Review and photographs by Al Goldberg
London-born singer-songwriter Rupert Wates made one of his regular stops to Nippertown on a recent Saturday evening. Emack & Bolio’s intimate back room would be the place this time around, and it worked well for the small but appreciative audience – many of whom were familiar with his music and storytelling style.
Opening with “Happy to Be Here,” a cheery number from his debut album “Sweet or Bitter Wine,” Rupert then delved into many songs from his vast catalog – having released four full-length CDs since arriving in the U.S. five years ago. Citing the book “True Tales of American Life,” as a catalyst for several of the songs that he has written, Rupert also sang of his own personal experiences. “Born To Lose,” for example, was about encountering a dying man on the streets of Harlem. Sometimes witty and at other times troubling, the lyrics were gripping and sung with a lot of grace. On “Sally’s Farm,” from his most recent release “Joe’s Cafe,” he told of child abuse. “Stand Up Comedian” was a tribute to the late George Carlin, while “Prayer” paid homage to all those and everything, good or bad, that haven’t got a… well, prayer. Rainfall and traveling tend to be popular topics, which isn’t surprising – considering that this British troubadour has performed in all fifty states and plays roughly 150 shows a year.
Giving a nod to Leo Kottke as the most influential guitarist that he grew up listening to, Rupert showed his own picking style on “The Fisherman.” I quipped that he had that Irish-made acoustic guitar sounding more like a banjo. Very open to requests, this amiable folkster tried hard to please. He pulled out more interesting covers, such as Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty” and a more upbeat version of Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind.” The Cuban folk song “Guantanamera” lent the evening some light Latin flair. “Lullaby” was the show-closer – an appropriate send-off.
From cafes to music festivals, and house concerts to ice cream parlors, it is my hope that Mr. Wates procures a gig sometime at the legendary Caffe Lena. He definitely deserves that stage.