On Friday, November 19, Proctors in Schenectady was at the crossroads of the contemporary folk music scene. On the Mainstage, veterans of more than 50 years together, Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey were playing their first Nippertown concert since the passing of their former partner Mary Travers a year ago. And just across the hallway at the Eighth Step in the GE Theatre was Dala, a young, fresh-faced folk duo from north of the border…
Dala is a highly musical and talented duo of young women from Canada – blond guitarist-singer Amanda Walther and brunette guitarist-singer Sheila Carabine. Their live performance was very quiet with close harmony singing and spare instrumental accompaniment. Having no idea who they were before the show began, it was fascinating to see their style unfold and discover the new gem they uncovered with each new song. Their song “Horses” – about a friend’s attempt to free himself from an unliftable burden – was simply beautiful, managing to express both hope and futility at once… with hope gaining the edge.
Their future is so bright, their talents evolving, their fan base growing – what will they do next?
Meanwhile, Peter & Paul resumed performing together without Mary Travers, and her absence was certainly on everyone’s mind – along with remembering and recapturing whatever life was like when you first heard their iconic songs back in the ’60s and ’70s. Their performances of the songs – which ranged from spirited and rousing to kinda shaky (sorry, I had to say it) – were more of a chance to replay your mental memories of the songs.
There were, of course, the obligatory attempts to identify their relevance to contemporary events but, in fairness, contemporary events have their own cultural ecology, and PP&M’s songs thrive best in their own as well. Future uncertain, talents slowly dimming, fan base aging – this was mostly about the past.
However, their immense talents aside, Dala’s youth and energy and optimism and untethered freedom come to them for free, and while immensely appealing, they can’t get credit for that. Peter & Paul once had that too – just watch videos of their old performances.
So what is the point?
For this writer, the highlight of the night of both groups was Paul Stookey’s solo song “Jean Claude.” His witty and light description of how the song got started as noodling around with harmonics on the guitar and inventing mock French lyrics evolved into a description of a search for real lyrics. That led to discovery of an old French magazine in Paris, a photograph and his final story of two boys in occupied France – one is deported with his family to die and the other left to tell his story. Paul’s showmanship, instrumental and vocal mastery, long world-view and personal gravity gave us a fully formed masterpiece.
But, if required to make a choice between one performance and the other, it would probably be another evening with Dala. What will they give us as their mastery, world-view and gravity grow?
Review by Paul Jossman
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
NOTE: Look for Dala’s album, “Everyone is Someone,” to be released in the U.S. on Compass Records on Tuesday, January 25.