The Bottom Line
April 27, 2000
What is the greatest folk band in the world? Larry Campbell and anybody! For the uninitiated, Mr. Campbell is, among other things, a key touring member of Bob Dylans band and producer of Richard Shindells last two records, Reunion Hill and Somewhere Near Paterson. Playing to two nearly sold-out audiences at the Bottom Line, Mr. Shindell, accompanied by Mr. Campbell (on fiddle, mandolin, various electric guitars and occasional harmony), Lincoln Schlieffer (bass) and Dennis McDermott (drums) provided ample reason for working so closely with this gifted musician. Campbells smooth, sexy lead guitar riffs offered seamless fills to Mr. Shindells highly textured and melodic tunes. Often Mr. Shindells would open his songs slowly, picking or strumming either of his two Martin guitars (one kept in the open D tuning he favors, the other in standard, I presume) with Mr. Schlieffers bass lines following, then joined by Mr. Campbells guitar and Mr. McDermotts drums. The quartet played extremely well togetherthe fact that they all contributed to Somewhere Near Paterson may have had something to do with it. This writer loved hearing some of Mr. Shindells older tunes such as "The Kenworth Of My Dreams," "Are You Happy Now," and "Fishing," performed with a faster, almost rocking beat. Ditto for newer songs like "Confession," "You Stay Here" and "Transit," the latter which Mr. Shindell wisely chose to end the show with.
Mr. Campbell opened "Transit" with an inventive guitar solo, bending notes high up on the neck to give off an unnerving sound that called to mind the stress-inducing cacophony of cars racing by on a highway, which of course is the setting for this dramatic, if somewhat surreal anthem to road madness. But as much of a delight as it was to hear Mr. Shindells masterful songs backed by a tight, well rehearsed band, the most outstanding moment of the evening was his solo rendition of "Reunion Hill," one of his greatest "story" songs and one penned perhaps as a postscript to "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" for Joan Baez. This is the second time this writer has heard Mr. Shindell execute this song in a slower, more deliberate fashion, using his deep, emotional voice to dramatically punctuate many of the songs descriptive verses. Standing alone on the stage, confidently finger picking and crooning this haunting Civil War novella set to music, it became apparent to everyone in the audience that Mr. Shindell has indeed come a long way in the last five years. Two nearly sold-out, mid-week shows at the Bottom Line is testament to his newfound success. And while I would have liked to see more harmonies from the band, which Mr. Shindell jokingly referred to as "St. Agnes Choir," it was hugely satisfying to see him having such a great time on stage surrounded by the musicians he loves and playing to the ever growing, knowledgeable audiences he so richly deserves. Ralph DiGennaro