Review and photographs by Ed Conway
There are two things most musicians live for. First and foremost, they love to play in front of a live audience and experience the appreciation first hand for their work. The other is to sit and jam with a group of friends in a relaxed atmosphere while experimenting with different songs and musical styles.
The Irish have a name for this, seisiún. The musicians of Session Americana, get to experience both worlds.
Missing both their normal bassist and their back-up, Ry Cavanaugh ably filled in, explaining that he had only learned the bass lines a couple nights before (we wouldn’t have noticed otherwise). Assembled around a small table specially outfitted with instrument mics, the performers could pass guitars and other instruments without constantly plugging and unplugging between songs, each taking turns singing.
Opening up with Treat Her Right’s harmonicat Jim Fitting singing the swing number “Diving For Gold,” the group hit just about every American music style short of straight-up jazz during their two-set performance. My favorite of the evening was Rockin’ Sidney’s “You Ain’t Nothing But Fine,” accompanied by Dinty Child (Chandler Travis Philharmonic, Catbirds) on accordion, conjuring up an interesting mix of Cajun and rockabilly. While the lead vocals and instruments were mostly passed around the table, keeping the beat on his suitcase drum set was Billy Beard. Throughout the evening, Thomas Juliano – the most recent addition to the group – served up some very nice lead guitar work to match the various styles brought on by the others.
While the songs came from all over the U.S., Dinty also showcased a couple of songs by local New York north country songwriter Pete LaBonne, “Supermarket Employee” and “The Driving.” He was well rewarded when discovering that Pete was not well known among the band members, but that several in the sold-out Lena crowd were already fans.
Throughout the evening, the banter and songs flew – pausing once for Billy and Ry to explain how they had inadvertently left the suitcase with the merch in a parking lot at their last gig. Complete with flip-chart, they presented a deal for the low, low cost of $20… All you had to do was trust them, and they would not only supply CDs but a t-shirt as well. Needless to say, not everyone in the band believed this would work, but – surprise!! – at least one person took them up on their offer (OK, it was me).
This is sure a band to look for in the future. They not only tell the history of American music, but also the history of Caffe Lena… all in one evening.