Backwaters of Woodstock Music

Keeping his fans satisfied, Rick Danko performed signature numbers like "Stage Fright" and "It Makes No Difference" early in his first set at the Town Crier on Saturday before bringing up drummer Randy Ciarlante and Aaron Hurwitz to help flesh out the sou nd.

The trio launched into J. Cale's "Crazy Mama," an infectious song increasingly identified with Danko sets in recent years and included on the last album from The Band, High On the Hog, which Hurwitz produced like a biker playing jockey on the neck of his steed; a mudder on a multi-track pace. Aaron provided tasty accordion licks for a moody take on "Twilight" and rousing keyboard work on a meandering treatment of "C.C.Rider" before Rick's stroking vocal played tonal shades with the melody of "When You Awake" and playfully challenged fans who were lustily singing along to remember (or guess) the line that particular Band favorite fades out on:. "And if I thought I really could, I'd stand on the rock where Moses stood." Danko capped his customary clowning ad-libs with an impromptu disappearing water glass. Okay, Rick, where'd it go? His jokes about being "over-rehearsed" slanted over both missed notes from his acoustic six-string and passages he really nailed. Playing a "heavy set" can designate an ideal for a musician and, if Rick happened to look as if he was taking the term "heavy set" a bit too seriously, he sounded living room casual overall, touching off the late set with a solo run at "Blind Willie McTell" which had him asking the audience about the lyrics with an entirely different motive. He encouraged audience participation on the simple summer camp tune that followed, "Sunny Side of Life," and it truly began sounding like Rickie's Hootenanny Show as they carried on with Band classic "The W eight." Here Rick scarcely had to sing at all, picking and tossing in stray lines and line fragments as the rest of the room carried the vocal easily.

Jimmy Reed's "Big Boss Man" preceded a paradoxically breezy and mournful take on Lefty Frizzell's "Long Black Veil," which Danko wrapped around some verses from an early Johnny Cash single, "Train of Love." With backing vocals from Hurwitz and Ciarlante, things were heating up as Randy also supplied bass and kick drum. "Mystery Train" and "Caledonia Mission" cooked along on loose rails, making it difficult to decide if vacant spots and changed lyrics were the result of momentary memory lapses or a de liberate bent toward getting a creatively jiving semblance rather a note-for-recreation. Danko regularly tempers his evocative voice with studied variations of phrasing and inflection that push the words around to fresh and surprising juxtapositions just liquidly enough to keep you guessing. Just a little something Dylan learned from Sinatra...

The night's musical highwater marks were left from the above numbers and Ciarlante's lead vocals on "Chest Fever" and "Mess Up A Good Thing." An underraved strength of The Band, Ciarlante belted out the former like he's always owned it, fully bringing out its startling power to still move on you while Danko took to bass and back-up. A disappointing country tune led Rick to a reworking of Jimmy Reed's "Honest I Do" and "The Shape I'm In" show-closer. They didn't quite get off the stage before spinning into the encore, "Blaze of Glory," from his 1993 album with Jonas Fjeld and Eric Andersen.

Musicians the ilk of Ciarlante and Hurwitz provide undertones to gigs like this by their backwater presence in the studio. It is Woodstock's considerable and still developing position in the recording industry, outstripping a strangling live music scene that's kept alive here only by the determined efforts of a few, that is now quietly carrying the town's musical legacy. Lines about "heading up to Bearsville" on a recent solo CD by The Waterboys' Mike Scott remind us that this is a recording center behind only New York, L.A. and Nashville in quantity of contemporary music. Groups from all over the world slip in to record here and silently steal away with scarcely a public ripple; some of them, like Ireland's Four Men & A Dog, carrying a taste of the local sound away with them.

Having cut their last few albums here, this group is a fair example of the multi-faceted traffic. Their new CD, Long Roads, recorded at the studio of Levon Helm- who is currently away studying prospects of acting in a Steven Seagal flick, opens a bright, heady blend of influences with "She's On My Mind" and "Planet Waves"; tunes enlivened with Aaron Hurwitz's accordion and licks from other locals and regulars like Scott Petito, Mike Dunn and Richard Bell. Charging their songs with the Celtic fervor of percussionist Gino Luperi, they offer up traditional numbers like "Nancy" and "Sally Gardens," to which Hurwitz adds Hammond Organ, as he does keyboard for a mood-swinging, penetrating ballad called "Meet Me."

If you've wondered where the original sound of The Band has bled to, listen closely to "Joefy Spokes," which uses melody fragments also once borrowed by Dylan and carries more of that mountain feel than any of their own recent releases. The cast of the Town Crier show appear on this track; Randy, Aaron and Rick Danko vocals. "Poor Fool Polka," a traditional fiddle tune braced, here, with keys, has a pounding, engrossing beat worked over by Garth Hudson magic and 2 accordions. As much as you may dread that oily polka fever creeping about out west, you've got to like this one and Ciarlante, Hurwitz and Dunn are again present in a bound-to-get-ya mix. They also contribute to a kind of Nashville-over-the-ocean tune, "Restless," and a rowdy but only mildly successful Irish treatment of soul with Isaac Hayes' "Hold On, I'm Coming." Petito plays bass for the north-of-Tennessee blues title tune and the purists at home are kept happy with the vocal trade-offs on "Over the River She Goes," a song they grew in the same creative garden that sprouted a lot of American musical roots before the transplant began going stale with hybrid repetition. This hits closer to the inspiration and bottoms out an album worth ordering if not found on local shelves. It's also part of a clear backwater legacy of Woodstock music which should be better realized.

One last note in this direction: A lot of local people who have been waiting for the blockbuster album Tom Pacheco recorded with The Band in February, Woodstock Winter, will have to take heart in the fact that its October release is still on schedule in Europe and should be available as an import. The downside is that the marketing geniuses at Mercury/Polygram have bumped U.S. release back to January. The CD "single" sports about 15 minutes of it in 3 tracks and an Annie Wright photo of local artist Paul Naylor's colorful sign for Woodstock Pub & Restaurant impressed into the disk.

-Gary Alexander