Pick of the Pickers
A group of acoustic all-stars will shine at Sweetwater
By Matt Kramer
First off, a band of gypsies steals into Mill Valley at the end of a run of amalgamated fun. Gathered together by well-known local flatpicker Eric Thompson, Kleptograss is a sort of Bay Area Acoustic All-Stars. Here's a quick peek at their lengthy rap sheets.
Ringleader Eric Thompson's done time with everyone from the Black Mountain Boys to Bluegrass Intentions, garnering world champion flatpicking status along the way. He's mined many a musical style - among them old-time, Irish, Greek and Cajun - into his own six-string sound, and he's a terrific music teacher to boot.
Good Ol' Persons co-founder Laurie Lewis holds down the bass in this gang, and she's a helluva fiddler and singer, too. Lewis has earned California State Fiddle Champion status, collaborated many a time with Kathy Kallick, and led the string band Grant Street. She's also won a Grammy, and been named Female Vocalist of the Year by the IBMA two times. Do yourself a favor and check out the CD The Oak and The Laurel (Rounder, 1995) featuring Lewis and Tom Rozum.
As coincidence would have it, Tom Rozum's on mandolin detail for Kleptograss. Rozum's best known for his music and vocal duets with Lewis, before and after Grant Street. He's also been known to pick a guitar and saw a fiddle, too. The Grammy-nominated Rozum brings a bit of swing to this band as well. Another Good Ol' Persons alum, fiddler Paul Shelasky's been booked since then with the likes of John Reischman, and the Papermill Creek Rounders. He's a two-time California State Fiddle Champion and has consorted and recorded with the Rhythm Brothers, too.
Flatpicker Scott Nygaard played in Grant Street and was Tim O'Brien's right-hand man in the O'Boys for several years. His work as a hired gun has garnered many a Grammy nomination; Nygaard's picked with everyone from Jerry Douglas to Tony Furtado. He's also the editor of the Marin-based monthly, Acoustic Guitar magazine.
There's your Wednesday night lineup of all the unusual suspects. It would be a crime to miss this show.
The very next night, veteran soul singer Bettye LaVette owns the Sweetwater stage. With a new CD, I've Got My Own Hell to Raise (Anti, 2005), LaVette's getting long overdue media attention by the likes of David Letterman and the N m York Times.
A Motown veteran who achieved early I success that unfortunately faded, LaVette, with her latest recording, applies her considerable vocal talents toward a collection of songs that runs from Dolly Parton's "Little Sparrow" to the Fiona Apple anthem "Sleep to Dream."
After opening with a gritty a cappella version of Sinead O'Connor's "I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got," LaVette dresses the rest of the songs down for a bumpy, funk-fueled ride. Her version of Lucinda Williams's "Joy" has a funk-rock groove that could claim airtime on local rock stations.
LaVette's voice handles heartache and portrays pain like few others, and her piano player on this outing, Lisa Coleman, beautifully underscores LaVerte's woeful tones. LaVette has stated before that she usually is singing to the piano, and here, especially on "Down to Zero" and "The High Road," the keys are responding in kind.
Doyle Bramhall's electric guitar also reinforces the vocal tones on this smartly chosen material, but it is LaVette's soulful singing that takes center stage and, at times, raises quite a bit of hell.
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This page updated 10/7/05