Driving to last Saturday night's Maura O'Connell show at the Knitting Factory in downtown's Tribeca (TRIangle BElow CAnal street--for those out- of- towners), I passed several shop windows in Chelsea with "Welcome Home Martha" signs. My eyes saw Welcome Home Maura. Well it is nice to have our Domestic Diva back but it was even better for those lucky attendees of the Knitting Factory show to have America's self-proclaimed Folk Diva in their midst and in very fine voice. So Martha is out of the Big House and Maura was in a very funky one. Martha wasn't acquitted but Maura acquitted herself well this night; but before we forget --the band was superb, John Mock, Don Johnson (he of the Tea Towel display (more later)) and of course Bruce Wallace, (great singing on Blue Triain). They don't get enough credit, their accompaniment is very much appreciated.
During Maura's show we come to realize that all those quotes about her music and singing can't equal the live show and hearing the real deal. She interprets songs that span genres and periods but they all have in common a generous infusion of spirit and emotion. Songs can be sad without even approaching being sappy. And Maura's quirkiness and comments keeps the mood going even when she has to move (too) quickly to make sure the late act can get on timely.
The crowd got to hear most of the latest album Don't I Know, or is it Don't You Know or I Don't Know? anyway--, including Trip Around the Sun (Al Anderson) Love You in the Middle (Jenny Orenstein) Going Down in Flames (Mindy Smith from LonGGG Island), Didn't I (Kim Richey), Spinning Wheel (Hillary Lindsey) Phoenix Falling (Tommy Lee James Robin Lerner), There's No Good Day for Dying, Hold On (Clare Burson), plus old treasures, like Summerfly (Cheryl Wheeler), I Wonder (Patty Griffin), Blue Train (Jennifer Kimball, Tom Kimmell).
And the crowd got to hear Paul Brady's To Be the One (yes Laura and I didn't get to see Paul Brady at Joe's Pub in NYC recently because we waited too late to try to get tickets, not a mistake to be repeated when we get to see Van Morrison on St. Patrick's Day, no less, in the intimate Supper Club in the Theatre District). Let me just add Paul Brady's Crazy Dreams album has to be up there as one of the all time best.
Maura just loads up the feeling whenever she does Gerry O'Beirne's atmospheric Western Highway, which was wonderful as always, and poignantly the song Walls from the next to last album Walls and Windows, the Pam Rose and Mary Ann Kennedy song Walls, which in light of the news reports of two more soldiers from NYC dying recently carried even more meaning.
Maura entertained some audience members from Ireland with a rendition of WB Yeats' Down By the Salley Gardens and it seemed to be much appreciated and well received.
The show stopper had to be Tim O'Brien's Time To Learn, which I mistakenly thought was to his mother, but Maura explained it was written with Pat Alger for Tim's brother who died in one of the first waves of deaths in Viet Nam many years ago. My memories of being in high school and hearing about guys just a couple of years ahead of me not coming back came rushing into my head. Plus the fact that the song is so chilling when applied to the death of any of one's loved ones. It plays over and over in your head.
Don Johnson obliged by unfolding the Irish gift shop tea towel with the blessing for the intro to (The Irish) Blessing song by Jonell Mosser and John and Johanna Hall, a very cool version of a very odd Irish icon, and as Maura pointed out Eddie Izzard wants to know how the towel relates to tea anyway?
After some stomping of feet, hooting and whistling an encore ensued.
Maura's Irish/English acappella version of Danny Boy was almost interupted by some boisterous bar types in the front room, but they quieted down just in time. I cannot help but think that we were only about 4 or 5 blocks from Ground Zero where many Dannys (and so many others) died that fateful day and with the many FDNY funerals I am sure that song was heard often, (but not as well performed, ---elegant and exquisite, --like it was on Saturday night.)
The show ended with Van Morrison's "folk" song from 1970 Crazy Love from THE Folk Diva, although she pulled a fast one on the audience and let them sing along and ALONE on the last line of the last verse and I can tell you that the performer was in fine voice but the audience was not up to her.
Maura spoke of the upcoming Women's Heart tour with Mary Black, Sharon Shannon and yes, yes, yes, Kara Dillon, later this year and it sounds like it will be a great opportunity to see some fine performers together; hoping it comes through NYC environs.
So America's Domestic Diva was in Bedford NY upstate attending to her abode and getting used to an ankle bracelet-(she should speak with Uncle Junior he has one)- and America's Folk Diva was in the small house downtown NYC embracing some great songs and leaving an audience a bit better off for having heard them.
As Maura might say to a question like "what kind of singer am I"?............well.............a good one""........, to audience applause but not being a true Diva, says "don't feed the EGO."