by Leah Sottile and Mike Corrigan
Is there anything to say about yet another acoustic act? Are there any more words worth penciling in to describe another fresh-faced, pink-cheeked acoustic guitar-toting young thing? There's a glut of open-road ballads, an overflow of mid-20s guy-and-a-guitar broken-hearted love songs - damn that Dave Matthews for spawning so many look-alikes when he did.
I truly believe there is nothing left to say about these sorts of musicians. At least nothing worth the time it'll take you to get through this paragraph. Just make sure you read the next one.
Jenn Adams - she's not like those acoustic artists. She's not a Western Family-brand acoustic guitarist, and she's hardly another Safeway Select songwriter.
But being different is something she's rarely had to shoot for - Adams says it's something that's always come naturally to her as a performing artist. But it's in promotion - in her biography and press kits - where she says the difficulty comes. That's where she could easily just be lumped in with all those moppy-haired, travelin' band singer/songwriters.
In researching Adams, I came across a passage describing how she was born in eastern Montana to gypsy parents who spent their time raising pygmy goats and teaching little Jenn the ropes of nomadic musicianship. Without reading any further, I asked her about how such a lifestyle influenced her.
"No, that's not true," she said through fits of laughter. She explains that she and a former booking agent "were trying to create that bio that would get attention. When you put a bio on somebody's desk, how do you get them to pay attention? That was a fake idea. I don't even know how that got out there. I grew up in Kansas."
And she was never raising pygmy goats. She did, however, pick up a guitar at age 6, and soon realized her musical ambitions. She wanted pipes like Aretha Franklin's, the guitar savvy of James Taylor and the writing skills of John Denver.
So she spent years perfecting her musical abilities, and continuing to perfect them is one way that Adams remains unique among all those generic acoustic guitars.
"I try and take as much education as I can," she says. "I just got through taking some jazz theory classes. I take voice training and I try to play with other musicians. I just try to increase my musicianship."
But her lyrics are the primary way she separates herself from the others. For Adams, songwriting is like storytelling - literally. She makes up stories.
"I have a friend who had an aunt who came across Ellis Island from Ireland during the potato famine, and [she] was lost for four or five days. I went back to my history books and read about it for a while," she says. "I wrote a song about a girl that survived. I completely made the whole thing up, but it was definitely something that came to me after reading."
Research and experience diffuse out of all of her songs. Songwriting is a process of cause and effect - Adams experiences something or sees something, it affects her, her imagination runs wild, she writes.
And that's how she can make a living off what she does.
"You have to be creative, you have to think out of the box," Adams says. "You do what you can, and if you're passionate about what you do, then you'll find a way to get noticed."
She's swimming in a different sea than those other acoustic fish - a sea of passion and love for what she does. "Life is such a treat. I get inspiration for songs, pretty much from my daily life - my personal life is pretty boring in comparison," Adams says with a chuckle. "I'm just fascinated with what it's like to be human, everybody's got a story." (LS)
Folkscene -- For most of us, music serves as a form of entertainment and, perhaps, as an avenue through which we appreciate artistic expression. That's usually all that is required to curry our favor and to earn our seal of approval. But there are those rare artists for whom music represents something more. For them, music is a conduit, a thread -- one that runs from the past, through the present and into the future. For these performers, the music they write, play and sing assumes an added dimension, one that imbues their work with a historical relevance that adds a unique and rewarding depth to their recordings and performances.
In America -- as elsewhere around the world -- the indigenous popular music forms evolved and matured along with the culture of the nation. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the history of American popular music is the history of America.
All this is not lost on Sparky and Rhonda Rucker. The husband-and-wife folk duo utilize American music traditions within the context of their art to tell stories, stories rich with social and historical relevance, stories that reflect our shared national heritage -- sort of a live version of Behind the Music, American folk-style. The couple will be sharing their songs and stories with a local audience next Thursday night, May 12, at the Women's Club, a show sponsored by the good folks over at the Spokane Folklore Society.
Sparky Rucker (on guitar, banjo and spoons) has been on the road for more than 40 years and is internationally recognized as a folklorist, musician, historian, storyteller, orator and author. He's also been a featured guest on NPR's Morning Edition, A Prairie Home Companion, and Mountain Stage. Rhonda, an accomplished harmonica and piano player, adds vocal harmonies to the tunes, a repertoire that consists of railroad songs, Appalachian music, blues, slave songs, Civil War music, gospel, work songs, cowboy music, and traditional ballads along with a number of Sparky Rucker's original songs. They've recorded five albums together, including The Blue & amp; Grey in Black & amp; White (Flying Fish, 1992) and Midnight Memories (Tremont, 2004).
Adored by audiences as well as by their peers -- are accolades from Pete Seeger and Utah Phillips good enough for you? -- the Ruckers put on a show that is nothing less than a lively, humor-filled journey through 400 years of African-American cultural and folk history.
With a set list so rich, how can we refuse? (MC)
Sparky & amp; Rhonda Rucker at the Women's Club, Ninth Avenue and Walnut Street, on Thursday, May 12, at 7:30 pm. Tickets: $15; $12, for Spokane Folklore Society members. Call 535-3684.
Smells Like Community Spirit -- Well, looks like your Saturday night is booked; the folks over at Thin Air Radio are pretty much demanding your presence this Saturday night down at Cater's place with a lineup like this. All proceeds, as per usual, go to KYRS - the funds keep Spokane's only nonprofit community radio station on the air and ensure that great shows like Under the Influence, One Step Beyond and Random Access -- hosted by people who actually know what they're talking about -- stay on your radio waves.
The lineup has Burns Like Hellfire at the helm. Spokane's premiere punk/alt-country rock band has won the hearts of most of us the old-fashioned way: with passion and killer chops. BLH has also just recently released its long-awaited debut album, One For the Losers. We like.
Don't recognize the Breezy Brown moniker? That's DJ Breezy Brown, aka Tony Brown of Unified Groove Merchants, formerly Grand Groove. Breezy's on board to mix up the lineup a tisch, adding his funk, soul and hip hop efficacy to the guitar-heavy lineup.
And just like a good radio station should, Saturday's bennie will introduce you to a few lesser-known acts that you should know. Particularly the Scary Magnets and The Inlander's own Joel Smith. The former features two guys with electric guitars, tube amps, a floor tom, a mic, some Casio keys and a cheap beatbox (and we're talking really cheap, here) while Smith, on the other hand, plans to make things a little more touchy feely (not like that, sick-o). Smith is a seasoned axe-wielder with a penchant for all things Southern (banjos, whiskey and the Dukes of Hazzard). We wouldn't say he's got the white-boy blues - more like folk fever. He's hardcore acoustic, uber-domestic metal. Whatever that means.
Gorilla and Rabbit - who need no introduction - offer several minutes of noisy rock bliss. And plenty of balloons for the kiddies.
If you claim to love it live and local, well, you'd better be there. KYRS loves to feel the love. (LS)
KYRS Thin Air Radio Benefit show featuring Burns Like Hellfire, Gorilla & amp; Rabbit, Scary Magnets, Joel Smith and DJ Breezy Brown at the B-Side, 230 W. Riverside Ave., on Saturday, May 7, at 8:30 pm. Cover: $5. Call 747-3807.
Publication date: 05/05/05