Red Horse Makes Music And Comedy, Too, At Landmark
Lucy Kaplansky, Eliza Gilkyson and John Gorka team up for a flawless folk performance.
Port Washington Patch, December 8, 2010
Review by Ann W. Latner for Port Washington Patch
The audience who came to see Red Horse, the band consisting of folk legends Lucy Kaplansky, Eliza Gilkyson and John Gorka, got more than their money's worth. The show turned out to be not just a wonderful start to Landmark's Fabulous Folk Series, which Red Horse kicked off on Dec. 4, but also something of a variety show, heavy on the comedy.
Before forming Red Horse, the three performers had all known each other for years, and had played in duos, but had never all been in the same room together despite all being on the same record label, Red House. All three are also located in completely different geographical locations: Kaplansky in New York, Gorka in Minnesota, and Gilkyson in Texas. Yet when Gorka suggested that they record a CD together, the other two performers jumped at the idea, and suggested not just a CD but a tour as well.
Of the three, Gorka is the comedian – in a slightly bumbling Tom Smothers sort of way – managing to simultaneously be the straight man and the butt of the friendly joke. Gorka was the
main spokesperson for the evening, with all three performers explaining the stories behind each song choice. Gorka's humble and endearing rambling often had the audience cracking up with laughter.
For the CD – which is titled "Red Horse" – the trio decided to have each member choose four songs: a cover, an original, and a song by each of the other two artists. The stories behind these decisions are what made for an interesting evening at Landmark. Each performer sang lead in their song choices, accompanied by glorious harmonies from the other two. Gorka at one point likened the voices of his co-stars to angels, and there was some truth to that. Interestingly, while all three performers are accomplished guitarists, generally only the one singing lead would play guitar on that song rather than all three strumming together. In addition to the dozen songs from the Red Horse CD, the trio also included some of their own work and other covers in their concert. Gilkyson started the show with her marvelous cover of Neil Young's "I am a Child."
Gilkyson has a slightly earthy vibrato sound to her voice, a little reminiscent of Bonnie Raitt. She was also the only one of the three who used effects on her guitar, adding a little reverb or chorus for effect periodically. Her original, "Walk Away From Love," was particularly good.
Kaplansky has appeared on the Landmark stage twice before – once as a solo performer, and last year in a terrific co-bill with Richard Shindell. It's worth noting that Kaplansky was part of another power-folk trio – the superb Cry, Cry, Cry – with Shindell, and another Landmark alumnus, Dar Williams. Kaplansky is a terrific songwriter, as evidenced by the moving song she wrote about her relationship with her husband, "Ten Year Night." Kaplansky is also a very competent pianist, and she took to the piano to do her rendition of Gilkyson's song "Sanctuary."
Gorka's somewhat stuttering-flustered speaking style is completely different from his smooth and rich baritone voice. Like the other two, Gorka is a strong songwriter as demonstrated by "If These Walls Could Talk," a sort of country-folk number. I was impressed with his smooth rendition of Kaplansky's "Don't Mind Me." Gorka also took to the piano to play the first song that he'd ever sung with Kaplansky, a quarter century ago, "Down in the Milltown.
"The trio did two sets, probably a total of 20 songs, and closed with Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready." The show was lower-key than some of the recent performances – all three performers sat through the whole show – but you kind of felt like you were sitting in a living room with them, chatting and playing music. It made for a wonderfully intimate night of music, despite the fact that the theater was packed.
This was the first in Landmark's Fabulous Folk Series. The next show in the season will be Shawn Colvin on Feb. 12, 2011.