Johnny D’s | Somerville, MA | 03.29.02
When you think of a spark, you may think of energy, electricity or some sort of burning connection. One of the best attributes of the solo work of Reed Foehl is his ability to combine simplicity with a spark. Reed’s latest album, entitled Spark, provides a new direction to his artistic prowess as he layers new sounds with delicate and gut wrenching lyrics from his former work. Reed has been performing solo around the New England area since his band Acoustic Junction broke up in 1999, and has since worked with some of the best, including Graham Nash.
Johnny D's, arguably one of the best blues bars in the Boston area, was a perfect venue for Reed and his new material, with many familiar faces gathered in the crowd. No one could tell there had been a ten-year hiatus between performances at the Somerville restaurant and bar, except for a few tapers who patched into the soundboard early. People mingled in the bar and gathered in the back part of the intimate room fairly quickly. The one drawback of Johnny D’s is the basic set up as artists are surrounded in a U shape of people finishing dinner and chattering from time to time. One artist might feel it’s a distraction, while a veteran like Reed appeared to take it in stride and use the close setting as a springboard for his material. Reed will admit he can be a talker on stage, as he creates a synergy between everyone while letting himself get comfortable with his surroundings. Within moments on stage he addressed the audience with a smile to come up and dance, and that he would “only give them half a song to move closer.”
The first set was acoustic with Putnam Murdock, a Boston musician who has been playing guitar with Reed since childhood. Reed opened with “Saint Dominick's Preview”, a Van Morrison title track that references an early Parisian singer, Edith Piaf, and the jazz scene in New York City in the early 30s. A unique opener that seemed very fitting for Reed’s folk background. “Martyr”, an Acoustic Junction favorite, was next, and that’s when the crowd seemed to loosen up and move closer for a better feel. Reed told a little story to let Putnam know of one of the first set songs, “Souvenirs”, and the crowd seemed to love the interaction on stage. “Melt”, another Acoustic Junction anthem that has had past audiences sway and sing like an old Irish pub, proved to capture the audience’s attention with new comers trying to learn the words on the fly. All in all a great first set, with another cover, “Coming Down” by David Gray, and a set closer called “Whereabouts Unknown.”
Set two brought his latest band on stage, and it’s clear they have blended their own styles with Reed’s leadership. “When it Comes Around”, “Come September” and “Days are Like” sent the energy in the room to a higher level. “Days are Like” brought invitations for two long time friends of Reed, keyboardist/flutist Tim Roper of Acoustic Junction, and Kristen Calello on vocals. Calello, a childhood friend of Reed's, used to perform with Reed in Faneuil Hall. They were dubbed the “Dover Duo” and a short story ensued, bringing the intimacy even greater as he proceeded to laugh and joke that he was “the only boy invited to her first grade birthday party.” “Days are Like” was intense, as Calello tried to match the back-up vocals by Putnam; however, it seemed like the levels of her microphone were a tad soft. They gathered momentum and Putnam's singing continued to peak with his scruffy voice adding such depth to the songs, especially “Long Way Till Tomorrow.” The contrasting dynamics of Reed and Putnam continued to gel through out the show leading to the most upbeat part, “Who Do You Love”. The third cover of the night, by Ellas McDaniel (a.k.a. Bo Diddley), showed the crowd that Reed can get down and jam with the best of them when push comes to shove. With a quick head turn and a spin move he sang, “Putnam, Who Do You Love”, gesturing his dedication and goal of capturing everyone’s attention. The cerebral “Goodbye World” followed as the band lowered the energy in the room to allow listeners to absorb some of his most moving lyrics. “Little slap, a baby cries, eighty years later somebody dies, it’s a 'Goodbye World' and I can see right through it.” The band was then introduced, keeping the set's ebb and flow intact. Joe Boyle, a Northampton, MA resident, provided the subtle but needed electric guitar solos and mood setting sounds when opening or closing a song. Bostonians Billy Beard on drums rounded out the beats and the latest edition to the band, Steve “D” on bass, seemed to take the new material with ease.
To end a magical night, Reed jumped on the keyboards and announced a little “unplugged” action before he was done. Hopefully, this gave the audience a better idea of his roots and small display of what might resonate through Reed’s mind when writing such romantic masterpieces. “Over Love” was thought to be a beautiful closer until he invited the band back on stage for two songs off of Spark: "Cataleen" and "Remedy." The audience rewarded Reed and his band members with loud applause while they gathered back on stage and ended what seemed to be a great reunion show Johnny D’s. Older fans walked away with a grinning smile while the new comers hopefully realized that they embarked on a new leg of the talented Reed’s career.
Simple black pants, a white t-shirt, determination and a lot of heart are what Reed Foehl brought to the stage last Saturday night. Reed has several solo albums and many Acoustic Junction albums tracing his entire career from the mountains of Colorado to the very competitive music scene of greater Boston. For those who appreciate great lyrics, personal, yet global messages and just plain old good fun, Reed has been supporting Strangefolk lately and will be warming up for the Aaron Katz Band on May 3 at the Middle East in Central Square Cambridge. See you there!
Billy Ray Watkins
JamBase | Boston
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