Barnaby Bright

Barnaby Bright at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Barnaby Bright played Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 last night. We’ve only seen Barnaby Bright (BB) once (just over a year ago), though we’ve seen Nathan and Becky Bliss (the husband and wife team that comprise BB) individually support John Schmitt and Allie Moss.

Nathan and Becky are each so talented on their own. Together, their talent is multiplied, not added.

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Becky sings the leads. Last night she played the harmonium, grand piano and baritone ukulele, all very well. She also writes (or co-writes) a number of their songs. But if I have to highlight one thing, it’s Becky’s voice. Here’s what I wrote about her the first time we saw them:

Becky Bliss sang. Hmmm, that doesn’t do it justice either. Let me embarrass myself by sharing with you how I fumbled for words when I spoke to Becky after the show. Instead of saying something coherent, I said: “Your voice is frighteningly beautiful!”. Huh? Come on Hadar, you weren’t frightened even for a second, you were completely enveloped and mesmerized. Yeah, that’s what I should have said…

Let me say it correctly now, by repeating that last bit: Becky’s voice completely enveloped and mesmerized me, on every single number.

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Nathan’s talent is almost other-worldly. He’s an amazing guitarist, playing many styles. I don’t mean “genres” (of music), but rather guitar styles. He opened the show with a super-fast picking style that was very flamenco like, but the song wasn’t even close to flamenco. His fingers kept up the pace throughout, while Becky enchanted with her vocals and piano play.

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On others, he played the two-hands-on-the-frets style (like Kaki King, Andy McKee and many others have perfected). He also plays more traditional styles, wonderfully. He’s the first person I ever noticed playing a Porchboard (last year) and he played it again last night.

He didn’t touch them last night, but he’s masterful on the sax and clarinet as well. I’m sure he plays other instruments that I haven’t seen him on just yet.

He also sings very well, in particular when he harmonizes with Becky. Oh yeah, he writes most of their songs too. Sheesh, watching Nathan makes me feel both untalented and unproductive. I’m not bitter, just awed.

They are a few months from releasing their next CD. We are proud to have been a part of their successful Kickstarter project and can’t wait to hear the new material produced (they played a number of the new songs last night!).

Either one of them could captivate us on their own. As I said above, their whole is greater than the sum of their parts. They chose to sprinkle even more fairy dust on top of their goodness, by inviting a talented band to join them (they were bandless when we first saw them).

Joining them, left-to-right on stage:

Sean Dixon on drums. It’s easy to find mentions of Sean Dixon on Google, but this is the third time we’ve seen him, and therefore the third time I’ve searched, and I’ve yet to find a good individual link to him, apologies. We first saw Sean supporting Andy Mac. Then we saw him supporting Abby Ahmad and now Barnaby Bright. He was excellent in all three performances, no two of which were similar.

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Craig Akin on acoustic bass. Craig did a wonderful job of filling in the bottom. I didn’t have a good view of him, so I’m guessing when I say that he played on roughly half of the numbers.

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Brian Sanders on cello. Brian played on roughly 2/3’s of the numbers, all exceptionally. He was highlighted a few times, in particular on a number that was mostly just Becky (vocals and piano) and Brian. He was spectacular in that number. Becky introduced another song saying that they rarely play it, because it really needs the strings. Brian to the rescue, allowing them to perform it last night!

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Here’s the set list. They had troubles parking the van and started a few minutes late, so there’s at least one song toward the bottom that didn’t get played:

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Now the backstory on how we nearly missed this amazing set!

The minute I heard about the show (over a month ago) it went on the calendar. I thought it would be immutable. Then our friends from Thailand called to say they’d be in town and could we do dinner at 8pm on Thursday. Exactly the time that Barnaby Bright was scheduled. I’ve been friends with the husband for nearly 50 years (later this year!), so I had no hesitation saying yes (though I did have regrets to miss BB yet again).

Late in the afternoon I spoke to my friend and found out that they could also get together on Saturday (I had assumed Thursday was their only free spot). We moved dinner and freed up our evening to drench ourselves in music, starting with BB. Smile

When I say drench, I mean it. We overdosed, staying at Rockwood (both stages) for five consecutive sets, getting home just before 1:30am. Each set will have its own post. Each set was amazing in its own way. Still basking…

John Schmitt Birthday Show at The Living Room

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I seem to be saying this a lot lately: Musicians tend to play on or near their birthday, throwing a party for their fans, even though it’s work for them. That trend continued last night.

John Schmitt celebrated his birthday (and noted that two members of his band/guests had birthdays one day on either side of the show) by playing at The Living Room. He had a full band and some special guests.

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We don’t need an excuse (like a mere birthday) to come see John Schmitt. If we can make it, we’ll be there. In fact, during the show, he announced that he’s playing Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2, this coming Thursday, at 7pm (also a full-band show). It’s his first time at Rockwood 2, and we’re already committed to being there (you should come too!).

Let’s review why we go see John as often as we can:

  • fantastic voice
  • excellent guitar player
  • terrific band (though he’s superb solo)
  • wonderful songwriter
  • as nice a human being as you could want to meet!

All of the above were there in spades last night.

One of the major differences was no paper set list. John splurged on a new iPad. He had it sitting on a music stand. Since we couldn’t walk away with a set list (I was a little offended that John wouldn’t hand over his iPad for us to take home!), Winking smile we insisted on taking a picture of the iPad with the set list open:

iPadSetList

That’s not the complete list, it’s the songs the band played on. John played at least two songs solo, mid-set, one of them being Ave Regina (more on that later). The other was about his grandfather, called Me and the Chief.

Since all of the song titles above are abbreviated (except the last one), you’ll have to work a bit (or already be a John Schmitt fan!) to figure out the full titles.

I’ll spare you the trouble on the second to last one, listed as Val. That’s actually a song called Valerie. Amy Winehouse covered that song, apparently one of her more famous covers. John wanted to play it as a tribute to Amy, trying to be true to her version.

Let’s mention the band first, then the special guests. Left-to-right on the stage:

Mike Sutton on drums. Here’s what I wrote the only other time I’ve seen Mike play:

Mike Sutton on drums (sorry, couldn’t find a good individual link to Mike). Recall what I said above, that I was expecting Stephen Chopek on drums. I was impressed with Mike’s play, but I need to hear more to form a better opinion.

OK, now that I’ve seen him twice, I can safely say he’s a very good drummer. Toward the end of the set John highlighted him a bit, calling: “Mike, take them to Church!”. Winking smile

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Pasquale Chieffalo on electric bass. Excellent all around bass play (both times that we’ve seen him).

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John’s regular keyboard player is Greg Barbone. I really like him. He was out-of-town, and recommended a friend of his who recently moved here from LA (or was just visiting, if I misunderstood).

Eddie Wiernik on grand piano. He was superb throughout the set (I bet he had very little rehearsal time, he’s clearly a pro!). John highlighted him a number of times (showing a lot of faith in the new guy). Even when he wasn’t highlighted, he was solidly supporting and enhancing the sound.

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John sings a few of his songs with fabulous harmonies, often supplied by a number of female vocalists. Last night he brought up someone who was new to us.

Jessica Norland is a singer, actress and dancer (Lois got her business card after the performance, that’s how I know about her other talents). She has an excellent voice and equally impressive stage presence. She sang harmony and lead on Two Souls. We’re both looking forward to seeing/hearing Jessica again.

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Barnaby Bright is an incredible group (duo), comprised of a married couple. We’ve seen them once before, at Jammin’ Java, in a show that also featured John Schmitt, headlined by Chris Ayer. I have been kicking myself ever since that our schedule has collided with the many times that Barnaby Bright have performed.

Becky Bliss (1/2 of Barnaby Bright) came up to sing Going Back. She sang lead on one verse and harmony throughout. I already told you how badly I want to see Barnaby Bright again, so I shouldn’t have to tell you how good Becky sounded, but I will. She was great. Smile

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Speaking of Going Back, John is raising money to professionally record that song. He needs your help. If you’re already a fan, donating $5 will get you a digital copy of the new song when it’s released. But, if you don’t own John’s CD, Ophelia, you should consider donating $15, which will get you downloads of that CD plus the new song when it’s recorded. Just do it!

Nathan Bliss (the other 1/2 of Barnaby Bright) joined on that song as well. He played the banjo and was given a couple of leads. Nathan is an outstanding musician (with an excellent voice, that he didn’t use last night), but I admit that the banjo (an instrument I love) felt out of place on that song. I’m publicly voting that John not employ it on his recording of Going Back.

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Later, John invited Nathan back on stage to play the saxophone (I believe on the final number, Musical). Nathan blew everyone away. I told you he’s an outstanding musician. He played sax with John at Jammin’ Java, but it was only the two of them on stage. He was great then, but with the full band behind him he could really open it up (without overwhelming John alone). I loved catching the looks on the faces of those around me. Priceless!

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An incredible set, thanks John.

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Above, I mentioned that I would have more to say about Ave Regina. At Jammin’ Java, Becky joined John to sing harmony on that song. It was extraordinary. I fell in love with the song on the spot (and I love it even when John sings it solo, like he did last night). But, since Becky was obviously there, I couldn’t help asking John why she didn’t sing it with him.

He said that they didn’t have time to rehearse it (it’s been a while since the Jammin’ Java show). Man, I can’t believe that these artists are such perfectionists and feel the need to rehearse before playing for us. Winking smile Oh well, next time! Smile

If you already forgot my calls-to-action above, you have two tasks:

  1. Donate to John’s Going Back project
  2. Come see John perform this Thursday (8/4/2011) at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2, 7pm

Now go enjoy the rest of your day. If you want to enjoy it even more, come join us tonight at 7pm at The Bitter End, to see the wonderful Jesse Terry, supported by the extraordinary Greg Mayo.

Chris Ayer, Barnaby Bright, John Schmitt and Morgan Holland at Jammin Java

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It’s great to see a show you know you’re going to like because you like a number of the artists. It’s even better for that to come true and have very pleasant discoveries/surprises thrown in for good measure.

Jammin’ Java had the show listed as Chris Ayer headlining, supported by Barnaby Bright and John Schmitt. This would be our third time seeing Chris, so there was little risk there. We just recently saw John perform one song at the Soul Revue Benefit in NYC and were very interested in hearing more of him. We didn’t know who Barnaby Bright was and I admit to thinking it was a person born in 18th century England, who somehow was still touring around. Winking smile

Since I follow a lot of musicians on Twitter, I found out earlier that day that Morgan Holland and Matt Simons would be there as well. When we got there, we saw two more surprise guests, Chris Anderson, who we will see at least three times in the next week in NYC (with three different bands!) and Stephen Chopek. So, even before the show began, our anticipation was elevated.

I normally describe the evening backwards, headliner to opener. I will do that in this post as well, but since I mostly write for my own memory, I will need to disturb that flow a drop, to note my reaction to certain things, which obviously occurred in forward order. Hopefully, I won’t confuse you too much (or myself when I revisit this years from now).

Chris opened his set solo. Considering how good his voice is and how well he plays the guitar, he could easily perform entire sets solo and deliver satisfaction to the audience. But, given the three-car caravan that came down from NYC yesterday, it was no surprise to any of us when he invited the full band on the stage. I’ll cover the band at the end, because they played with three of the four acts.

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Chris performed a fantastic set (as with the last show we saw, here’s his set list, our perspective, then his):

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On many songs, if I close my eyes, I could swear that James Taylor is performing a Chris Ayer song on stage, that’s how uncannily close Chris sounds to James (at times). But, Chris has quite a large repertoire of songs in various styles, including a number of ballad-style Rock numbers.

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Lois and I often agree/overlap in our opinion of the artists, but we don’t always get there at the same speed. Lois loved Chris from the first song he performed at Parkside Lounge. I was very impressed, but it took a second look (linked above) for me to catch up to Lois. Before the show started, Lois bought two CD’s and a T-Shirt from Chris. We own both the CD’s but neither of us could remember whether our copies are signed (one of our things) so now we have two CD’s to give as gifts and two that are definitely signed! Smile

Chris played two songs that he just released this week on iTunes, Relativity and Stranded. Both were wonderful, so I bought those this morning as well. Excellent. Except, last night, Morgan Holland joined Chris to sing harmony on Stranded. It was gorgeous. The download is also gorgeous, but no female harmony to make it even better (score another one for a live experience!).

Chris played a number of favorites, including Evaporate, which he sang in three-part harmony with Morgan and Matt Simons. Beautiful! He accompanied himself on the guitar, and Chris Anderson and Stephen Chopek chilled out behind them.

Chris closed the show with The Noise. He called up Morgan Holland, John Schmitt and Barnaby Bright (all of the acts before him) to sing harmony with him (and us) on this. He invited the crowd to sing the refrain (ah, ah, ah ah ah) with them. Normally, I can tell when the crowd joins in. I admit that last night I could only make out my own voice, but I’ll also admit I was awesome! Winking smile

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You can listen to a live version of that song (linked above) where you can make out that the audience is joining in, and then buy it right there as well!

On to the biggest surprise for me of the night. Barnaby Bright is not in fact a 300+ year old troubadour. It’s a husband and wife duo.

Nathan and Becky Bliss. This is where I have to disturb the backward flow for a minute. Each of them joined John Schmitt, the act before them, separately. Nathan played the sax with John on one number (just the two of them on the stage), and then again with the full band. Becky sang harmony with John on one number where only they were on stage.

So, I thought I had a sense of them. Nathan would come out and play the sax and Becky would sing soft (but stunning) harmonies with Nathan. Hahahaha, not even close. Back to the correct reverse order of things.

Becky took center stage with a small folding table in front of her. On the first number, she played the harmonium and sang. Wait, let me try that again, trying to impart to you what I experienced.

Becky Bliss sang. Hmmm, that doesn’t do it justice either. Let me embarrass myself by sharing with you how I fumbled for words when I spoke to Becky after the show. Instead of saying something coherent, I said: “Your voice is frighteningly beautiful!”. Huh? Come on Hadar, you weren’t frightened even for a second, you were completely enveloped and mesmerized. Yeah, that’s what I should have said…

BeckyBlissHarmonium

OK, that was no fluke. On each and every song, Becky amazed me. In addition to her voice and the harmonium, she played some rhythm acoustic guitar, ukulele and a tiny electronic keyboard that she laid on top of the harmonium for one number. She also wrote some of the songs they performed last night, though I recall her giving Nathan credit for the majority of them.

BeckyBlissHadar

Nathan didn’t play the sax even once during their set. Instead, he was fantastic on the acoustic guitar (a few of them in fact). Many styles, including the finger-tapping style of people like Kaki King (just one example).

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In addition he too played the ukulele on one number and the mridangam (or something very close to that).

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That’s not all. When they were playing, I could swear I heard a kick drum, but no one was on stage with them and all four of their hands were busy. Then I noticed that Nathan was tapping with his foot on something that looked like a closed up scissor jack for a car. I asked Becky about it after the show. It’s called a porch board. Cool! Nathan did a very nice job of keeping the beat and adding a fullness to their sound while continuing to impress on the guitar.

Nathan sang too, a bit of lead (a song he wrote about his father’s passing) and a lot of harmony. Their harmonies are beautiful, many times with a very ethereal quality (most notably on the CD, which I’ll get to in a sec). If I had one complaint, it’s that Nathan isn’t very forceful with his voice when singing with Becky. I don’t know if he’s intimidated by singing with that voice (I know I would be), but I doubt it. So, next time, Nathan, kick it up a notch, just for me. Smile

They nervously performed a song they had just finished in the car on the way down (or so they said). They nailed it, no reason to have been nervous.

Speaking of the CD. After their set, Lois ran up to buy a copy. I listened to it today and I like it a lot. But, it’s nothing like the show I saw last night (even though they performed much of it). Becky’s voice is gorgeous on the CD, but very mellow. Last night was phenomenal power (there was a bite to it). The ethereal quality I mentioned above comes across throughout the CD.

Score one for the old man (oops, I mean married couple!). We both can’t wait to see Barnaby Bright perform again.

John Schmitt is someone I’ve heard about from a number of our friends. He performed most of his set solo with a guitar. I mentioned that Nathan joined him on the sax for one number (John gave Nathan two nice sax solos in that one). The song Becky joined him on was Ave Regina. Wow, great song, beautiful harmony.

NathanBlissSaxophone

John is an excellent guitarist, so like Chris Ayer, no problem holding my attention when it’s just him and the guitar. But, it’s not really about the guitar. John writes wonderful songs (lyrics) and has a major voice. He had a horrible cold, which he said was causing him to sing more deeply than his normal range. I felt bad for him, but even a slightly gruffer, slightly deeper voice came across marvelously last night.

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He has a very natural rapport with the audience and I look forward to seeing if there is a difference when he’s feeling better, though I don’t have anything but praise to heap on John for last night’s performance.

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He closed his set with the full band on stage with Nathan joining on the sax. They played Ophelia, the title track from his recently released CD. Lois was blown away and as with Barnaby Bright, ran up right after the set was over to buy a copy from John.

On Friday night we saw another show in VA. The headliner that night was Caleb Hawley and you can read about how great we thought Caleb was. When we found out that Caleb produced John’s CD, we knew it would be a winner even before we listened to it. Yup, it’s a winner (I say with confidence, now that we’ve enjoyed it).

Speaking of colds, I failed to mention that Chris Ayer was battling a cold as well. It didn’t seem to affect his performance either (well, it affected John’s, but not negatively).

Morgan Holland opened the show with the full band plus Chris Ayer. I really like her EP (Old New) and encourage you to check it out and buy it too (you can stream the whole thing first to make sure you agree with me).

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Morgan played songs from the EP plus one Billy Joel cover, She’s Always a Woman. She played acoustic guitar and ukulele and also sang with no instruments, with the full band backing her. Chris Ayer or Matt Simons sang harmony on most numbers, occasionally all three together. Beautiful.

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Finally (but certainly not least!), the band. Sitting left-to-right on the stage:

Matt Simons on electronic keyboards and harmony. Matt is a singer/songwriter in his own right. We own his current EP and like it a lot. If you’re in NYC on Sat Feb 19th, you can join us for Matt’s own show at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 at 11pm. It will be his birthday at midnight. Last night he was purely a side man, supporting the others, extremely well.

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MattSimons

Stephen Chopek on the drums. We’ve only seen Stephen once before, during the Morgan Holland EP Release show at Rockwood. I enjoyed his play a lot, but this is all I wrote about him after that show:

This was our first time seeing Stephen play. He was very good.

Not effusive, but still accurate, he was very good. I have a much better sense after last night, given that he played throughout Morgan’s set, then for one number with John Schmitt, followed by most of Chris Ayer’s set. The songs were much more varied so Stephen displayed more styles.

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Morgan’s set called for sophisticated but understated drumming. Stephen excelled at that. Many of Chris’ numbers called for dramatically more drum fills. The very first number that the full band joined Chris on was Graduate (a song I really like but can’t find anywhere to purchase!). The drums are integral. I wish I knew the technical term for that style of drumming, because it’s among my favorite. If you know the movie 1941, you’ll know the drumming style I’m describing as it runs throughout the movie.

Update: A friend who read this post emailed me a link to a live version of Graduate. You can stream it free, or download and name your price. It’s gorgeous (I knew that already), but it’s solo, so you won’t hear the drum pattern I’m talking about above.

StephenChopekHadar

Chris Anderson played the upright bass, both plucking (mostly) and with a bow (on a few numbers). Chris is one of our favorite bass players and we are fortunate that he plays with quite a number of the bands that we like. We first discovered Chris when we first heard Ian Axel and we’ll see Chris next Wednesday playing with Ian Axel for his CD release show at the Studio at Webster Hall in NYC.

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We can’t wait for that show, but we’ll see Chris (or at least I assume so) this coming Saturday, playing with the Greg Mayo band. Can’t wait for that either. Smile

A great night of music (nearly three hours). If you factor out the mega shows (which we too enjoy!), this kind of night out is still one of the most enjoyable and value-packed things you can do. If you see a show like this at a place like Jammin’ Java, where the food is excellent and reasonably priced, the value is increased. That’s exactly what we did, along with three of our friends, who hadn’t seen any of these artists before last night.