so wonderful, so impossible to churn it out in a formula like Nashville does with it's corporate country. But Thea seems close to what best can be described as country while she dips her toes into bluegrass, and it was funny that she introduced a Gillian Welch song she was about to play right at the time a friend of ours leaned over and said that she loved the music, loves all music, well, except for country. I just kept my mouth shut. There was no reason to say anything.

Lloyd plays...well, Lloyd last night played a lot in the key of F. He plays Dobro but also lays his steel guitar and an acoustic on his lap and plays them like a slide guitar. Bluesy, soulful--again, it's hard to classify, and I don't know why you'd want to, unless you're saying right now, well, John, if you could be a bit more specific so I could understand what he's like maybe some day I'll go check him out. He also plays a mean harp, again, a lot of blues riffs, so maybe if you're looking for a label let's call him old-timey, Delta blues with a dose of Appalachia thrown in for spice.

I titled this post, Joyful Noise because that's the term given to what a lot of gospel choirs do, giving up a joyful noise to the Lord. I think there's all kind of way of praying and giving thanks and giving recognition to a creator. Then there's that quote, God respects me when I work, but he loves me when I sing. That last one pretty much sums up what we saw last night.

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