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Darryl Purpose Link
Red Cedar Productions, Mt. Sinai, NY
May 26, 2002
I rarely go to a house concert at Ron DiGennaros Red Cedar Productions without being aware of the unreality of the situation. Each time I see an original, accomplished nationally touring singer-songwriter. Often there is a local opening act that is not just good for around here. It is hard to overstate the quality of these performers. To put it in terms of the days when stellar musicians were also popular, its like having Joni Mitchell or Harry Chapin playing in your living room. To date Ive seen Cliff Eberhardt, Jack Williams and Louise Taylor. Add to that heady list Darryl Purpose, and add him emphatically.
I have been transfixed by the talent of this man since hearing his brown album, the plain paper-wrapped one-take masterpiece that features just Darryl on guitar and vocals and Daryl S on violin. (This album has since been reissued as Same River Twice.) As a songwriter he is a master storyteller. Sometimes the songs involve his own colorful past as a gambler or the personal tales of his heart. His fictional characters are just as fully drawn and illuminated from within. His guitar work goes well beyond simple accompanying chords, creating a warm yet intricate space for his well-chosen words.
Purpose took the chilly backyard stage, a noble troubadour entertaining a group of people who, for the most part, had not heard his music. He is a big bearded man with a dark hat and a small guitar. It is always a bit of a surprise that his voice is an easy tenor in the James Taylor range. He readily talks about his songs, filling in autobiographical details with the ease of a man among friends. Another medieval profession comes to mind, that of the knight errant. Purpose seems to be on a quest for truth, the kind of truth that one finds in the clear understanding of the moments that make up our lives. Whether he is singing about his own history or someone else, each song reveals something of what it feels like to be human. As he sings I imagine him riding in his car from gig to gig, sharing what he has learned about life and hoping to find the next song, the next bit of truth, in the stops along the way.
Over the last several years Purpose has created such a rich reparatory of songs that one can spend an entire evening going from one highlight to the next. Purpose mixes crowd-pleasing songs with those that require a bit more focus from the audience, then flashes a bit of dazzling guitar work to keep the players on the edge of their seats. Before the break Purpose asked for requests (knowing that at least a few of us were fans). I immediately blurted out Mr. Schwinn, (co-written with Robert Morgan Fisher) a magical song among songs that draws you in to its portrait of a lonely bike shop owner with sustained rapid-fire rhymes.
They were stashed in the back of the waterfront shack
His and her bikes, perfectly matched
Perfectly matched like a groom and a bride
Waiting to take their honeymoon ride.
Hed say one of these bikes is more than a twin
As he pumped up the tires and polished the rim
Im saving it for my Mrs. Schwinn.
I was almost afraid to ask for Bryant Street, a song brought on by his recent discovery of half brothers he never knew he had and a sister who died as a child long ago. From the beautiful guitar work to the impressionistic details of the story this is a moving masterpiece.
On the lighter side I was delighted to be able to watch Charlie Backfish (folk show host on WUSB) react to his first listen to Kevin Fahertys Singer/Songwriter Heaven. This folk DJ required listening song finds finds Harry Chapin driving a taxi past the likes of Stan Rogers, Steve Goodman, Gram Parsons as well as famous now-closed coffee houses.
By the time the evening was over, Purpose had played just about every song from his most recent album, A Crooked Line and Same River Twice, with a few songs from each of his other albums. Mercifully, the second half of the show moved from the chilly yard to the cozy living room where we literally sat at the feet of one of the finest singer-songwriters of this or any generation. You might say this was singer-songwriter fan heaven!