Andy Friedman lives on my planet. I’m glad he’s a fellow citizen. He dropped by, Guild in hand, to share an Oscar night double-bill with Happy Traum at Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs on Sunday.
The awards kept the crowd thin, but Friedman admitted he wasn’t even aware of the telecast until he arrived in Saratoga Springs, ready to folk.
Friedman is an artist. No, really. His work regularly appears in rags like, um, The New Yorker, and he even offered prints for sale at the Caffe, of jokers like Leonard Cohen, Ralph Stanley and some Dylan cat.
He’s not afraid to let the art into his songs, either, name-checking the likes of Robert Henri and the famous O’Keefe — “Danny, not Georgia,” as he sagely put it after quoting a line from the former’s “Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues” in his own “Down By The Willow.”
And who but a painter would drop lines like “the sky is Brooklyn Dodger blue” and “when I close my eyes, art leads me through the dark”?
Friedman – looking like Ray LaMontagne redux – was accompanied at the Caffe by guitarist/producer David “Goodie” Goodrich, the man behind the boards of Chris Smither’s last few killers. Goodrich noodled, ripped and roared behind “Roll On, John Herald” and cooed behind “Weary Things.”
Friedman played plenty from his new Goodrich-helmed album, “Laserbeams and Dreams,” and clearly won a few new fans in the small, but ardent crowd.
Traum – a living folk legend – was close friends with John Herald, and seemed moved by Friedman’s tribute. In kind, Traum performed Herald’s classic “High Muddy Water.”
He also rolled through a casual bag of classic folks songs, including selections from Blind Boy Fuller, Pete Seeger, that Dylan cat and his mentor, Brownie McGhee. In the middle of his set, Traum deigned to play a few of his own tunes, including the bittersweet “Golden Bird,” recently covered by Levon Helm on “Electric Dirt.”
“It’s an old Catskills mountain ballad that I wrote,” Traum said, placing it in context with his borrowed songs.
Traum is a mighty fine fingerpicker and when he delved deeper into the blues he let loose some lovely six-string fireworks. He also entertained himself by pulling out a brand new 12-string guitar made by his Woodstock neighbor, Joe Veillette.
The big noise made on the red box shook loose dust, and Traum positively romped through Lead Belly’s “When I Was a Cowboy” and Friedman’s request for “Relax Your Mind.”
“You’ve got to play some Lead Belly when you’ve got a 12-string,” Traum said.
Traum invited Goodrich up for McGhee’s “Sporting Life Blues,” and the two generations smiled as lick followed lick.
Caffe Lena gets the blues again this weekend, with a Blues Fest featuring the Jeremy Wallace Duo on Friday ($18 in advance; $20 at the door) and workshops and Blues in the Round on Saturday with Bill Sims Jr. & Mark LaVoie, Marjorie Thompson and Street Corner Holler ($18 in advance; $20 at the door).
Review by Bokonon
Photographs by Thomas D. Lindsay