Carrie Elkin/Jeff Burkhart; March 13, 2011; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music
I tend to be pretty honest in my introductions for my house shows. For instance I said that Icarus had turned me down so many times I thought they wanted me to stop asking (not the case), and that part of the reason I’d booked Immaculate Machine is that I knew their good-looking drummer would take off his shirt at some point (he did). So it shouldn’t be surprising that when introducing Carrie Elkin I admitted I usually don’t book artists I haven’t seen or whose music I don’t know, and that I especially don’t book girls. Out of 52 shows I’ve only had four, now five, female headliners. Part of the reason I even took the time to listen to Carrie Elkin was that she was referred by a friend with good musical taste, the other was that her booking agent was looking for a date so far in the future that I couldn’t possible have anything else booked. Most importantly, what I listened to I liked.
I wasn’t sure it was a good idea to have her play at the house the night after she opened a Madison Folk show, but since she was only doing fifteen minutes there, I hoped it would wet people’s appetites for the full-length show. It didn’t quite turn out that way and only one person who had seen her the night before came to this show. In all there were maybe only a dozen people, but Elkin still played a great set. I’ll admit that the songs on her new release Call It My Garden aren’t as catchy as the ones I had listened to on her MySpace, which is too bad. The majority of the record is quiet and contemplative, pretty songs all, but there needs to be a little more life. Opening track “Jesse Likes Birds” provides it, and the song bubbles with unbridled joy. The record was recorded in the house of fantastic Austin musician Sam Baker, who played at my house a few years back and I’ve been hoping to have return ever since. Carrie told me on the phone that I should be prepared to get a hug that came from Sam when she arrived, he was so happy she was playing here. Usually she doesn’t play the song “Dear Sam” live, but since I know him she made an exception.
There are two remarkable things about Elkin’s live show. The first is her voice, which is far more powerful than I would have guessed from the record. She is the perfect artist for house concerts that don’t use a PA. As it was, for most of the show here she stood a foot back from the microphone. For the encore she did an amazing a capella rendition of “Amazing Grace” that was show stopping. The second are her stories. She had one about her VW bus breaking down in a little town in the middle of nowhere on her way to Boston, where she intended to pay her dues busking in the subways. Since the bus was old, and it turned out she actually needed a whole new engine, she ended up spending several weeks there, where the locals adopted her as one of their own. She played every night at the local bar and when it was time for her to go, they held a fundraiser to pay for her engine.
Opener Jeff Burkhart also tells some good stories, but he prefers to do it mostly through his songs. As the lead singer and songwriter of the Dirty Shirts, a mostly classic country cover band, he’s written a few classics of his own. Tonight’s set featured many of the songs from the band’s still relatively new CD Two Dollar Turpentine, including the lovely “A Little Rain.” He wrote the song after finishing a book that he thought was amazing, though there was some disagreement from the audience. Even so, it is my favorite song on the CD, despite the fact that it wouldn’t sound out of place on commercial country radio. It would certainly raise the level of quality. He also debuted his protest song. As the unrest over Scott Walker’s proposed budget continued, he felt it was time he contributed his own voice. “You’re Bound to Lose Scott Walker” took its melody from Woody Guthrie’s classic, but the lyrics had been changed to reflect our current situation. He invited everyone to sing along on the chorus since we all knew it.
Carrie was heading back home after this show to prepare for several dates during SXSW. I promised to try to see her, but I already know the chances are slim there is just so much going on during those five days. Hopefully she will get back up this way again before too long because she is that rare girl singer I honestly enjoyed.