By: Dennis Cook
Skinny Singers :: 09.13.07 :: The Independent :: San Francisco, CA
There's a giant doing cartwheels, a statue wearin' high heels
Look at all the happy creatures dancing on the lawn
A dinosaur Victrola list'ning to Buck Owens
Doo, doo, doo, lookin' out my back door
Wending through early evening traffic, Creedence's Chronicles Vol.1 blaring impolitely from my open windows, I felt a frivolous gust flip my skirt up. While I'm not entirely sure what chooglin' is I was fairly sure I was doing it at that moment. There is a Bay Area Bayou, a West Coast swampland made from Pacific Ocean salt and Marin Headlands' mud. Within that blessed muck lies blues tatters, jug band bomp and trace minerals from the psychedelic age. It's said the ghosts of Skip Spence and Lowell George haunt the reedier backwaters. John Fogerty tapped into this stream once; Jerry Garcia, too, from time to time. And two beanpole thin beauties named Tim Bluhm and Jackie Greene are splashing around in it today in their new dynamic duo called the Skinny Singers.
| Tim Bluhm|
Out on a handful of dates to celebrate the release of their hot off the presses debut, Skinny Singers Strike Again!, the pair is augmented live by Jackpot drummer Michael Curry. Together, they sound, to borrow a line from Bluhm, as "smooth as a tree and tall as a century." Put another way, they sound like a classic despite being brand spankin' new. Throughout the evening at The Independent folks kept whispering how different parts sounded like J.J. Cale, Bob Seger, Leon Russell, Boz Scaggs or Blood On The Tracks period Dylan. On the surface this might seem a dig, calling them out on being derivative, but nothing could be further from the truth.
"This is our second time playing here as the Skinny Singers but we've been skinny for a while," quipped Bluhm.
Mostly seated, Greene and Bluhm faced each other with guitars in hand, Curry centered between them laying down terrifically sturdy foundations, the thin ones made music that embodied the spirit of these ancestors but moved around in flesh of their own making. What's especially striking is how little the Skinny Singers sound like Greene's solo albums (which have caught on with the wine-and-cheese crowd since he signed to Verve Forecast in 2005) or Bluhm's work, either solo or in The Mother Hips. Sure, you can tell they're the same guys but their chemistry stirs different creative juices in both of them. This stuff is more freewheeling, ready to roll in the grass and shimmy without shame.
| Jackie Greene|
The album's energy carried over into the concert setting in a big way. Skinny Singers Strike Again! was crafted at Mission Bells in SF, the studio co-owned by the duo. Within those compact walls they generated their own "Big Pink," the house in upstate New York where The Band sculpted their debut and stomped out The Basement Tapes with dear Mr. Zimmerman [A comment from their MySpace page: "Hot DAMN! Is that Robbie Robertson rippin' it up on the guitar on 'Baby's Got a Moustache?'"]. I'm certain a cleaning crew had to be called in to scrape those aforementioned creative juices off the walls after they finished this one. There's a spark between Bluhm and Greene that the ear instantly picks up on, and watching them flash fast grins at each other onstage it's clear the arc of that electricity is only increasing.
There's almost nothing better than knowing with dead certainty the folks making music are having a grand time. Their voices – rootsy, high, lonesome and evergreen – meshed like Everly Brothers from different mamas. The trio swapped instruments freely, Greene being especially liquid, jumping from guitar to keys to bass as the song dictated. It's not hard to see why Greene has caught the attention of elder statesman Phil Lesh, joining the revolving cast of Phil's Friends for the late summer/early fall tour just kicking off.
Speaking of Phil – a man drawn to a promising jam session like Oprah to honey baked ham – he dropped in for the encore of "Friend of the Devil," "Ripple" and "Sugaree," saying, "I hope I'm skinny enough to be in this band." Lesh has been running his new lineup through rehearsals recently and looked fighting ready, more than a glint of mischief in his still youthful eyes. Truth be told, only "Sugaree" - with Bluhm's pleasantly rough electric guitar accents and Greene channeling Otis Spann while Phil wandered beautifully in the bass-lands – took flight. The other two numbers were a bit messy and relied too heavily on nostalgia for their impact.
| Phil Lesh|
And besides, the night belonged to the Skinny Singers' compositions and chemistry. "Singing My Way To The Grave," "Going Home Again" and "Nothing Comes From Nothing" are already loaded into the cosmic jukebox we share in our collective subconscious. They also do dandy woman odes and bittersweet reveries full of great lines like "My baby read my mail, now there's no love for me at home" and "One more trip down short term memory lane." And it doesn't hurt that 26-year-old Jackie Greene seems to be the man meat of choice for a number of 30-40-somethings, who showed up in force in fresh manicures and $200 blue jeans to gawk with naked lust, especially when Greene stripped down to a wife-beater and pounded his piano with glee.
In a strange sense, this highly independent project might have the most far-reaching commercial potential of anything either Bluhm or Greene has ever done. There's a universal appeal to their collaboration that just might land them regular festival work and cherry spots on the boutique winery/casino concert circuit. It's a nice living and their music sure as hell beats to death almost anything their more gutless peers are pumping out in the same realm. If success does come, it couldn't happen to two nicer, more talented or skinny guys.
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