LIVE: Richard Barone @ Caffe Lena, 6/6/15

June 15th, 2015, 3:00 pm by Greg

Review by Don Wilcock

“I’m a belter. I’m the male Ethel Merman,” Richard Barone told the audience of about 40 fans at Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs on a recent Saturday evening. In true folkie tradition, he rode Amtrak up from Greenwich Village and billed his show as a CD release party for Sorrows & Promises: Greenwich Village in the 1960s. The “sorrows” are borrowed from the song “Pack Up Your Sorrows” by veteran folk artists Richard and Mimi Farina, and the “promises” are from Tim Hardin’s “Don’t Make Promises.” Both were early Greenwich Village folk stalwart acts that would have felt right at home at the iconic Saratoga coffeehouse in its early days.

Turns out Barone’s CD won’t be out until the fall – he’s waiting on some of the living artists he covers to add their vocals to his fresh takes on their old songs like Eric Andersen’s “Close the Door Lightly,” which he covered elegantly at Lena’s, even though he delivered neither the promises nor the sorrows of the Tim Hardin or the Farinas’ songs. Not to say, that his two one-hour sets lacked promise or sorrows from his own songwriting repertoire.

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It would have been a slam dunk with this audience to perform songs by Tom Rush, Bob Dylan, Janis Ian and Richie Havens, all of whom Barone intends to cover on the CD. Many in the audience were old enough to have intimate memories of an era that extends back to such artists who wrote these songs before or just after Barone was born. Instead, he took the high road, mixing originals from his tenure with his early ’80s rock band the Bongos, two songs by the late Lou Reed and a song he co-wrote with singer-songwriter Jill Sobule.

Jumping from early rock and roller Buddy Holly’s “Learning the Game” to acoustic folk pioneer Eric Andersen’s “Close The Door Lightly” (which he sings with Allison Moorer on his upcoming CD) and on to a song about the Occupy Wall street movement worked for Barone who sold himself to the enthralled crowd with a presence that was as much a reflection of his memoir’s title “Frontman: Surviving the Rock Star Myth” as it was Ethel Merman.

It was fascinating to watch and hear Barone do a reverse Dylan, unplugging material from multiple genres and eras, and delivering them with the intensity of a rock star but the emotions of a singer-songwriter.

As he left the stage after his second set, Barone leaned down and whispered in my ear, “Make sure I get an encore.” He obviously was enjoying the intimacy of the room and enticed everyone with his multi-octave delivery on acoustic guitar and his banter between songs about the personal experiences of a guy who met Lou Reed at age 18 when Reed helped him pick out his first guitar.

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