Largo at the Coronet
Los Angeles, California, January 11, 2011
The Coronet is a small 250 seat theater and the perfect venue to host this night of great American songwriters. The show was billed as “The Masters of American Song,” and was also the starting point for the 2011 Songwriter Train, a four day train trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco and back featuring concert and informal performances by the three musicians.
Tom Russell opened the show with a short 25-minute set and was joined by guitarist and backup vocalist Thad Beckman. He drew mostly from his most recent recording Blood and Candle Smoke, but also sang a couple of new songs from his upcoming album on Shout Factory. Russell has become one of the more literate of American songwriters, as his opening song “East of Woodstock, West of Vietnam” showed. His gift of storytelling, especially his ability to weave in references to the southwest (like on “Guadalupe” or a new song about the city of Varriez) has never been better. It was somewhat of a homecoming for Russell, as he grew up in the area around the Cornet, so it was extra special when he dedicated the song “Finding You” to his wife, who was in the audience.
Jesse Winchester followed with his own short 30-minute segment, starting with the humorous “Forgot To Boogie,” which set the irreverent tone that is the key to his charm. Winchester has a soft, southern brand of humor, mostly directed at himself, that at times obscures what an excellent songwriter he is. His set touched on his entire career, starting with material from the 70’s like “The Brand New Tennessee Waltz,” “Yankee Lady,” “Little Glass of Wine” and “Talk Memphis.” He also performed a couple of songs, “Lonely For Awhile” and “Shan-aling-Dong-Ding,” from his from his current recording Love Filling Station. A short set was perfect for his relaxed style, which might become wearing in a longer performance.
They certainly don’t make songwriters like Jimmy Webb anymore. Performing on a concert grand piano, he opened with “Highwayman,” and while he might not be the best singer in the world, his voice is strong and full of emotion. The theme of the evening was songs from his most recent recording, Just Across The River, a collection of duets of some of his most popular songs. Webb’s personality is as big as his songs. His set was accented with anecdotes between songs: how he first played the Coronet back in 1967 in an anti-war stage production put together by Richard Harris; he performed “Galveston” and talked of how it was one of Lucinda Williams favorite songs; of how much he liked Vince Gill’s voice and how happy he was he sang “Oklahoma Night” with him on the new recording. Before he did “All I Know,” Webb talked of getting Linda Ronstadt to sing it with him. He told a story of Harry Neilson and the days of heavy drinking and, when accused by Neilson that he never wrote a humorous song, wrote “Campo de Encino,” his next song, as a reply. Running out of time, he did one last number, “Wichita Lineman,” before leaving to a loud applause.
The three returned, with Russell singing a rousing version of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice” which didn’t satisfy the crowd, so for a second encore Winchester sang Hank William’s “Why Don’t You Love Me,” It was then back to the hotel and a train trip to the Bay area the next day and a second performance by the three at the Freight and Salvage in Berkeley.
—Jim Lee (Simi Valley, CA)
Folk train information at www.flyingunderradar.com