From the beginning, Tin Roof Sessions in New Paltz have brought in some surprisingly big names, given the dollhouse dimensions of the lovely, converted-garage performance space. They’ve booked a slew of bands and songwriters with…you know, an awful lot more Facebook “likes” than your band or mine. The outsize talent is due in part to Nate Krenkel’s music-world connections via the New Paltz-headquartered Team Love Records, the cottage label that he co-owns with his pal Connor Oberst of Bright Eyes, and in part because Krenkel, Taylor Davis and Dave Chapman really have their act together in the way that they envision and frame these heightened Sunday-evening shows.
Consider the added value that they offer artists: multi-camera video shoots in a boutique listening-room environment, pro photography sessions out back and live recordings that might turn out to be release-grade (at least if you are). No cash guarantee, usually, but it’s the new, crowdsourced music businesses model. If you provide an audience with an intense and immediate musical experience – like, say, a Victorian parlor recital by a famous Russian husband-and-wife pianist-and-soprano duo – the people will respond in kind and give freely, as if they were Victorian Industrialist patrons, of their own volition, cognizant that they are not only enjoying some nice music but also preserving a certain class of performance quality and intimacy, protecting an Old World experience against the rising tide of Beatz and such (from which, no doubt, many make their fortunes). Shame about what they’re doing to the North Country, of course, but there will be no stopping progress.
All of which is to say that it would be hard for Tin Roof to surprise me with name-value any more. We’re over that. We understand that we live somewhere that people want to be and want to play now, and that our local talent pool is hardly overmatched, that it is fully up to these Tin Roof pairings, which are billed as 1 and 1A shows by design, not opener/headliner. The Tin Roof genius is putting on shows where audiences of 25 or 30 feel like a lot (cap is about 40 in good weather). Lord knows it is hard for anyone to draw more than 25 or 30 people around here, even though, on the purely musical level, our organic scene has never been better than it is right now; in fact it has never really even been close.
But now Taylor and Nate have gone and done it; they’ve booked a name so big – in my musical universe at least – that it shook my boots, a next-level thing: the brilliant pan-Americana (for lack of a better term) singer/songwriter Jolie Holland. Holland has one of those voices so distinct, tactile and mouthy that it kind of changes your resting musculature when you hear it. Your mouth contorts involuntarily, and you begin to sing that sound back at her (this is why I should probably consider not attending her Tin Roof Session). She sounds, in a way, like someone who was kicked in the head by a horse long ago and has miraculously learned to sing through the damage. The thought that it might be an affectation has never even entered my mind.
The Texas native crept onto the radar as a founding member of the all-female Vancouver folk group the Be Good Tanyas. She left that group early in its run to begin a Tom Waits-endorsed solo career (Waits does not endorse lightly) that has finally, with 2014’s stunning Wine Dark Sea, arrived at the core of the Waitsian avant-roots mystery. This raw, rich and tumultuous record features as many as three Mark Ribot impersonators on single tracks, some squalling feedback, some dwelling on tremolo, some grinding the tube-amp-saturated dissonance. It works like a charm, but only because Holland is about as inspired a haunted-roots songwriter as we have.
If you don’t dig the dark arts of pure disturbance and spirit-conjuring, start with any of her other five albums (there are no flies on 2011’s wonderful Pint of Blood); but, when you’re ready for rapprochement, Wine Dark Sea utterly earns the Hellenic trope of its title: It is wild, epic and war-torn, inhabited by gods and pretty close to the source.
Tin Roof Sessions come with a catch, one little extra layer of mystery: I cannot tell you where they happen. You have to go to www.tinroofsessions.com and RSVP to get your instructions. I can tell you that Paul Schembi and Kelly Richmond’s terrific Curbside Cuisine food truck will be on hand. In a rare exception to the Tin Roof rule, the Jolie Holland show, which also includes Michael Bellar & the AS-IS Ensemble, is a ticketed event. It will set you back $20 to see one of the most inspired – in the old Greek sense, meaning “God-breathed” – performers on the scene today from a distance of about ten or 12 feet. Expect shivers.
Jolie Holland & the AS-IS Ensemble, Sunday, September 14, 7 p.m., $20, Tin Roof Sessions, New Paltz; www.tinroofsessions.com.