Friday, January 04, 2008

Jake Armerding – An Artist Worth Knowing; A Singer Worth Hearing

My friend, JR, gave me a wonderful New Year’s gift; he introduced me to the music of Jake Armerding. JR and I booked first class seats on the Red Line and traveled last evening to Harvard Square to the storied basement cavern of Club Passim. Club Passim is a Boston area treasure and national spawning ground for several generations of folk artists. It is a place where Joan Baez’s voice still echoes and where Arlo Guthrie sang about Alice’s Restaurant” and a train called “The City of New Orleans.” It is a haven where Jack Kerouac sought refuge when he came in off the road. It is, in short, a special place that often hosts and launches special talent.

Last night was no exception. The headliner was Jake Armerding, son of blue grass musician, Taylor Armerding. I had never heard Jake before last evening, but I have become an instant fan of his musicianship and his artistry. An English major from my alma mater, Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois (the other Wheaton College to most Bostonians!), Armerding’s writing is superb. His versatility as an instrumentalist is rare. Last night he played violin, acoustic guitar, electric guitar and mandolin – all with the mastery of a virtuoso. The instrument that is his voice demonstrates similar protean flexibility – morphing within the same song from the soothing gentleness of Arlo Guthrie to the gritty urgency of Jim Morrison.

Here are some of the biographical basics of Armerding’s life and career, culled from his Website:

The Boston Globe calls “Walking on the World,” the newest release from singer-violinist Jake Armerding, "dizzying - it weaves together fiddle, mandolin, and guitar; stories about Rome and nostalgia; consonant ballads about a fleece jacket; and dissonant, off-kilter rags." Marrying genres is Armerding's forte, a product of growing up with 1980's pop radio in one ear and classical violin in the other.

At 14, after ten years of violin lessons, Armerding joined his father's bluegrass band, Northern Lights, on fiddle. He also turned his attention to songwriting, and by 1999 he had his first record in hand. _Caged Bird_ was an immediate hit with Boston's folk radio station, WUMB, which honored Armerding in 2001 with its award for "Best New Artist." He released _Caged Bird_ the old-fashioned way - out of his trunk. Touring regionally and with support from radio, the record eventually sold more than 2500 copies and got Armerding noticed by the hip Nashville independent label Compass Records.

In 2003, Compass released “Jake Armerding,” a collection of folk-pop songs written during a stint in Nashville. It was the #6 most added new record among Americana radio stations in April 2003, and Jake was in the national spotlight. "Armerding is the most gifted and promising songwriter to emerge from the Boston folk scene in years," claimed the Globe, while the Washington Post praised Armerding's "remarkable" instrumental skills. Festival buyers also took notice, and that year he appeared at the Newport Folk Festival (RI), Kerrville Folk Festival (TX) and Falcon Ridge Folk Festival (NY), along with some of the country's best-known acoustic venues, the Ark (MI), Bluebird Cafe (TN), the Tin Angel (PA) and the Freight & Salvage (CA).

After more than 500 performances, from Anchorage to London and Miami to Bangor, Armerding returned to the studio to record _Walking on the World_. With a mix of Nashville veterans (Dan Dugmore on pedal steel and Phil Madiera on Hammond organ) and his own friends in the scene, he crafted an album that is "sharp, original, quietly intense, and rewarding for any who'll listen with both ears" (Lansing State Journal). _Walking on the World_ is as difficult to categorize as much of today's best music; equal parts New England singer-songwriter, acoustic rock and newgrass, no genre is exactly safe. But the effect is natural. "His real achievement has been to bend the boundaries of the genre - to break the conventions that define country music" (Boston Globe, March 2007). Armerding stands out from a crowd of new singer-songwriters for what has always been a hallmark of great songwriting: an ability to create something new out of something old.

Let me share a small sample of Jake’s poetic lyrics, the opening song from his 2003 allbum:

Destiny's Flight

We were on schedule
and everything was going as I planned it
Then she deviated
for the life of me I could not understand it
And all this waiting for her
and trying not to bore her
It all came down to nothing in the end
My destiny
She wants to fly
She's leaving me
She wants to try to get a better view
trying to get a better view of the sky
I should have noticed
on the day she ceased to ask me for the answers
She'd play the innocent
and I would try to play the great romancer
But over a maudlin conversation
sobbing obligations
I caught a v-formation in her eye
I know which way her wind blows
She broke my heart and she broke my windows

Darling can't you stand to tell me why

When Armerding sang that song as part of last evening’s set, the poignancy of the lyrics and the beauty of the blend of his voice with the instruments literally sent chills down my spine. That is more than entertainment; that is transcendence. I bought the album after the show, and fell asleep listening to its magic. I woke myself up before 5:00 so I could hear some of the songs again before jumping back on the Red Line to head to work.

Raised in Ipswich, Jake now makes his home in New York City. So residents of Boston and of Manhattan have a chance to see and hear him often. I urge my Boston friends to join me next Tuesday evening, January 8 at 10:00 PM at the Cantab Lounge, 738 Mass. Ave. in Central Square, Cambridge. New York friends, I will let you know the next time Jake is scheduled to appear at the legendary The Bitter End. We will meet up there.

When you link to Jake’s Website, you can ask to be added to his mailing list. I just did. I encourage you to do the same.



1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You are correct, Jake's music is amazing. I heard him in 2004 at Gordon College and bought his album immediately. He played with his father, writes songs about the Backbay and jams on the fiddle - what a pleasant surprise it is to find him on your blog and to share with others. I may see you at the Cantab.