Singing the body acoustic
Local singer-songwriters in the spotlight during Wild Oak Records Showcase
It has been reported that no less a musical figure than Sir Edward Elgar awoke one morning in early 20th-century Britain with a melody walking repeatedly up and down the front steps of his mind. He then felt obliged to bug his friends that entire day, claiming that he had a tune that was going to knock people out of their socks (or words to that effect). That tune, of course, was the first (there were to be four more) “Pomp and Circumstance March,” alternately known (with lyrics added later) as “Land of Hope and Glory” and, in this country, simply as “that thing they play at graduation, you know, like, when you’re walking up to get your, like, diploma?”
Whether any of the songwriters spotlighted at last Friday night’s Wild Oak Records Showcase have had similar experiences in their endeavors is difficult to say. But they each presented a generally enjoyable set of original songs.
Wild Oak Records, of course, is the Chico State Music Department’s program that provides students the opportunity to find out what it’s like to work in the music business—from artist development, contracts and management to recording and producing, and right through to packaging and promotion. Last year, the school label released a CD, Four Corners, featuring four local rock bands, each offering four tracks for the disc. Recently, the label’s Songwriters Guild has been hosting singer-songwriter nights at different venues in Chico.
At Has Beans last Friday, the standing-room-only showcase featured performers accompanying themselves on acoustic guitars, mostly presenting briskly strummed folk pop reminiscent of the early 1970s boom that yielded such performers as James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Don McLean and so on.
Local musician Dee Dee Vest started things off nicely with a four-song set, the highlight of which was a sort of “chant-along-on-the-chorus” piece entitled “Does Love Go Deeper Than This?” Vest, a likable, petite blonde, possesses a strong, warm alto whose vibrato seems capable of either breaking your heart or levitating you a foot or two off your chair. She has a nice stage presence, too, easily talking about her inspirations—the song “Preacher, Preacher,” for instance, was inspired by a visit to London’s Hyde Park and Vest’s encounter with a sidewalk preacher while busking there. No wonder she regularly plays all over town.
Bearded Ron Coffey followed with a brief set of songs, pleasantly played and sung. Brothers Brett and Pat Aherm were joined by a novice vocalist-lyricist known only as “Kelly,” who performed well on her song “Autumn Leaves” (obviously not the one made famous by Nat King Cole or Roger Williams’ instrumental, although no less affecting). The brothers performed a two-chord sort of tonal piece, rife with chiming arpeggios set against three-note bass chords.
Two musicians from local band Standard (introduced only as “Russ and Chris") performed next. They were OK, although the songs they played tended to have the same tempo and similar melodic structures. But hey, according to Wilfred Mellers in his indispensable book on the music of the Beatles, Twilight of the Gods, John Lennon just unconsciously rearranged the melody of “Three Blind Mice” over and over on many of his best songs.
Finishing the evening off, Sean Cass and Phil Pristia offered four songs by Cass, which were slyly humorous and cleverly composed (the rising chord on the word “smile” in the song of the same name, for instance).
All in all, a generally enjoyable night. More showcases are scheduled. Check one out, if you’re dreaming of hearing original local songs.