Review and photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
In the contemporary folk-music world there are several musical dynasties that have invented, perfected and administered the whole historical spectrum of the musical form: the Guthries (Woody, Arlo & Sarah Lee), the Seegers (Pete, Peggy, Mike & Tao), the Dylans (Bob & Jacob), the Chapins (Harry, Tom & Jen), the Ungars (Jay & Ruthie), the Whites (Josh & Josh, Jr.), the Browns (Greg & Pieta), the Reagons (Bernice & Toshi) and the Wainwrights (Loudon, Rufus, Martha, Lucy & Sloan) readily come to mind, and there are more.
In fact, if you owned all the recordings by these families, you’d have at least 80 percent of the most important folk music ever created.
So it was a treat for those who came to Caffe Lena to hear Loudon’s sister Sloan do her thing.
And what is that?
The woman knows how to sing! But what makes it an ear-candy event is the way that she sings. Sloan Wainwright is one of the most gifted and brilliant contemporary folk-music singers. Her command over her voice as an instrument is second to none. She puts more feeling and emotion in bending a syllable within a word than many others do in an entire song.
And she’s a wonderful pianist. However, beside the two songs that night behind the keys, Sloan fronted her band of long-time guitarist and back-up vocalist Steve Murphy and harmony vocalist Cadence Carroll – who doubled on a sling-around-the-neck drum.
Intermittingly returning to the selections from of her new recording, “Upside Down and Under My Heart,” the charismatic Wainwright delivered her crystal-clear words in a warm, dynamic and even playful manner. If you closed your eyes, you almost heard a full, much larger band behind her.
In fact, if you listen closely, you would think that if Wainwright had chosen to pursue a pop-rock career, there is a good chance she might be as well known to the general public as the late Laura Nyro or Carole King is today. She is certainly in their league and could hold her own singing with anyone out there in the rock world from Bruce Springsteen to Robert Plant – both of whom, incidentally, turned to folk music later in their careers.
Finishing out her way-over-an-hour set with a moving version of George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass,” Wainwright’s voice recharged and invigorated that 40-year-old nugget making it her very own.
Opening the evening, Heather Maloney delivered an engaging and poetic set. Playing guitar behind most of her songs, she finished her performance by putting down the guitar and stomping out a beat with her foot while clapping the rhythm in a lovely gospel-tinged sing-a-long with the audience.