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Friday, November 18, 2016

On a Folksong Kick

From the Vault Dept.: Singer-songwriter-guitarist Jim Gaudet has been a folk scene fixture for enough decades to earn every accolade available. When I saw him in 1990, he’d already spent a few years building a catalogue of original songs to replace the covers he started out with. These days he works in the company of the Railroad Boys (bassist/vocalist Bob Ristau and mandolinist/guitarist Sten Isachsen), with a bluegrassier sound, but the same gentle wit and bashful presence. The long-gone Peggy’s, however, abandoned its coffeehouse fairly quickly.


TO EFFECTIVELY REVIVE the coffeehouse spirit of 30 years ago means emphasizing stuff that’s bad for you. Coffee, for one thing, although it has its apologists (I’m one). Smoking – remember when such a club wore a pale blue haze? But it also can be done in song. Good thing we have singer-songwriters able to keep us aware of such hazards, and much more.

Jim Gaudet
Peggy’s Restaurant took a trip back in spirit, and, it’s hoped, forward in time with its first program in a Coffeehouse Revival series Thursday night. Local artist Jim Gaudet played and sang a concert comprising his own material (for the most part), an easygoing blend of sentiment and humor.

First the hall: the bar area/dining room that overlooks the Canal Square courtyard already has something of a coffeehouse look to it. One wall is brick, there are paddle fans in the ceiling, the chairs are kind of rickety.

It’s not as acoustically benevolent, however. The room is reverberant – glass-topped tables, tile on the floor – and last night’s patrons weren’t all used to the idea of paying attention to a troubadour.

The sound system only aggravated those problems, but thankfully wasn’t pushed very hard. It might be helpful to experiment in the coming weeks with performer and speaker placement in that room. I have the feeling that an ideal set-up awaits discovery.

Which is a good lead-in to the artist. He also awaits discovery. Gaudet comes across as a sensitive man of convictions who captures with affection what’s provocative and puzzling in the world he sees.

He sings in a light voice reminiscent of Loudon Wainwright’s and accompanies himself on guitar. The subjects, as you might expect, are emotional entanglements (“You’re Not My Shoes,” “Time Is Running Out,” “We Talked about the Rain,” to name some examples), environmental concerns (a dismayed look at the Hudson River, a protest against medical waste-burning) and general celebration (“I’m Coming Alive,” celebrating spring, and “My Dog’s Companions,” celebrating shoes. He seems particularly obsessed with shoes).

Elizabeth Gaudet, “a relative by marriage, but not our own,” provided back-up vocals for many of the numbers and took a couple of solos herself. In “All Night Long,” the two voices twined with a very pleasant contrapuntal effect. It’s nice to hear a duo break away from the standard device of parallel thirds.

Taken song by song there wasn’t really a weak entry all evening long – and we got two long sets for a cover charge of a mere $2. But the bulk of the material is medium-tempo ballads, and a good set thrives on more rhythmic variety than we got. A few more bright numbers to spice up the pacing would be a relief.

Gaudet has a shy, aw-shucks manner in his stage presence that came across as a little lackluster in the hall’s more unresponsive moments (like when the restaurant’s softball team arrived to take over the bar for a while). While it’s not the job of a folksinger to get into lengthy raps with the audience, it doesn’t hurt to reach out to them at times to capture that much more of their attention.

If anything, I think he’s holding back. There’s a devilish wit lurking behind those songs of his and I’ll bet he could give us some up-tempo screamers if he put his mind to it. He can’t always be as nice as he seems to be.

Although there was a small, enthusiastic claque on hand to spark the applause, a number of people turned out to see just what was going on at Peggy’s. They stayed and applauded just as enthusiastically as the others. This club idea has all the earmarks of a success in the making.

Performers for the rest of the month are Tina Ward (June 14), Erica Wheeler (June 21) and Michael Jerling (June 28). All shows start at 7 p.m., and a full menu of food and drink is available.

– Schenectady Daily Gazette, 9 June 1990

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