LIVE: “Sirens of Song” @ The Hangar, 6/12/15
Review by Greg Haymes
Photographs by Ed Conway
Despite initial conflicts and confusion regarding dates and venues, Greg Bell of Guthrie Bell Productions wasn’t about to let go of his idea to bring together four of the Local 518’s finest female singer-songwriters on a single bill.
Thank goodness, he didn’t. It all finally came together at The Hangar in Troy on a truly magical evening, amidst one of the summer’s most severe thunderstorms as a non-stop barrage of lightning flashed through the windows to provide a natural psychedelic light show while two veterans – Lonesome Val and Caroline MotherJudge – teamed up with a pair of relative newcomers – Olivia Quillio and Ashley Sofia – for a glorious evening of music.
Quillio was the undisputed headliner. MotherJudge was the most instrumentally exotic, backed by a band that included cellist Monica Wilson, steel guitarist Kevin Maul, the ever-esoteric guitarist-vocalist Mitch Elrod and mandolinist/husband Sten Isachsen. And Ticondiroga’a young Sofia opened the show with a solid, earnest set of songs, debuting some new material, and bringing her dad Billy Sofia onstage to sing with her on her best song of the night, “1973.”
But it was clear from the start that the majority of the crowd was there to hear “Lonesome Val” Haynes, the sparkplug and primary vocalist for the Units (who later changed their name to Fear of Strangers), Nippertown’s most popular band of the early ’80s new-wave scene.
Like some long-lost country-soul sister of Lydia Loveless and Lone Justice’s Maria McKee – with a dollop of Cyndi Lauper goofiness and Dolly Parton self-deprecation tossed in – Lonesome Val returned to the spotlight for the first time in more than three years, and she sounded as though she’d never left. She simply owned the stage. Fun, funky and fearless, she threw herself into her twangified hour-long show – largely drawn from her two under-rated Bar None albums – 1990’s Lonesome Val and 1994’s Suzzy Roche-produced NYC (now both more than two decades old) – with joyous abandon and boundless charisma.
During the past several years, she had played only a couple of Lonesome Val gigs as a duo with FoS bandmate/guitarist Todd Nelson – with the Star Spangled Washboard Band at the Steamer No. Theater in 2012 and with Crash Test Dummies at The Linda in 2010 – but she hadn’t played a full-band Lonesome Val show in recent memory. What a band it was at The Hangar, though. Yes, not surprisingly Nelson was back in the fold, but so too was the ever-churning FoS drummer Al Kash, as well as new recruit James Kirk on bass and man-about-town Michael Eck on acoustic guitar.
Musically, she was almost impossible to pin down, shifting from the Latin groove of “Darlin ‘n’ Funky One” to the waltz-time “Spanish Eyes,” from the choodlin’ swamp-pop of “Lone Prairie” (featuring an exquisite, extended solo from Nelson) to the boogie blues encore of “Dance With Me” (definitely not the Orleans pop song of the same name). And yes, she did indeed dip into the Fear of Strangers songbag for the contagious, canine-friendly “Shopping for a Dog.”
I hate to resort to the hackneyed “women are doin’ it for themselves” cliche, but… No question about it, this was a great night of Local 518 homegrown music.
LONESOME VAL SET LIST
To Be Young
Soldier Girl of Love
Truth Is Like a Dirty Word
Running Between the Raindrops
Darlin ‘n’ Funky One
Shopping for a Dog (Fear of Strangers)
Love Comes to Town
Dance With Me (new song)