LIVE: The Pine Hill Project: Lucy Kaplansky & Richard Shindell @ The Egg, 11/7/14
Review by Greg Haymes
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Take two A-list solo singer-songwriters in the folk tradition. Pair them up with a master multi-instrumentalist/producer. Back them up with a crack rhythm section. And have them serve up an evening of their favorite songs, both originals and a wide swath of cover tunes.
It sounds like the recipe for a best-concerts-of-the-year-list contender, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, last weekend’s Albany debut of the new Pine Hill Project – featuring folk stars Richard Shindell and Lucy Kaplansky – rarely caught fire. Their performance at The Egg was simply too tentative. Considering that it was only their third tour-stop, maybe that was to be expected.
Kaplansky and Shindell have been friends for 25 years, and for nearly all of that time, they’ve talked about making an album of duets. Earlier this year, after a successful fan-funded Kickstarter campaign, they finally made the album, Tomorrow You’re Going, a collection of songs by other songwriters who they admire. And although the album isn’t slated for release for another four months, they’ve hit the road to offer fans a preview.
Kaplansky and Shindell were backed by a trio of Levon Helm Band alum – bassist Byron Isaacs, drummer Justin Guip and the magnificent multi-instrumentalist (as well as the upcoming album’s producer) Larry Campbell – and the band was absolutely solid throughout. But Shindell and Kaplansky frequently seemed a bit lost on stage, suddenly finding themselves with a full band and driving rhythm section after their long and successful years as solo performers.
The song selection was excellent, however. A hushed country ballad rendition of the Wilborn Brothers’ broken-hearted “Making Plans” kicked of the night with Campbell making his pedal steel guitar weep. With the full band behind them, they nailed Greg Brown’s “Lately,” brought a funky, soulful strut to Gillian Welch’s “Wichita” and served up a heavenly rendition of Dave Carter’s “Farewell to St. Delores.”
Their rendition of the Grateful Dead’s “Deal” nearly collapsed mid-song, when it became obvious that Kaplansky and Shindell were both confused about who was supposed to sing the next verse or when to start it. Campbell came to the rescue, and he whipped up an unexpected extended solo to cover the gaffe. They fared considerably better with the show-closing rave-up on the traditional “I Know You Rider,” transformed into a Dead-worthy, droning psychedelic swirl that evolved into an electric guitar duel between Campbell and Shindell. And then they capped off the night with a rousing encore sing-along of the Band’s “The Weight.”
Throughout the show, they dropped in some of their own signature songs, Kaplansky delivering her best performance of the night on Shindell’s “The Ballad Of Mary Magdalene,” while Shindell rocked his Halloween break-up song, “Are You Happy Now?,” buoyed by Campbell on mandolin.
Shindell and Kaplansky were the headliners, but Larry Campbell was clearly the most valuable player on stage all night long on Friday. Not only playing with the headliners, Campbell also pulled double-duty, opening the show with a crisp 45-minute opening set with his wife-powerhouse vocalist Teresa Williams and the rhythm section. Campbell ripped it up on Johnny Cash’s “Big River,” as well as his own bluesy plea for sympathy “There Ain’t Nobody for Me” and his lilting country waltz “Midnight Highway.” And he as well as an exquisite solo acoustic guitar instrumental rendition of Turlough O’Carolan’s melancholy Celtic ballad “Blind Mary.”
And then Williams – literally jumping up and down onstage as if possessed – unleashed her vocal cords at full blast on a pair of gospel nuggets, “If I Had My Way (Samson & Delilah)” and the set-closing “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning.” There was little doubt that the opening act had stolen the show…
NOTE: Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams team up with Little Feat keyboardist Bill Payne for two shows at the Falcon in Marlboro – at 7pm tonight (Monday, November 10) and Tuesday. Donations encouraged.
THE PINE HILL PROJECT SET LIST
Making Plans (the Wilburn Brothers)
Ten Year Night (Lucy Kaplansky)
The Kenworth of My Dreams (Richard Shindell)
Lately (Greg Brown)
Wichita (Gillian Welch)
Open Book (Elizabeth & the Catapult)
Deal (Grateful Dead)
The Ballad Of Mary Magdalene (Richard Shindell)
Reunion (Lucy Kaplansky)
I Live On a Battlefield (Nick Lowe)
Farewell to St. Delores (Dave Carter)
Are You Happy Now? (Richard Shindell)
I Know You Rider (traditional)
Green Pastures (Van Hoose)
The Weight (The Band)