Monday, June 13, 2011

Ted Garber - Live at Strathmore

I’ve got the love/hate thing going on with today’s singer/songwriters. For me, it seems there’s a lot of something going on, but there’s really no substance. Almost like the soul has been sucked out of the songwriter. A lot of ego, a lot of faux sensitivity, a lot of rubbish. By today’s standards, it seems that a singer/songwriter simply needs to know how to or attempt to tap into their sensitive side. Ted Garber takes that standard and crushes it, bringing back the elements of the craft that have been forgotten . . . storytelling that contains vivid imagery, emotional conveyance, pure and honest integrity, and a touch of humor that reminds us that the guy singing is still human. Garber crafted a near perfect album with American Rail, capturing the soulful essence of each tale he told, and handing it over to the listener like a snapshot from every roadside haunt that he visited. Now, with Live at Strathmore, we get the opportunity to hear a brand new set of songs played by a group of world class musicians and the tales have never been more uplifting! 

The Strathmore music program is one of those great programs that can enhance a musician’s songwriting abilities, but I’d rather spend time focusing on the end result . . . the music of Ted Garber. When I heard the rumblings across cyber space that this live album was being crafted, I naturally figured it was going to be a live recording of select tracks from American Rail with a few hidden surprises. What I got was actually the opposite . . . a live recording of hidden surprises and a single re-interpretation of one of American Rail’s gems. Bold, Mr. Garber. Very bold.

Opening with “Sunshine In Your Heart”, we get re-introduced to the soulful, Americana groove that Garber captured on his first release. It’s a little blues-y, very upbeat, and packed with a positive message about cutting the crud from our lives. In classic (yes, classic . . . it’s his fingerprint on the music) Ted Garber fashion, the man crafts lyrics in a way that’s reminiscent of someone like Jim Croce. Clever and witty, never clichéd, and always thoughtful, the lyrics are the strength of the man’s songs. Add that soulful voice and artistic integrity, and listening to Garber croon, you’ll think you’ve known the man all of your life. It’s a real voice, not something mechanized, orchestrated, or produced . . . a voice with such gravity that you can’t help but be pulled closer to it, to understand where this soul actually comes from.  

“Plastic Bag” is the track that probably hits me the hardest on an emotional level. Introspective and powerful, Garber showcases that one doesn’t need a million notes and a million fancy words to convey a message. Stripped down and performed in a jazzier tone than most of his past material, “Plastic Bag” is the song I’ve been toting around of late as a constant reference that I gotta’ remember to check my own nasty baggage at the door if I want to live to my fullest, and I guess . . . you could say this review is a personal thanks to Ted Garber for arming me with yet another weapon on my war against self destruction. Yeah . . . it’s that strong of a tune. Don’t believe me? Buy the record.

For a good hour, Ted Garber entertains a sold out crowd with his fusion of soulful jazz meets blues-y troubadour songs, self described as BluesAmericanaRock. Who am I to disagree? “Achilles’ Heel”, “Sunshine In Fog”, and the heart-warming reinterpretation of “A Lot Like Me” (it’s deep . . . it’s in a fortune cookie) are prime examples of a singer/songwriter who has mastered that balance of tapping the vein of sensitivity without coming across as sappy and trite. Like Van Morrison or the aforementioned Jim Croce, Garber can write a hell of a love song and he sings these songs with a masculinity that gives them an immediacy and power that can’t be ignored. Plus, on this live edition, Garber’s between song banter is priceless and I found myself unapologetically laughing out loud.

“Third Time’s a Charm” features a duet with fellow Strathmore resident Chelsey Green and it’s one of those fun time, happy jazzy romantic songs that is so well crafted and performed that it’s an immediate attention getter. Garber and Green have a natural chemistry on this sultry groove, and the lyrics are so compelling that I find myself taking sides with both characters. Then the trumpet solo . . . sigh . . . it’s a thing of beauty, and by the songs final notes I want to jump to my feet and clap enthusiastically with those in attendance. And then . . . there’s “Don’t Want To Make A Baby, Baby”. Garber enlisted the aid of Philly rapper Jason Ager to pen this hip-hop tinged gem of a funky rocker. It’s an instant classic, filled with humorous and intelligent lyrics about getting down and doing the nasty. It would have been easy to write this one in a crass fashion, but hat’s off to Garber and Ager for injecting a level of class to the tune. Hell . . . the song is so funky that it makes me want to go out and practice my own technique!  

While the songs are naturally the focal point of this performance, Ted Garber’s easy going and fun natured charisma adds an element of familiarity to the recording. You may have just met him, but you’ll think you’ve known him your entire life, and by the end of the performance, you’ll simply love the guy. These tracks are an open door to the intricate weave that makes up the tapestry of the man . . . bright and colorful, full of life, rich in humor, and deep with wisdom. If you don’t find yourself laughing, (maybe even crying), clapping, and cheering along throughout this outstanding set of genre jumping music, then you’re simply dead inside. Live at Strathmore is a slice of true Americana that absolutely can’t be missed!


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